Theatre Review: End of the Pier, Park Theatre

The world of comedy has been a great entry point for writing about the human condition, from John Osborne's The Entertainer through to Trevor Griffiths' Comedians to Terry Johnson's Dead Funny and beyond. We can now add Danny Robins' End Of The Pier to the list of painful plays about stand-up.

End of the Pier is the story of two generations going through similar problems. Les Dennis plays Bobby, the ageing old school star whose career nose-dived when he made a non-PC joke onstage in Macclesfield which went viral. Blake Harrison plays his son Michael, who is riding high but has also made a gaffe that threatens his family entertainer status.

The storyline plays out the similarities and the differences. Bobby's primetime show used to get 20 million viewers, Michael is a hit with 4 million. Nowadays, Bobby complains, it is all about diversity and ticking the right boxes. It used to be about jokes and making people laugh - taking the public out of their daily misery.

One of the main subtexts is class. Bobby claims that he gave the working classes what they wanted, even if it was a bit racist or sexist (never blue though). Today television prefers the kind of comedy that isn't about jokes, he argues while clenching his fists in frustration in his shabby Blackpool lounge. Michael's pregnant girlfriend Jenna seems to prove this point. She commissions comedy programmes but doesn't seem to like stand-up (I've met people like that).

As the story evolves themes about class, politics, honesty in comedy and offence and more are played out against a backdrop of laughs in both stand-up set pieces and general dialogue. Robins, who has done plenty of performing himself, knows the worlds he is talking about and packs in plenty of gags. It's interesting and maybe telling that often Bobby's pre-alternative comedy quips get as many laughs as Michael's more on-message observational material. There are plenty of echoes of real-life comedians – and real-life scandals, where the wrong remark or wrong tweet can potentially wipe out a glittering career overnight.

Even as the play builds to a powerful climax and we also meet aspiring comic Mohammed the laughs and the serious lines mix neatly together. It would spoil things to say exactly what happens, but this is a story not short on suprises. And also not short on powerful performances, most notably from Les Dennis and Blake Harrison but also from Nitin Ganatra as Mohammed and Tala Gouveia as TV executive Jenna. There might be a few plot holes - do Guardian writers really film stand-up gigs in Macclesfield? – but there is plenty of food for thought here too.

Until August 11. Buy tickets here.


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