Four Go Off On One: A Jolly Good Romp Through Childhood is a playful show about four children’s crime-solving adventures that, for legal reasons, definitely has nothing whatsoever to do with any popular children’s literature you may previously have read. As is explained at the beginning of the show, the Blyton estate got in touch before the start of the Fringe, with a letter threatening that the show’s original title Five Go Off On One was trademark infringement. And so the show’s name was changed, and the spot of legal bother is converted into an endless source of audience amusement.
The show is especially funny if you have read any Enid Blyton novels, but really the parody is so general that you can appreciate it in reference to most children’s literature of that period. The actors speak in that loud, overexaggerated manner of children’s television shows – though there were some moments of fumbled diction, and a few lines were hard to make out when characters were moving around the stage.
I admit I was expecting the humour in Four Go Off On One to be predictable – full of snipes at the sexism, racism and xenophobia prevalent in 1940s British literature. And it’s true that the show is built on this well-worn strand of commentary, but there is a generous sprinkling of very funny modern political satire as well. My favourite characters were the two narrators, who add fresh laughs with their puns and one-liners that they acknowledge to be "entirely irrelevant" to the main show. As they often have nothing to do with the storyline, these jokes aren’t predictable at all, and really add to the audience’s enjoyment.
The main characters are excellent parodies of Blyton’s much-loved four, sadly without the addition of Timmy the dog. The supporting role of the ‘mad uncle’ is a little overdone, as the demonstration of his eccentricity becomes somewhat tedious; some recurring jokes also get a bit dull as they are repeated one too many times.
But Four Go Off On One is a light-hearted and fun show, which manages to breathe new life into a parody that has been done many times before. The storyline, while suitably ridiculous, holds together enough to avoid losing the audience in confusion, and the actors are very energetic and expressive – keeping the show upbeat throughout. It’s silly and well-written, and makes for a very entertaining hour.