May Contain Traces (and the term is used loosely) of Reading is a mish mash of Boy With Tape on His Face meets subtitled films meets your dad and his humour. Mitchell Roberts’ spends the best part of an hour not speaking one word (due to a competition he has had with his brother for the past 17 years), trying to make his dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian come true. Through a series of folders, prompt cards and interaction with his computer Captain Mac Sparrow, Roberts takes us on a charming romp complete with ready-made gags, as well as a few side jokes depending on a particular audience.
The audience quickly learn that they are essentially going to read a joke book as Roberts fans through his cards starting with the introduction, a long-winded explanation of what we could all already gather from the title, through to various other folders from his large filing cabinet. This, at times was a little monotonous and tedious. Reasonably early in the piece, Roberts reveals a large board with a slider pointing him to either god or comedian which he interacts with throughout the show based on how big the audience laughs are. This became a running gag that the audience were willing to get involved in and let him know when he may be getting a little too ahead of himself.
The show hit a much needed new gear when Roberts pulled out his “heckler responses” folder. Any time anyone heckled (which is encouraged on both the flier and on one of the flip cards) he would turn to his folder and pull out a response. These were by far the highlight of the show and kept the audience participation moving along nicely. A very clever addition to the show that meant we would heckle where possible just to see the next come-back in the folder. Roberts was excellent at being able to keep the audience participation rolling throughout the entire piece, a difficult feat when conversation is one-sided.
May Contain Traces of Reading was enjoyable and I found myself chuckling most of the way through it and groaning at some of the more horrendous dad jokes and puns but Roberts owned all his gags, the good and the very bad, which kept the show at a light-hearted and fun piece of theatre. The idea of performing comedy with no words is not new and can work extremely well, think Mr. Beane and Charlie Chaplin, but May Contain Traces of Reading is not quite there yet. Roberts should take heed of his own title and pull back the reading to ‘traces’ and come up with other creative ways to bring his silent comedy across to his audience. Standing still with flip cards for the majority of the hour and having us just read became a little to repetitive and we could do that at home with a good joke book. Roberts and Director, Jake McNamara, need to find something in the show that sets the production apart from something we could complete at home. That being said, I laughed, I got involved in the audience participation and I enjoyed myself and I also believe with a bigger audience this would work even better.
The Butterfly Club is playing host to Mitchell Roberts’ May Contain Traces of Reading until June 1st.