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Review of End Of The Pier at Park Theatre

End Of The Pier at Park Theatre
End Of The Pier at Park Theatre

I think the first time I properly realised that what certain stand-up comedians say has little to do with their real-life experiences and situations was when a comedian (who shall remain unnamed) kept saying, “You know, the other day…” They seemed to have accomplished an awful lot ‘the other day’, and if they were touring the country with the same material, which they were, then when exactly was ‘the other day’? Such is the sort of comedian that Michael (Blake Harrison) appears to be, though he pulls off a (just about) convincing act in the opening scene of End of the Pier, establishing a good rapport with the audience. One of his most renowned anecdotes is about duvet covers and the difficulties arising from trying to change them. I once saw Miranda Hart at The O2 Arena tell a remarkably similar story a few years ago: perhaps it does the rounds.

This is one of those theatre experiences where one quickly gets the notion that all this pleasantness and light banter isn’t going to last – or if it is, the play is going to be rather lightweight. There are a lot of themes in this multi-layered play, which on one level is about the sort of laughs that get appreciated by audiences today (as opposed to a generation ago, when Bobby (Les Dennis) was on prime-time television as part of a double act). But in a world where, frankly, reputations can be destroyed as quickly as they are built up, Michael decides to make public something that he had been trying to keep private. Only he really knows the reason why he did so, though I suspect it was a rash decision after seeing the authenticity of another comedian, Mohammed (Nitin Ganatra), and suddenly deciding he wanted to be authentic too. Possibly. Maybe.

What we do know is that his girlfriend Jenna (Tala Gouveia) is very upset about Michael’s conduct in the show’s critical incident, as is Bobby, Michael’s father. Comedy is an appropriate vehicle to bring to the fore the sorts of issues the play discusses. Take the punchlines and the stand-up backdrop away, and what raises a smile, or even a laugh, becomes just a tad preachy. An example: Mohammed talks about going abroad, eating cuisines one is used to at home, and only speaking one’s native language, before drawing a telling parallel between (certain) British holidaymakers and (certain) immigrants to Britain.

The set (James Turner) is sufficiently detailed, with the downstairs living space of Bobby’s house transformed during the interval into Michael’s dressing room. The audience is either treated or subjected to the equivalent of three stand-up routines, one at the start of the play, and one near the end (both start to drag slightly after a while). The sheer number of gags and punchlines from Bobby sprinkled throughout the dialogue more or less add up to a third one. Gouveia does very well playing a rather dull Jenna, a character best described as corporate with a capital C. It is, at least, a well-researched script from Danny Robins: Jenna complains that Blackpool has no branch of Pret A Manger, the nearest one being in Liverpool. A superfluous statement, ultimately, but one that turns out to be true.

For all the laughs, there are some serious messages to be taken home. There’s a price to pay for fame, and every joke has a victim. Every so often, the victim is a comedian. The times they are a-changin’, to quote Bob Dylan, and it’s for stand-up acts to keep pace – yesterday’s jokes don’t always work today, and not just because of technological advances and ‘political correctness’. Brilliantly acted and superbly directed, it’s a challenging and delightful production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Bobby (Les Dennis) was once a household name with 20 million TV viewers – but now the laughter has faded. Resigned to a life of solitude and second-rate panto performances, his glory days are behind him. When Michael (Blake Harrison), the nation’s favourite comedian, arrives at his door asking desperately for help to save his career, Bobby is unwillingly thrown into the limelight once again. A dark question lurks behind the laughs: What if, inside, you’re not the person everyone thinks you are?

‘I used to dream of people remembering my jokes. Now I just wish they’d forget.’

Les Dennis, Nitin Ganatra, Tala Gouveia and Blake Harrison star in this powerful new black comedy at Park Theatre. As a former national treasure begins to reflect on his fading career and embrace his dimming stardom, his life is upended by the surprise arrival of the nation’s favourite young comedian.

LISTINGS
END OF THE PIER
Venue: Park200, Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, N4 3JP
Dates: 11 July – 11 August 2018
https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/

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