Originally written for Exeunt.
Damp. The soggy nemesis of Generation Rent, slowly creeping up the walls of rundown, overpriced properties. In Kill the Beast’s new show, though, it has an altogether more murderous edge – and a lot more tentacles. Don’t Wake the Damp is a genre spoof for the housing crisis, at once sending up shonky TV sci-fi, high-rise horror and the onward march of gentrification. Here, the loving mixture of homage and piss-take that the company honed in werewolf romp He Had Hairy Hands is joined by a gentle but undeniable political undercurrent.
All of which, on paper, sounds brilliant. In reality, though, it’s a slight disappointment after the perfectly pitched comedy of He Had Hairy Hands. Kill the Beast’s targets in this follow-up all just feel a little… easy. Camp and kitschy space adventure, cheesy theme tunes, dodgily scripted horror – all this stuff has been pastiched countless times. Even the gags about tower block evictions and luxury new apartment complexes are fairly obvious blows, going for the bitter, readily-offered laughs of all the guilty middle-class liberals in the audience.
That said, there’s still plenty to enjoy about Don’t Wake the Damp, which takes the company’s sharply defined aesthetic and adds a generous dousing of neon. The show opens in the spaceship of intergalactic adventurer Captain Charismo and his sidekick BOOBS (yes, BOOBS – it stands for something, apparently, but that’s not really the point). The vintage Doctor Who wobbliness of the set quickly gives away that we’re inside a budget sci-fi TV show: the gloriously silly Crystal Continuum.
The action snaps forwards. It’s 2035 and former Crystal Continuum star Juniper Berry (aka BOOBS) is bitterly reliving her glory years from the upper reaches of Vertigo Heights, a tower block earmarked for demolition on account of the damp. But as strictly protocol-following council man Terry tries to evacuate the building, June and a couple of stubborn fellow residents (supercilious, teeth-obsessed Devlin and Crystal Continuum super-fan Lexie) insist on staying put. After all, how much harm can a little damp do?
Answer: a lot. The damp of the title, needless to say, threatens much more than a little mould. From this ominous revelation onwards, Kill the Beast pick up the pace, bringing their usual energy to a suitably preposterous plot. Technically, Don’t Wake the Damp is the most ambitious of their shows to date, with the company’s trademark animations projected onto three moving panels and joined by an impressive array of light and sound effects. And as ever, Clem Garritty’s design is accomplished and meticulously realised. You definitely can’t argue with the attention to detail.
Yet, despite all this energy and care, I can’t shake the nagging feeling that there’s something missing. The jokes, though they come thick and fast, are for the most part lightly amusing rather than laugh-out-loud funny, and the response feels muted in comparison with the rowdy enjoyment that greeted He Had Hairy Hands both times I saw it. There’s less verbal dexterity to the humour, perhaps, and less bold originality to the visual gags, while none of the characters can quite match the scene-stealing Whitechapel (who receives an arch nod here, for the company’s fans).
There’s no doubt that Kill the Beast have plenty more to offer, and it should be stressed that few companies at this stage in their development can claim such a clear and compelling identity. From the projections to the painted faces to the wonderfully awful wigs, Kill the Beast have a look that’s all their own and that, impressively, translates across the different genres they affectionately dissect. This time, though, they fall just short of the twisted comedic brilliance of their best.