Edinburgh Fringe 2017: War of the Sperms
Last November, I distinctly remember calling Lewis Wilding’s short play It's a Sperm’s Life “a twenty-five minute long dick joke”, before giving it a well-deserved four stars. Wilding’s fascination with the reproductive system has not just continued - it has developed and expanded to epic proportions. More sex-related chuckles, sex-related sight gags, sex-related silliness - I couldn't resist seeing how this hour would pan out.
It might surprise some, but this entitled, snotty theatre critic doesn't look down on War of the Sperms. Indeed, Sperms is perhaps the perfect, most ideal show for the Edinburgh Fringe; with thousands of people thrusting flyers at you for all manner of schlock, you might just look twice at Sperms - and maybe even come. And frankly, Wilding - along with his army of dedicated actors at Irstead Theatre - have taken comic writing and directing seriously, with dedication, craft and quite a bit of graft too. This is just as well, for comedies like War of the Sperms are harder to get right than dramas, and even harder to make brilliant.
The opening act of Sperms involving a slideshow, a lecture, and a Guru Sperm at its helm (played by Charlie Douglas) is brilliant. Wilding’s laugh-a-minute dialogue, the stream of well-timed sight gags, and an ensemble working in perfect unison brings this silly idea to life in the best form possible. I did not give this section enough credit in hindsight, nor did I give enough credit to Douglas in the lead role, whose contented, enlightened Guru set the absurd tone from the word go. The opening was the concept I saw last November - a motivational speech for eager, workman-like Sperm - and it exceeds itself on its own merit.
Wilding erected this project again, grew and expanded it from the testes to the uterus, and has to answer a question: how do you keep this story going? Sure, the sperm’s job is not done after the opening ejaculations, but that opening had a beginning, middle and an end. Sperms struggles with justifying its second act after the success of its opening: witty dialogue is supplanted by narrative exposition; the actors get less opportunities to show off their characters in lieu of kinetic set pieces. It gets a bit too Benny Hill at points, and, as odd as it sounds, War of the Sperms is not much of a farce to me.
That said, for every weak scene, there are splendid moments along the way, and the script pulls out and finishes with numerous surprises in the final act. Alice Vickery’s Egg was a sight and sound to behold. Fergus O’Loan’s Strangelovean performance gets as great a use out of black swimming goggles and a goatee as I'll likely to ever see in a theatre. The eventual climax went out with a memorable bang, with Luke Browne delivering one of the best punch-lines I've seen in years. In the end, I feel it was better the best of Sperms came late than not at all.
Though I cannot say War of the Sperms completely came, saw and conquered the hour, there is plenty of promise for Wilding and Irstead Theatre, a company full of talent and serious commitment to visual comedy. And besides, with Sperms being Irstead's debut, who amongst us can truly say they were perfect on their first time?
War of the Sperms was written and directed by Lewis Wilding and an Irstead Theatre production. It is being performed during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival at Greesnide @ Infirmary Street, 4-19 August.