Rory O’Keeffe: The 37th Question

The 37th Question is a weird one to talk about because of its ambitions. Not quite a comedy show, not quite a drama, not quite a full storytelling experience, it aims to be a mix of all. They come together into a kind of humorous character study of a relationship, as told by titular narrator Rory O’Keeffe.

Our storyteller for the hour explains he’s normally a stand-up but wanted to try something different. 37th Question certainly is a good bit different, but the lineage is clearly visible throughout, with an opening segment of fairly traditional stand-up to ease the show in and wry remarks about the characters liberally seasoning the sometimes-sad tale.

The tale in question follows a couple having a bit of a rough patch, and it’s here that I got the ‘character study’ vibe. Neither of the couple are presented in biased terms. Each has their issues and foibles and it feels very much up to the individual viewer to decide whose side they come down on. The central conflict of the story revolves around them essentially failing to understand one another but I’ve a feeling most people will leave feeling like one or the other was being a bit of a twat. They feel designed to split a room that way.

Which brings us neatly to the show’s most unique conceit: it’s a choose your own adventure game! Throughout the show, O’Keeffe will ask audience members to pick what happens, and these are certainly bound to cleave a room in two. Some of these choices are inconsequential and that feels by design, for both comedy and narrative purposes. There’re some good gags about it but more than that it feels like O’Keeffe is sort of making a point about choice and consequence and compatibility. Do their choices matter if two people just aren’t on the same wavelength? It’s an interesting question and one that I think the show is deeply invested in. But more than that it asks, “what does a happy ending mean for a story about clashing personalities?” If these two aren’t getting on is their relationship continuing the ending we should want?

All told this is a fascinating show. It’s a weird idea that works far better than I think it deserves to and that’s on account of O’Keeffe managing to make it consistently funny. Without the laughs it would be far lesser. O’Keeffe functions like an omniscient figure in the story, offering dry insight into the character’s that hilariously undermines the delusions they hold about themselves and helps the players transcend their otherwise pedestrian personalities. Equally though, I think the narrative supports the comedy in its own way. This is a show that is genuinely interesting in the literal sense of that word. It’s a brain exercise, something you can chew on once it’s over. If you’re looking for a straight no-nonsense stand-up show it’s certainly one to miss, but for those in the market for something a bit clever, endearing and sweet, don’t pass it up.

★★★★

Keiran Burnett

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