Friday, December 9

The Comeback – Noel Coward Theatre

Is it a play? Is it a series of sketches? Is it stand-up comedy?  The answer in the case of Ben Ashenden and Alex Owen’s new play now resumed at the Noel Coward Theatre following the Covid interruption is…. Yes…. to all of them.

The storyline which runs through the piece is of two aspiring comics, Ben and Alex, starting out as the warmup tour for an ageing well known duo, Sid and Jimmy, who are trying to re-establish their former glory in a production in the mythical town of Diddington. 

Both comic pairs are played by Ben Ashenden and Alex Owen who have established their name as comics on the BBC radio series The PIn.  Their debut play demonstrates them as accomplished live performers.  They set up an immediate rapport with the audience, many of whom appeared to be fans from the radio series, and their energy and commitment during the 90 minutes was impressive.

It was very funny.  A mixture of verbal gags, physical comedy and slapstick. The director, Emily Burns devised a great deal of imaginative staging on the largely bare stage, in front of a large red curtain, which alternately, represented the front and back stage area of the Diddington Theatre. The humour was not sophisticated although many of the verbal gags ended with an unexpected twist but some of the visual humour, for example, the “horrific entrance”, bordered on the infantile.

Ashenden and Owen have clearly developed into a very effective comic duo although, as yet, they lack the character differentiation which sets apart the really great historic comedy pairings.  There was more than a little of Eric Morecambe in Ashenden’s performance.    They were ably supported by their body doubles which added to the frenetic activity of the final scenes, which were reminiscent of a Whitehall farce, and there was an unexpected surprise on stage which, since it was not announced in the preshow publicity, probably should not be revealed in a review, but added immensely to the enjoyment of the evening.

Although this is not great theatre it is a perfect light-hearted welcome back to live performance, which has been so sorely missed over the last 18 months, and can be thoroughly recommended.  The management and staff of the Noel Coward Theatre are also to be congratulated on handling the tedious entrance requirements of pandemic theatre quickly and efficiently.  Although the need for a socially distance audience must be working horrors on the finances of the theatre the additional legroom and the space around the occupied seats is luxurious. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Playing until 28th July with further information and tickets at https://thecomebackcomedy.co.uk/

Reviewer: Paul Ackroyd

Reviewed: 10 July 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★

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