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Review Funny Men

Lizzie Pillinger sees the comedy play in Leeds before it heads to Edinburgh this summer

Review: Funny Men

Don’t go expecting a laugh-a-minute. This piece is about comedy, rather than being a comedy itself. Even so, if you want your perceptions challenged, and to be left with your brain contorting in a bid for comprehension, this is for you. Martin Knowles and Ben Eagle present a compelling performance examining the complex tapestry of comedy, tragedy and reality. Interspersed with skits ranging across comedic frontiers, from toilet humour to parody, and beyond, is a meandering philosophical duologue portraying the men behind both sides of the theatrical masks.

Jimmy McGee (Ben Eagle) and Clive Mortimer (Martin Knowles) become partners through an accidental double-booking at the Edinburgh festival. The antagonism which characterises their relationship is palpable from the very first scene, and the reasons for it soon become clear. Jimmy is younger, malleable and self-aware; Clive is sardonic and world-weary. Jimmy (fatally) brings his girlfriend, Rachel (Debz Haigh), into the mix, whereas Clive, the “sadistic misogynist bastard”, appears not to have much to his life beyond his search for success as a comic. Clive is a cynic whose sole purpose is to feed the “chimps” (public). He plays on Jimmy’s self-doubts and entices him into compromising his professional ideals and performing Clive’s own brand of violent, childish humour. It is this depth of frustration which no doubt gives the pair the on-stage chemistry which has propagated their success. But Clive plays on Jimmy’s insecurities throughout, and twists the reality so that Jimmy, and equally the audience, struggles to find the answer to Clive’s invocation: “What’s more important, comedy or happiness?”

The light-hearted moments, when Jimmy and Clive put on their masks and perform ‘on stage’ on stage, breathe life into the story, give warmth to the piece and depth to the characters, as well as being a much needed relief from a bleak two-dimensional discourse. Such contrasting moments, including a touch of geniality brought by entering the audience on the search for a pet lobster, are spread too thinly, making the much longer ramblings somewhat uncomfortable. The concept behind the story is, however, fascinating and technically well-executed with mostly convincing acting, inventive use of lighting and a minimal set.

12-13 March, The Carriageworks, Millennium Square, LS1 3DA, 0113 224 3801, 8pm, £6-£8

Posted on Tuesday 9th March 2010

The Carriageworks

The Electric Press, 3 Millenium Square, Leeds, LS2 3AD

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