“A wonderfully blended showcase of talent, creativity and comedy, highlighted by infectious humour and undeniable charm…

Ooook! Productions’ Taskmaster had been a highly-anticipated production, and the hype was certainly lived up to. The production offered a balance of distinctly Durham humour and a brilliant homage to the original show.

The set was impressive, and details were not overlooked by the production and stage teams (led by Henry Flack and Leo Ball, assisted by James Duxbury and Anna Brzezinski). The patterned walls bore a definite Taskmaster-feel, and yet maintained their Durham roots in their gold and purple colouring. One particular detail I enjoyed was the significant height-difference between what I can only describe as the Taskmaster’s throne and his assistant’s (much shorter) seat beside him.

The Taskmaster (Alex Edwards) and his Assistant (Bethan Avery) were nothing short of brilliant. From the moment they entered the auditorium, they instantly captured the audience’s attention and affection. Their hilarious dynamic and wonderful chemistry continuously radiated in their interactions. Credit should be given to Avery for her ability to remain energetic and engaging throughout the entire show, whilst Edwards’ quips with audience members were unfailingly clever.

The first task was the so-called ‘prize task’, in which each contestant brought in something that the Taskmaster ‘needs’. From Jamie Smyth’s salt and pepper seasoning, to Marc Twinn’s words of affirmation, the show opened brilliantly, with laughs every minute. The contestants themselves were the soul of this laughter: they all seamlessly bounced off each other to create a lively and entertaining dynamic. The entire group exhibited a natural stage presence, remaining engaging and funny in spite of whatever task was thrown at them.

Each contestant enjoyed their moments to shine. Emma Youles’ sarcastic responses paired with Victoria Ruck’s dry humour created a wonderfully funny dynamic between the two. Twinn was also impressive in his effortlessly quick comebacks, whilst Smyth quickly humoured the audience with his JD Sports-inspired petition in one of the tasks. Alex Knipe stood out for his superb one-liners that were consistently sharp and witty. My personal highlight was Jack Simmond’s ‘That’s so Gayven’ persona (complimented by his prop bird, Susan). Each contestant brought their own charm to the stage, making for an exceptionally strong and entertaining group.

The ability of the entire on-stage ensemble to laugh through technical mishaps was also refreshing to see on a Durham stage. The work put into combining video clips and on-stage action is something that should be commended. However, the length of the video sections often erred on the side of being too long. It was in these sections that the energy dipped, and some jokes were lost. The runtime of the show could have been significantly shorter had these been cut down. Despite this, the animations and stylistic editing (the excellent work of Riley Hutton) helped to create a show that felt authentically Taskmaster-esque.

Whilst energy did wane during some video sections, the live tasks certainly made up for this. A team task involving making dessert, with various hindrances, was one of the best moments of the show. The contestants’ humour and energy shone through their (whilst friendly – I think?) fierce competition; the chaos was hilarious. In the opening to the second half of the show, the contestants displayed impressive choreography in their original songs about Edwards’ mum – a testament to their undeniable commitment to the bit.

Overall, Taskmaster was the perfect Sunday-evening entertainment, and indisputably a cure to the mid-term blues. The production was a wonderfully blended showcase of talent, creativity and comedy, highlighted by infectious humour and undeniable charm – what a joy!

By Maariya Khalid

Photo Credits: Ooook! Productions