End of the Pier
Reviewed – 16th July 2018
“provocative in challenging our perceptions on censorship and political correctness“
‘All comedy needs a victim’. This well-known adage is one that is repeated constantly and forms the focal argument for new black comedy End Of The Pier, a play that centres on the often contradictory lives of comics. Making someone laugh should be a joyous action, yet, when it is part of a huge money making business, where your jokes and reputation are under constant scrutiny, it can be rather humourless. Thought-provoking yet highly entertaining, End Of The Pier offers an insider look into how far some will go to earn the last laugh.
Bobby (Les Dennis) used to be a household name. As one half of the once much loved comic double-act, Chalk and Cheese, Bobby helped champion the voice of the working-class, bringing it to the forefront of TV viewing. As years went by, so the tastes and ideas on comedic acceptability changed, leaving Bobby behind, insignificant and lacking laughs. Faced with a lonely life of solitude – and the odd bit of panto – in walks Michael, (Blake Harrison) the nation’s current favourite comedian. He is in trouble, and desperately needs Bobby’s help to try and save his career. Whilst Bobby is being thrust back into the world of showbiz, the darker side of stand-up comedy rears its nasty head, bringing to question, what happens when, deep down, you’re not the type of person everyone thinks you are?
End Of The Pier’s playwright Danny Robins is no stranger to the comedy circuit. He learnt his craft as a stand-up, before turning more behind the scenes, writing jokes for some of the UK’s most well known comedians. His in-depth personal experience provides an authentic depiction of that world, within the play. Not to mention, having Les Dennis on board, whose own life has, in many ways, chartered a very similar path as that of his character.
Robins’ fascination with the evolution of comedy, as well as, dissecting the fundamentals behind why we laugh, comes across clearly. Bobby and Michael are from completely different eras. Where the first half of the play distinguishes their differences, the second half blurs lines, revealing how many of the outdated beliefs and prejudices of yesteryear are still highly present. We have only learnt to suppress them. Robins sophisticatedly offers arguments and social commentary that will play on your mind for days after seeing the production.
The cast give well-rounded performances, with particular mention of Blake Harrison (of The Inbetweeners fame), whose change from Mr Nice Guy to Most Reviled is quite the turnaround. The naturalistic set that has such details as a working kettle and half-eaten biscuits, keeps to the authentic tone established.
End Of The Pier is provocative in challenging our perceptions on censorship and political correctness, yet successfully achieves a nuanced balance in still being amusing and accessible. A must-see if you like your laughs with a touch of intelligence.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Photography by Simon Annand
End of the Pier
Park Theatre until 11th August
Why is the Sky Blue?
Reviewed – 1st May 2018
“rightfully disturbing show but it is also artistically impressive and highly entertaining”
Drawn from the voices of 10,000 children and young people, a group of actors, representing a diversity of age, race and sexuality, portray the powerful impact pornography is having on a vulnerable society. For ‘Why is the Sky Blue?’, director Abbey Wright extracted the essence of interviews she had conducted in schools and theatres all over the country in which she recorded discussions on this sensitive subject and, more generally, on love and connection. With the dramaturgical collaboration of Shireen Mula, she has transformed their words into a theatrical statement on the need to repair the damage done by the accessibility of pornography to this age group. The show is aimed at adults to demonstrate the need to talk and listen to children, but Barnardos and Tackroom Theatre have also joined together on an educational project offering support.
After an ice-breaking opening by one of the youngest members, we meet the rest of this talented troupe whose ages range from 6 to 22, all strikingly at ease on stage. With energy and flair, the testimony of thousands is presented, building a picture of a situation they are part of. They interact with the audience in humorous question and answer sequences and tell stories of real experiences. There are excellent performances of Matt Regan’s pastiches, expertly composed in true musical theatre style. The messages of the pensive ‘question’ song, the melancholy ballad, the upbeat numbers and the grand finale are driven home by the poignant lyrics. On several occasions the mood changes and we listen to their face to face re-enactments of eye opening conversations.
Slick choreography (Josie Daxter), as we pass through the various sections of the show, creates engaging pace and fluidity. Elliot Grigg’s lighting is in perfect harmony with the different elements, notably in the contrasting musical moments. The array of chairs used for the set, designed by James Turner, make for versatile group combinations while keeping the whole cast together – a reminder of the compass of fragile ages touched by this issue. Cleverly, the familiar sight of the young wearing headphones is incorporated to include everyone, but specifically to protect the younger children from being exposed to “inappropriate” material.
The disconnection pornography produces means that it remains a clandestine, unspoken area, individually absorbed, used and hidden. Whether it is revelation for the pre-internet generation or incredulity for those who trust parental blocks, it is painful to be confronted by this aspect of modern life. Although, or perhaps because, the tone tends towards the lighthearted, even though the script is often moving or explicit, one comes away bewildered by the blow of reality; the importance of being made aware sinks in more slowly. ‘Why is the Sky Blue?’ is a rightfully disturbing show but it is also artistically impressive and highly entertaining.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by Marc Brenner
Why is the Sky Blue?
Southwark Playhouse until 19th May