For those who like a little character comedy, Joseph Morpurgo is one of your best bets. He's a dynamic performer with genuine versatility and a flair for zingy wordplay, as is demonstrated in Odessa, his second solo show. The location is the titular town in Texas, the year is 1983, and your host is Maria, a rookie sergeant who is given the job of investigating a chemical explosion. Morpurgo will play all the bizarre characters along the way, backed by old lime-tinged VHS TV footage on a projector.
There's the odd cliché – the local rednecks, the ball-busting police chief – but the sinewy Morpurgo is someone who goes the extra mile to be original (something that sticks in my mind from his debut show is his portrayal of the "worm" of early computer games). He plucks his characters from unlikely sources, in this case a reindeer from a downtown Christmas store, a local who has been voxpopped to promote the very same shop – or how about a crazed personification of TV static?
I have a bit of a problem with this sort of narrative character/sketch show, though, in that so often the comic tries to do too much, and this is Odessa's achilles heel. Comedy needs rooms to breath and when you have several characters intertwining and appearing from all angles, contributing to a plot that requires dramatic tension as well, all in the space of 60 minutes, it's a huge ask to manage all this without suffocating the comedic elements. I don't think audiences have trouble processing all this necessarily, instead I think it's a case of the performer spreading themselves too thinly, perhaps too keen to show everything they've got.
Morpurgo does better than most character and sketch acts who fall into this trap, but the overall result is an undeniably impressive show but not one that works for me.
*** Review written by Paul Fleckney