Sam Cribb’s recent Fringe World Festival show taps into the bizarre magic of your first YouTube party, and – like most resilient YouTube phenomena – R. Kelly’s hopelessly idiosyncratic ‘hip hopera’ Trapped in the Closet works best when shared. Receiving a personal invitation to view it is like joining a Skull and Bones sundowner: the logistics and lingo might not make a lot of sense, but you know witnessing it firsthand is a privilege.
The bulk of the show was devoted to an introductory screening of the titular video, with commentary from Cameron McClaren (R. Kelly veteran, a little quiet tonight) and Sian Choyce (first-timer, on fire). The second half was a game show; mostly an opportunity for the audience and artists alike to process Trapped in the Closet itself – casual gun violence, figurative and literal closet, wigs, green screen and all. There were fewer jokes than awed observations (this cost 4 million dollars!), but it was barely noticeable given the rapid-fire pacing and richness of Cribb’s source material.
While Fringe lends itself to the kind of casual, playful, and wholly unauthorised tributes comedians like Cribb excel at, its hour timeslots demand a tighter game plan. The game show format was a niche that gave Cribb’s casual charm a lot of room to breathe – as exemplified by the reading of a cease-and-desist letter to begin – but the show could’ve done with stronger prepared material and fewer weird audience interactions (including a totally left-field and borderline racist comment Cribb and co. did their best to defuse). Four5Nine Bar is a decent venue, but its miles away from any of the Fringe hubs, and the show suffered for having missed the opportunity to include novelty buzzers! Despite this, I’m willing to forgive most of it for the inspired game ‘Pin the Baretta on R. Kelly.’
Words by Zoe Kilbourn
Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet with Sam Cribb ran at the Four5Nine Bar as part of the FRINGE WORLD Festival.