by Trevor Griffiths.
Octagon Theatre To 8 May 2010.
Runs 2hr 50min Two intervals.
TICKETS: 01204 520661.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 20 April.
Reliable revival of the politics of laughter.
David Thacker’s Bolton revival brings this 1975 play about a tryout for an evening-class of apprentice comics in Manchester almost home. It doesn’t have the sparkle or incandescence of Richard Eyre’s Nottingham premiere, but it makes the author’s points.
(Though its time-scheme’s unlikely. A clock on the classroom wall of the outer acts, and the central act’s club, records passing time, but leaves the question how everyone moved from class to club and changed in 15 minutes, then returned, and changed back in another fifteen.)
Stakes are high for these young men (Liverpool Everyman once showed the play works with women comedians). Mostly, they respond either with the comedy their veteran comedian tutor Eddie encourages, using humour to understand the world. Or they try satisfying agent Bert Challenor with his contracts on offer, producing mind-closing, prejudicial jokes.
Nowadays, these sound antediluvian, though they were common enough at the time. But the real wild-card is the fierce Gethin Price, employing performance as a means of attack. He’s a possible hero; it was fashionable in seventies theatre, sympathising (in the safety of the stalls) with the tearaway who menaced the middle-class. Now Gethin’d get an ASBO and there’d be demands for more police walking the streets.
Nor is an all-male (and all-White; diversity here means Scottish, Irish and Jewish comics) class now likely. But though comedy’s moved on – maybe less in downmarket clubs like this, where the acts merely interrupt the bingo – Griffiths’ political analysis of humour and its impact hasn’t gone away.
John Branwell’s Challenor ticks points off in his notes, and screws most of them up rather obviously, while Kieran Hill’s Gethin smoulders finely in act one, and shows fierce frustration in the final act, without his set-piece showing the skill and authority that wins Eddie’s admiration along with dislike of its hatred.
Richard Moore does a decent job as Eddie and there are good performances elsewhere. But the sense these people have shared a class for months, and their different ambitions don’t emerge, Yet Comedians has plenty of lines that carry a punch and is well worth this revival.
Caretaker/Club Pianist: Howard Crossley.
Gethin Price: Kieran Hill.
Phil Murray: Mark Letheren.
George McBain: Colin Connor.
Sammy Samuels: Sévan Stephan.
Mick Connor: Brendan Foster.
Eddie Waters: Richard Moore.
Ged Murray: Huw Higginson.
Mr Patel: Simon Nagra.
Bert Challenor: John Branwell.
Club Secretary: Russell Richardson.
Director: Davikd Thacker.
Designer: Helen Goddard.
Lighting: Emma Chapman.
Sound: Andy Smith.
Music consultant: Carol Sloman.
Movement: Lesley Hutchison.
Assistant director: Elizabeth Newman.