Jeremy Lion: For Your Entertainment

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

Breaking through the Edinburgh hype is one thing – sustaining it quite another. What is a comic to do with the show they sweated months over once the hoopla of the Fringe is just a groggy memory? Is it really just a few regional comedy festivals, and that’s it?

With this new Jeremy Lion show, Justin Edwards is hoping to give his outrageously twisted, clumsy, dipsomaniac children’s entertainer a new lease of life with a full-on, two-act performance. Enough, surely, to provide a full evening’s entertainment.

The premise is that Lion is settling in a new town and needs to recruit a new pianist (the last incumbent suffered an unfortunate accident involving red wine and electrical equipment) in time to put on a showcase for dignitaries and parents who might want to book him.

Act one is in Lion’s squalid flat, littered with pizza cartons and a bottle bank’s worth of empties. Here he signs up the meek and fastidious Hilary Cox – played deadpan by Gus Brown, the Gus of Radio 4’s Laurence & Gus – and together they run through some perfunctory rehearsal before the big gig.

This is very much a scene-setter, a gentle introduction to the exaggerated, miserable world of the children’s entertainer who’s totally unsuitable for children, should it be needed. We get to see his pathetic life, understand his desperation to please despite the inevitable failure brought on by his incompetence, and enjoy a few nice lines on the way.

There are some stabs at Odd-Couple style interaction, although without the claustrophic friction of the original, but it’s all rather a gentle tease for the show itself. Existing fans will be impatiently waiting for the madness to be unleashed, newcomers might wonder what all the fuss is about.

But any such doubts will be dismissed in the second half, a typical tour-de-force of shambolic slapstick – or should that be tour-de-farce? Lion, so keen to impress the local bigwigs with his talent inexorably, and spectacularly, comes a spectacular cropper due to a splendid combination of overambition, incompetence and, of course, alcohol.

It’s in the extravagant set pieces that Edwards – last seen as the mild-mannered prostitutes’ john in Five’s Respectable – truly excels, building elaborate props on a tight budget, that are doomed to fail. A few of these have been reprised from previous Edinburgh shows, but they’re well worth bringing out again. There are plenty of new treats, too, as Lion battles his way through the calendar, from New Year, through Shrove Tuesday, Easter, summer, Bonfire Night and Halloween and up to Christmas.

Any one of these scenes might rightly set you off in incontrollable giggles, from the sight of two pancake-faced men chasing each other, to Lion reciting the 12 Days Of Christmas with the aid of a small vineyard’s annual output. Then there’s his attempts to explain human biology – which he has very little grasp of – with the aid of a gruesomely graphic abominable snowman outfit. His masterpiece moment, though, is a magnificent Easter Bunny, providing easily one of the funniest visual gags you’ll see on stage this year. It’s virtually impossible not to be moved to tears of laughter by at least one of these scenes – though the inexplicably poker-faced reaction of the matinee audience Chortle was in made a good fist of it. The pace inevitably lulls between the big numbers, but only to give you enough time to regain your composure ready for the next assault.

There are flaws in the show. The entire first half needs more substance and the elevation of the pianist into a junior partner in a double act, rather than near-silent foil, doesn’t quite yield the new dimension that might be hoped, despite Brown’s game participation. His character’s still too sketchily drawn for that.

But this gingham-capped clown in ill-fitting blazer, damaged beyond belief, is a brilliant comic invention, irresistible when in full manic flow. Although a terrifying grotesquely buffoon, the skilful Edwards also gives him a human dimension – vulnerable, sad and completely unaware of his own ineptitude – that makes him almost endearing as he terrifies the fictional youngsters. It is frighteningly good, literally.

Jeremy Lion: For Your Entertainment runs at the Menier Chocolate Factory, London, until November 11. Click here for tickets.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
October 18, 2006

Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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