Death of a Comedian – Peacock theatre at the Abbey – Review
Booking details – Dates: 10 March – 4 April
We join Steve as he is about to take the stage in a dive of a comedy club. He is a comedian at the start of his career, not sure if he has what it takes, or even if he is funny! His girlfriend Maggie is there to reassure him, as she has always been. There is talk of an agent in the crowd tonight, and this could be his big break. After a typical set in which he is abrasive and foul mouthed, he is met back stage by the agent Doug. He is the agent for all the big names, and he sees something he likes in Steve and offers him a chance at the big time, but at what cost?
This is a new play by Belfast born writer Owen McCafferty. He has ten previous plays, but is possibly best know for Quietly which was also staged in the Peacock, before travelling nationwide. This new work is quite different from his previous, and moves from an Irish view to a more universal perspective. While it never reaches the heights of its predecessor, it still manages to delve into many complex issues on the role of the artist, and the compromises they have to make in order to achieve success.
The stage is empty other than for a number of back drops, which are used to create the variety of scenes. These hang from above and are moved to one side to reveal the next, creating settings such as clubs and offices. The lighting is also impressive, and used to convey the differences between being on stage and back stage.
The life of a comedian is somewhat bizarre. They travel between venues telling the same jokes with the same intonation night after night. As Bill Hicks once said ‘I’ve been on the road doing comedy for ten years, so bear with me while I plaster on a fake smile and plough through this shit one more time’. The main protagonist in this piece is at the start of his career, and is willing to do what it takes to achieve his goal of being a comedian. In truth, comedy could stand in for any art form in this tale.
The three members of the cast are all impressive with Shaun Dingwall particularly catching the eye as the agent offering the poison chalice. He is a fast talking wise guy with constant suggestions to the comedian, which slowly change the nature of his performances. There is frequent use of actual stand up sets, with the comedian talking to the audience as if at a comedy club. This small role reversal works well, and serves to break up the plot of the play. This is a well conceived play, that will suit a younger audience and has an easy cross over with the comedy scene, and strikes more than a few home truths.
Duration – 1 hour 15, with no interval.
Death of a Comedian – Peacock theatre at the Abbey
Collaboration between the Abbey Theatre, Soho Theatre, London and the Lyric Theatre, Belfast.
Shaun Dingwall – Agent
Brian Doherty – Comedian
Katie McGuinness – Girlfriend
Ben Ormerod – Lighting Designer
Owen McCafferty – Writer
Sara Joyce – Assistant Director
Tom Mills – Sound Designer
Michael Vale – Set and Costume Designer
Steve Marmion – Director