There are many ways in which someone can try and make you laugh. We have gag tellers and slapstick prat fallers, satirists and surrealists who will all try and make us chortle.
For this comedy double bill at the King’s Arms, as part of the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival, we were treated to some character comedy from Joanna Neary and a story from Ben Moor.
First on was Joanna, who in Wife on Earth, was examining marriage through different characters. Taking us through this dissection of matrimony was Celia, a middle-class Joyce Grenfull-esque posh lady who was not unlike Celia Johnson in the film Brief Encounter. She was married to Fred who seems to spend most of his time doing sudoku or crossword puzzles.
Celia is hosting an evening to raise money for the church roof and the different characters appear throughout the show. There was a pleasing ramshackle nature to the set that made it endearing. The costume changes were not slick but that only added to the charm of the performance.
Bjork made a special appearance along with Nancy, a pensioner ftom Merthyr Tydfil, a Cornish woman called Morwenna Wade, Peg Bird, an enthusiastic art lover and Rosalind who went through a list of the top ten things her partner did that were initially endearing but she now found annoying.
Throughout the show Celia subtly reveals the problems she has with Fred whilst at the same time, in a very English way, pretending everything is OK. She is a housewife and tells herself she is happy staying at home. Although, a cold phone call from someone selling double glazing leads to an imagined Brief Encounter like affair and then she realises it never happened.
The highlight of the performance came at the end with an interpretative dance by a character called Kate Bushton. Obviously, this person was not unlike a certain Wuthering Heights singer. Joanna’s movements and timing were spot on during this section. Indeed, her physicality as she portrayed each character was wonderful.
In the second half Ben Moor told his story, Who Here’s Lost. At first, he reminded me of the comedian Nick Revell, who tells fantastic, surreal tales. I have been fortunate enough to see him a number of times at Edinburgh and his stories are full of verve and wit. I am afraid that this monologue was not to that standard and suffered from some poor delivery.
For me he spoke too quickly in parts so some of the narrative and the timing was lost. I missed bits of the story because the delivery was so quick. This was unfortunate as it was a very well written, insightful, almost lyrical piece of theatre.
The narrative followed Ben’s character as he goes on a road trip with his ex-mother-in-law as she is dying. An architect, she wants to visit all the buildings she has built before she dies. It was reflective, thoughtful and poignant.
As a piece of writing it was extraordinary, with some wonderful ideas and clever allusions. However, you could see the writing under the performance. Every performer wants it to appear that even though it is written they are making it up as they go along. If I was to read it I would enjoy it but unfortunately as a performance I got, well, lost.
As clever as it undoubtedly is it was not all that funny. There were some wonderful surreal moments and truly great ideas but ultimately it did not make me laugh which is, after all, the object of comedy.
It was though an entertaining, skilfully constructed monologue and we were told that this was only the fourth time it had been performed. I am sure it will improve with age.
Reviewer: Adam Williams
Reviewed: 24th September 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★