Soho Theatre + Writers' Centre, London W1
Opened 7 December, 2009
*** / ****

Of the two comedy shows that make up Soho’s holiday-season programme, I am rather surprised that Kim Noble Will Die is the one given the peak-time evening slot, with The Pajama Men following on a couple of hours later. Noble’s show (which I saw in Edinburgh and frankly don’t have the nerve to face again) is the far less mainstream offering, not so much edgy as way off the map. Noble uses a range of surrealistically applied multimedia techniques and unorthodox audience participation to portray an only slightly fantastical version of his own depression and privations. His show is part comedy, part performance art, part explicit pornography and part mental illness. It is genuinely and deeply unsettling, and makes us interrogate our laughter more completely than any show I have ever seen, whilst still eliciting that laughter. But anyone who reels in casually to see it after the office party may end up scarred for life.
New Mexico duo The Pajama Men are a less radical, more broadly appealing proposition. Mark Chavez and Shenoah Allen boast that they are “often described as ‘indescribable’”, which itself is a taste of their shtick. They specialise in shows built around a loose narrative or situational premise within which they interweave series of sketches involving specific groups of characters. Last Stand To Reason is set on a long train journey, whose many passengers include a couple of English punks, a mass murderer chained up in the guard’s van, a ghostly little girl and a French woman travelling with a Strange Cute Creature. The pair take great delight in daft faces and voices, but are also admirably sharp mimes, so that the hour-long show uses only two wooden chairs as set and props. They also enjoy improvising within the framework they have built for themselves, and wind each other up mischievously: on press night, slips of the tongue or throwaway gestures were held onto, generating riffs on a lie detector applied to the face and an odd catfish-style moustache. After success in Edinburgh and Melbourne, they deserve a Flight of the Conchords-style breakthrough, but it is pure joy to watch them being so swiftly, agilely silly in the flesh.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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