Molly Stewart

Review: Invisible Dot Cabaret, Manchester International Festival

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It was maybe a little bit contentious that The Invisible Dot – boutique King’s Cross comedy producers – were the kingmakers of comedy at the Manchester International Festival; some argued (in small corners of the internet) that it was a dull and predictable shame that Manchester’s own comedy talent was sidelined.

That in itself us maybe a dully pessimistic stance. The Invisible Dot is notorious for cultivating fabulously bizarre, absurd, or simply genuinely original acts that rarely – if ever – make it past the M25.

Gein’s Family Giftshop periodically bring us Goose; Group Therapy, the likes of Tim Key and Sheeps; XS Malarkey has showcased Adam Hess and Liam Williams just within the last couple of months. But with the MIF comes another opportunity for Manchester to house acts it’s audiences rarely get to see.

Mae Martin is a sharp, cleanly delivered compere who at The Invisible Dot Cabaret locks down a warm, freshers’ fair atmosphere. Martin spills observations and anecdotes with an anxious, eager-to-please energy (backed up with periodical checks that we’re doing okay) that is easily mirrored by the audience. So chatty and open is Martin that ut is difficult not to wish a little bit that she was your friend.

Martin is complementary of all of the acts, but saves a particular nod for Natassia Demetriou and Ellie White’s character comedy act, Sexy American Girl Cousins. Fair enough. They’re brilliant. This is an amazingly festive combination of gauche, vaguely Soviet accents, gloriously over-their-heads school disco music and physical awkwardness (as well as ribbon- and interpretive dancing). It’s impossible not to lose yourself in it.

Manchester’s own Phil Ellis provides a local face for the sceptical. Ellis’ shambles can be enjoyable, even his frequent half-anecdotal tangents (less so the incessant laughing at his own jokes) placed with the neatly chatty and the genuinely hilarious absurd, however, Ellis’ own chatty absurdity perhaps falls a little short.

Sheeps closed the night with fabulously theatrical sketch comedy, most memorably a musical version of the Charles Dickens classic, Oliver Twist… The Indomitable Mr Twist. It’s quick and sharp and fun, but impossible not to consider that the work put into a repertoire of about seven five-second songs. The whole thing – the whole set – is impressively well-staged.

Next week’s final three shows feature Tom Basden, James Acaster, clowning sketch duo BEARD, Nick Mohammed, David Elms, Sheeps’ own Liam Williams, and more to be announced. Tickets are available on the Invisible Dot website.