Pros: A bright cast and slow burning story that blossom in an excellent Act II.
Cons: Act I is disappointingly slow and spends far too much time setting the scene.
Casting familiar faces in a play is usually a safe bet, as the audience already have a rapport though television. End Of The Pier neatly pulls off the trick at the wonderful Park Theatre. Les Dennis takes the lead, while Blake Harrison, Nitin Ganatra and Tala Gouveia complete the line-up.
Bobby Chalk (Les Dennis) is a comedian whose best days are behind him. As one half of double act Chalk and Cheese, he was a darling of Saturday night TV. Now, however, Bobby has fallen victim to a wave of political correctness; people don’t laugh at his jokes anymore. So he scrapes a living in Blackpool doing panto. His son Michael (Blake Harrison) is also a comedian, but with a career light firmly switched on. His act is the antithesis of Bobby in his prime; smart, observational humour versus blunt gags that tick every ism in the book. But Michael also has a problem; an altercation on the seafront with Mohammed (Nitin Ganatra) has placed him in a quandary: can Bobby help him? Michael’s girlfriend Jenna (Tala Gouveia) turns up excitedly, looking forward to Michael’s new TV show, But Mohammed, an aspiring stand-up comic himself sees an angle to further his ambitions.
The cast are excellent throughout and totally convincing in their respective roles. Les Dennis shows no fear in portraying a washed up comedian; something he might have avoided as being far too close for comfort. Nevertheless, he attacks the role with gusto and finally buries the bland image of game show host; it’s official: Les Dennis can really act. Comedians may be natural actors because of the timing they can bring to a dramatic role, but he always struck me more as an impressionist than a comedian, particularly in his TV partnership with the late Dustin Gee. A deep understanding of character is apparent and a talented actor has emerged. His best scenes are the stand offs with the Inbetweeners’ Blake Harrison in Act II, when father and son cross swords as they forensically analyse how comedy has changed.
Nitin Ganatra, best known as Masood in Eastenders damn near tears the roof off with a sparkling routine in Act II. Writer Danny Robins obviously spent a lot more time on Mohammed’s routine than he did on Michael’s, which is lukewarm in comparison. Tala Gouveia also performs soundly as Jenna, but her character stands on the periphery as the three comedians battle for supremacy.
Act I falls surprisingly flat as it packs unnecessary detail into a plot that explores a familiar theme. A comedian past his prime, teetering on the end of a pier is nothing new, and requires nothing like the 50 minutes it occupies in Act I. It is annoyingly padded with old gags that generate more groans than laughs, but it perhaps sets the basis for the story that finally arrives in a truly outstanding Act II. Comedy has grown up and moved on; audiences are looking for something more than a punchline visible from the next county, they are looking for truth no matter how embarrassing or uncomfortable it might be. This play delivers the truth and is also very funny.
Author: Danny Robins
Director: Hannah Price
Producer: Park Theatre
Box Office: 020 7870 6876
Booking Link: https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/end-of-the-pier
Booking until: 11 August 2018