The Normal Formal, 3 Stars

The Normal Formal
Etcetera Theatre
16th October 2023

Review by DD, 3 Stars

Arriving at the Etcetera Theatre club above the Oxford Arms in Camden provided a typical pub theatre experience with audience being directed up a tight set of stairs to an intimate black box theatre. What was not common for a pub theatre show were the hors d’oeuvres on arrival, namely, awkwardly skewered slices of banana which set the tone for what was about to begin.

The Normal Formal, in essence, was a variety cabaret show featuring acts who were advertised as ‘normal’, ‘acceptable’ and ‘respectable’ by our host, Normal Al Yankovic. Al opened the show and introduced his ‘jack of all trades’ assistant, Helen from HR, before the pair began a performance that very quickly revealed itself to be the antithesis of the normal night he had organised. Helen, with her Rebel Wilson school of acting approach, facilitated the warts and all experience as the audience were let in on all of the back-stage difficulties and lack of technical support made clear by the pair having to run back and forth between hosting on stage and executing ques from the lighting desk.

As an audience we were all in on the joke and this created a relaxed, silly and forgiving atmosphere for the performances to come. With bountiful giggles and guffaws we were receptive to the acts that followed with some inevitably being stronger than others, but all in all creating a night of unexpected and humorous surprises. We were treated to musical looping crowd activism, dramatic readings of new books, poetical embodiments, ventriloquism and clowning. 

The common theme that united all of the acts was simply that they were not anywhere near as ‘normal’ as Normal Al had promised they would be. This was a satisfying and effective premise for a show that will inevitably cycle through performers and differing acts whenever it surfaces again.  

Stand outs for me were undoubtedly Lachlan Werner with his highly acclaimed ventriloquist act and a hypnotically bonkers embodiment of ‘life’ from conception to death by a spoken word artist at the end of act one. 

Honourable mention should also be given to the character driven act of Lewis Blomfield, the male nurse, who in his rather aggressive approach to comedy, appealed to my Australian sensibilities and reminded me of some very relatable and unhinged Aussie archetypes from my time spent in the northern New South Wales bush doof scene.  

All in all, it was a fun night of entertainment though I did feel that Act One was the stronger of the two halves which left me feeling ready for the end by the time the show drew to a close. I can’t say that I would rush to see it again however, the promise of new acts and a chance for the show to change every time depending on who is performing on the bill definitely gives this variety show legs for fans of ab-normal comedy. Taking the energetic and raw performances from the night into account I would award this show 3 stars out of 5.