After several years on the London and Edinburgh Fringes and a misconceived BBC Choice television series (as well as a line-up change – this year sees a new "Pestilence"), the Four Horsemen have yet to take off to wider recognition. The frustration may be beginning to show.
They're highly skilled comedy writers and performers, and the design of this year's show overcomes the perennial problem of transition between sketches by using sharp and well designed projection-and-tape sequences. They acutely thread sketch sequences in and out of each other throughout the hour, leading to the sort of character/situation recognition that a television series can build over several weeks. Among their creations, the duo known as The Disparaging Men are among my favourite comedy characters of recent years.
However, there's a nagging feeling that they missed their moment a little while back and are now running to stand still. The sketch comedy boom of the mid- to late '90s is giving way to the more through-plotted structural conceits of such as The League Of Gentlemen's transition from stage to screen and the strain of Fringe comedy led by The Boosh. Just as the Horsemen retire their apocalyptic personae, they find themselves moving into a mainstream which may itself have moved on. I hope not, but I fear a more radical overhaul is needed if they are to attain the profile they are capable of.
Written for the Financial Times Web site, ft.com
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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