Owen McCafferty brings his thought-provoking Faustian play ‘Death of a Comedian’ over from Ireland for a month-long run at London’s Soho Theatre.
The play centres around comedian Steve Johnston, who dreams of the big time. Guided by girlfriend Maggie, Steve is slowly honing his talent but then showbiz agent Doug appears. Doug has the ability to give Steve everything he wants, but is fame and fortune really worth the sacrifice that Steve will be forced to make?
Initially Brian Doherty gives a gritty, intense performance as Steve as he struggles to connect with his comedy mojo, but this intensity slowly falls away to nothing as Steve moves closer and closer to becoming the ‘star’. Doherty has an incredibly expressive face – it’s a delight to watch him as he gurns through expletive-ridden monologues which range from spitting rants about poverty to tall tales about unlikely race horses. In contrast, Katie McGuiness plays her part with great warmth and sensitivity as Steve’s long-suffering partner Maggie.
In another piece of strong casting, Shaun Dingwall (an experienced TV and stage actor that you’ll recollect from 2013’s Breathless) plays the agent. It’s great acting – while his carefully enunciated dialogue sounds perfectly reasonable there’s something about his intonation and physical mannerisms that gives his character a chilly otherworldliness, like that person you once met at a party who immediately set off danger signals the moment they crossed the room…
If there is a problem with Death Of A Comedian it’s very much an existential one i.e. is it, or is it not, OK to laugh at the jokes told by an “actor-playing-a-comedian-performing-comedy-in-front-of-an-imaginery-audience-that-isn’t-actually-there-and-very-definitely-isn’t-you”. Most of the audience seemed to be a bit confused on this point, or perhaps I’m just over-thinking it?
That aside, ultimately what Death Of A Comedian represents is a deeply cynical critique of the bland, homogenous comedy that dominates 21st century celebrity stand-up shows. I highly recommend it to anyone whose secret fantasy is to punch Michael McIntyre squarely in his smug little face…
Death Of A Comedian runs at the Soho Theatre until 16 May – tickets are priced at £15 to £20.