mon 29/11/2021

The Comeback, Noël Coward Theatre review - frantic farce with touches of vaudeville | reviews, news & interviews

The Comeback, Noël Coward Theatre review - frantic farce with touches of vaudeville

The Comeback, Noël Coward Theatre review - frantic farce with touches of vaudeville

The Pin sketch duo's assured theatrical debut

Ben Ashenden (left) and Alex Owen as comedy duo Jimmy and SidMarc Brenner

Ben Ashenden and Alex Owen together form The Pin, a sketch duo who have won much critical acclaim and full houses in the Edinburgh Fringe shows. They have also added a huge social media following in 2020 with their lockdown skits spoofing the new Zoom age. Now they move into theatre with – what is it?

– an extended sketch, or a comic playlet? Whichever it is, The Comeback is hugely enjoyable.

The idea has been developed from Backstage, the duo's 2018 Fringe show, and the conceit is that “Ben” and “Alex” are a double act who are the warm-up act for Jimmy and Sid, two old stagers knocking out a decades-old end-of-the-pier act in a theatre in the fictional town of Diddlington.

Ben and Alex begin the show with some standalone sketches, in which Ben is the straight man to Alex's more puppyish partner, who wants to try some fresh gags rather than continue with what Ben describes as tried and tested material. This gives the pair a chance to run through some typically inventive sketches which rarely end where you are expecting, and often take a turn into the surreal.

Later, as Jimmy and Sid, Owen and Ashenden release their inner vaudevillians, with some delightful variety-act humour, including a classic mirroring sketch and groaning gags such as when Sid (Ashenden) says that, in an attempt to make them more relevant, he has invested all their money in a new clothing line: “It'll stretch across the whole garden.”

The play moves between in front of and behind the curtain, where we see Ben and Alex run through their act, reminisce about the days when they were just starting out, and complaining about the audience (there's a good running gag gently mocking some of the occupants of the front row).

When we meet Jimmy and Sid, two troupers clearly past their best, Ashenden and Owen change seamlessly between playing a duo, another duo and a duo who are pretending to be another duo, and we enter the kind of meta comedy that The Pin have perfected.

Both twosomes realise that a Hollywood producer is in the audience and their careers could receive a boost if they are the ones to shine on stage – a comeback for one, a breakthrough for the other. A complicated, fast-paced farce ensues as the duos (differentiated only by Jimmy and Sid's Yorkshire accents and sparkly hats) chase one another on stage and off; identities get confused and dirty tricks are played as performers are bundled into backstage lockers or bumped on the head in the wings.

Tightly directed by Emily Burns, this is a very well-constructed show and, by the denouement, we realise there wasn't a wasted line, gesture or props gag in the mix. To add to the fun, each night Ashenden and Owen are joined by a celebrity guest for a sketch that needs three people. The night I saw it, Joanna Lumley proved herself a trouper.

By the denouement, we realise there wasn't a wasted line, gesture or props gag in the mix

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters