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Review: End of the Pier, at Park Theatre

Les Dennis and Blake Harrison star as entertainers from different eras in play that debates interesting questions about who holds the power in comedy

19 July, 2018 — By Billie Manning

Les Dennis and Blake Harrison in End of the Pier. Photo: Simon Annand

THE nature and fate of comedy is a hot topic, thanks to Hannah Gadsby’s new stand-up special Nanette. In writer-comedian Danny Robins’ new play, father Bobby (Les Dennis) and son Michael (The Inbetweeners’ Blake Harrison) hold each end of the rope in a tug o’war of comedy, truth and power.

Michael (named perhaps after Michael MacIntyre and sharing his saccharine affability) is an observational comic who pokes relatable fun at the difficulties of duvet covers. Bobby, on the other hand, was part of an old-school double-act in the 80s whose comedy style favoured racist routines for which he was disgraced in the early noughties.

In tandem, his parenting style favoured not letting Michael out of the toilet until he had told a joke. For these reasons, the air between them is frosty when Michael turns up on Bobby’s doorstep the night after his stag do goes awry – but Michael needs his father’s help.

Dennis is a perfectly eager yet world-weary ex-entertainer who breathes life even into the cheesiest of gags and Tala Gouveia manages well with a slightly bland role as Michael’s comedy commissioner fiancée, as does Harrison with Michael’s sea-changes in attitude.

Good and occasionally great gags pepper the production, and the play debates interesting questions about who holds the power in comedy, and whose truths are being told. But it tends to tell rather than show, leaving points over-laboured and expositions obvious.

After a neck-breaking twist, the show-stealer is Bangladeshi refugee Mohammed’s closing stand-up routine. Nitin Ganatra as Mohammed is ingenious, and, most horribly for Harrison’s character, the routine is properly hilarious, with a smartly twisted bit of audience participation which forces us to consider our complicity in the power of jokes, too.

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