Jeffrey Dahmer Is Unwell

Note: This review is from 1996

Review by Steve Bennett

When comedians grow up, they want to be taken seriously, which explains the plethora of novels, musicals and plays they write. But Alan Francis was just four years out of winning the So You Think You’re Funny? competition for brand new stand-ups when he unveiled Jeffrey Dahmer Is Unwell, the play he wrote with actor Mike Hayley. Now ten and a bit years after its Edinburgh Fringe debut, it has been revived at London’s King’s Head fringe theatre.

In it, Mike plays Mike, reluctant host to an unwelcome and immovable houseguest: the slobbish Alan who sleeps on the sofa in his shabby shirt and stained underpants. More troublingly, he is consumed by serial killers, pouring over every ghoulish biography and collecting every piece of mail-order memorabilia.

The flat is now cluttered with nooses, meat cleavers and murderer Top Trumps cards but - worst of all – Alan is a crashing bore, always steering the conversation back to the ghoulish trivia he deludedly believes makes him an expert psychological profiler. Even though, in reality, he’s more crackers than Cracker.

For the first half, this two-hander trundles along smoothly enough as the pair bicker, antagonise and talk nonsense of their grubby sofa. Alan never deviates from his morbid obsession while Mike reveals a much more socially acceptable fixation, model aeroplanes. It is, essentially, Anoraks Behaving Badly.

Here the script – which has been updated with references to the Wests, Harold Shipman and Ian Huntley – is no gagfest, but produces a wry, witty banter between the duo, with the occasional moment of slapstick thrown in for good measure.

Plot points are semaphored pretty blatantly, right down to the familiar old breaking news bulletin revealing a psychopathic killer is on the loose from his high-security cell. How the drama – and the comedy – will unfold is hardly a mystery to vex Wexford.

But it doesn’t want to be too subtle, since the audience needs to be fully primed for the brilliant opening of the second half, in which a high-stakes piece of mistaken identity sees the hapless Alan unwittingly hurl increasingly provocative insults at who we all know to be the sadistic killer, the looming menace only adding to the farce, at least until the breathless chasing-around-the-sofa starts its slide into pantomime.

It’s Joe Orton territory, this, and doesn’t suffer by comparison, successfully melding a silly high-octane comic romp onto an inherently dark premise. It’s all daft good fun, with a well put-together script and two actors who clearly know what they’re doing. In short, it’s a killer comic play.

Jeffrey Dahmer Is Unwell runs at the Kings Head, Islington, until March 12.

Steve Bennett
February 9, 2006

Review date: 1 Jan 1996
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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