At the start of the 2014 comedy festival we overheard someone loudly telling their companion that ‘this is the worst show I have ever seen’. This person was pointing at a flier for Stuart Daulman’s show The Principal.
Curious to discover what could possibly prompt such a definitive criticism I attended the show to find out for myself.
Spoiler: this is very funny, clever comedy.
Entering the room the audience sees an actual set on the stage area, a rarity at the Imperial Hotel and in the Festival generally. There is a paper-strewn desk behind which most of the performance occurs and a radio-controlled helicopter, both of which get a lot of use throughout.
If you have fond memories of shows such as Welcome Back Kotter, Head Of The Class or even Degrassi High then you are likely to love and recognise all of the touchstones of humour which are mined in this performance.
Presented like a shoddy 80s sitcom complete with some canned laughter, this is a carefully fashioned show skilfully presented in a manner which gives the appearance of being shambolic. The gags revel in their knowing references to the shows being lampooned and the self-referential, repetitive nature of many just make each rendition funnier than the last.
This is a complex and knowing show which has the veneer of unplanned unprofessionalism and is all the more hilarious for this. Daulman’s clowning skills turn each situation into a chaotic mess of misunderstandings and poor co-ordination. His unseen secretary makes her announcements unintelligibly and seems incapable of remembering appointments. One particular gag involving an important letter was so unexpected that the room dissolved in gales of laughter for a good while after.
The audience were kept laughing throughout at the clowning skills of Daulman as he rustled papers, looked wistfully into the middle distance or broke into impromptu dancing with guest student Mo Mann. This ridiculous comedy had me giggling like an idiot throughout and, to be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely sure why.
If you fancy some late-night meta-comedy then this show is highly recommended.
The Principal is on at the Imperial Hotel until April 18