Review: Will Franken, Soho Theatre

Will Franken

A friend saw something I'd written about Will Franken being silly and fun and asked me if his show would be suitable for a 16-year-old's birthday night out with friends. It was a tricky call. Teenagers grow up very fast these days and have short attention spans, but even though at times San Francisco-based one-man sketch machine Franken is faster than a, erm, Fast Show skit on fast forward I'm not sure if he would be up an adolescent's street. The references are wide and occasionally dark and I suspect that if half of the birthday party group loved him the other half would be itching to get their phones out after fifteen minutes.

Although he is only 39 there is something strangely old school, even old fashioned, about Franken. He does impersonations of film stars (see below) that were big stars three decades ago and absurd theatrical spoofs that require an understanding of stage conventions to truly appreciate. There is no denying his skill and the way he splices comic characterisation with a Pythonesque wackiness, but somehow it didn't quite hit the mark on the night I saw him and I felt I had to review the performance, not the man.

Then again, as I explain in my review, I also saw him do pretty much the same set at the Edinburgh Festival last summer where he stormed it, so maybe he just needs a comedy-literate audience. Robin Williams knows his comedy and he is a fan. A fuller house would have helped too. So perhaps not one for kids, but adults will certainly appreciate Franken even if they do not require their sides sewing back up after his show. You can read the original review that ran in the Evening Standard here.

 

Sometimes a comedy show hits the ground running, sometimes it builds as it goes along. Last night this curious hybrid of satire, impressions and sketches only truly tickled the funny bone in the final 15 minutes when American comedian Will Franken stepped out of character and started to chat as himself about his confusion over recycling rules in Ealing, where he is staying.

Or maybe this was just another persona in Franken’s formidable artillery of accents and attitudes. In a hectic hour of absurdism entitled Things We Did Before Reality, the smart San Franciscan runs through a gamut of eccentrics, from jargon-spouting motivational speaker to unctuous priest to a sleazy college professor explaining to freshers that sleeping with him is integral to their coursework.

I suspect that Franken is a fan of another comic chameleon, Peter Sellers. At one point while wearing spectacles he is a dead ringer for the shape-shifting dead actor. He is certainly a movie buff, judging by spot-on take-offs of Michael Caine, Woody Allen and Jack Nicholson. The gag they appear in is hackneyed but close your eyes and they are in the room.

At the Edinburgh Festival last summer Franken was a hit, yet on this occasion he struggled to take off. Maybe he was tired, maybe the thin Monday crowd was expecting a conventional stand-up set. But after that lively discussion regarding west London refuse collections, the show ended with a slightly laboured, scripted standing ovation. On better nights he might well deserve a spontaneous one.

 

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.