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Danny Pensive’s Map of Britain

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Jay Richardson

As Danny Pensive, the duffel-coated, simple soul from Sunderland, John Cooper offers an hour that seldom exceeds gentle amusement but is endearingly amiable throughout.

Once glued to his television, for reasons unexplained, Pensive simply jumped on a bus and started travelling around Britain. Opening with a video of him at various landmarks and featuring a cameo from Allo Allo’s Arthur Bostrom, there’s no great psychological motivation or guiding spirit to his travels, nor revelations to these anecdotes he relates. They’re just little slice-of-life vignettes told with an appreciation for local colour and eccentricity.

Beginning his reportage in the likes of Bridlington and Whitby, where Dracula went on holiday, he initiates the audience into the show with a demand for them to shout out where they perceive the north-south divide in Britain. Scots and a high proportion of Geordies in today’s crowd skewer the results somewhat but the passion and disparity of opinions ventured is intriguing, indicative of the ongoing importance of place in our identities.

Thereafter, volunteers are asked to draw place names from a pot so he can talk about them, the fact that he ultimately gets through them all rather undermining the random, spontaneous illusion of the storytelling.

Reflecting on why Newquay has the angriest seagulls or trying and failing to buy Worcester sauce in the city that shares its name, Pensive simply trots out his solitary anecdote per location and moves on, his hour clearly benefitting from contributions accumulated over the course of its Fringe run, even if they are just the tale of a stand-off he had with a woman on the pronunciation of ‘Brecon’. The broad sweep of the show affords it wide appeal, but beyond little frictions like this, there’s little worthwhile social analysis to take away.

Indeed, and rather damningly, the funniest moments are unrelated to Pensive’s travels, his occasional songs on subjects such as goldfish or writing your own message for a greeting card. Or the jokes that feel beyond the character’s intelligence: a deep, philosophical rumination on the speed of a clock’s second hand being the most glaring example. Very funny on the trades descriptions defiance of Rice Krispies and the recommended daily allowances of sugar, I’m unconvinced Pensive is showcasing the best of Cooper – and that he shouldn’t have stayed at home.

Review date: 28 Aug 2011
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson

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