Honky Bonk Comrades | Brighton Fringe review by Steve Bennett

Honky Bonk Comrades

Brighton Fringe review by Steve Bennett

Honky Bonk Comrades are harnessing a fine history of absurdity in this near-wordless hour. It’s often performed at a glacial pace, especially early on, but the painstaking build-ups always intrigue, and sometimes erupt into an unexpected blast of slapstick hilarity.

The trio, bedecked in ramshackle army attire that parodies the slick military machine, all foster a beguiling, wide-eyed innocence which welcomes the audience into their warped world. They plead approval with their hopeful stares, goading us to applaud such minor accomplishments as erecting a picnic table – a task that takes these Laurel-and-Hardy-style fools an age. Yet they always sustain the anticipation of what might happen.

Between them, they adopt three archetypes. The innocent idiot (Neil Frost), the mischievous idiot (Ben Whitehead) and the nominally-in-charge idiot (Dan Lees), and laughs come from the interplay between them, from the low-budget ingenuity with which they perform their sketches, and the way they convey their meaning through their gestures – and meaningless language – alone.

The audience are invited to play, too; such as joining in on the old gag in which a hat compels the wearer to adopt a new personality. It’s done with charm and patience, and the punter is never the butt of the joke.

Their innocence is underlined when they play a version of peek-a-boo with each other, and their best sketches demonstrate the imagination of children rummaging around with household items. Their outer-space adventure, a loose spoof of Gravity done with absolutely no gravity at all, is a special delight. Their valiant but futile attempts to sustain the suspension of disbelief, despite the cheap malfunctioning props (one of them even dressing up as a cardboard meteorite) is irresistibly funny.

Several attempts at a ‘grand finale’ evoke messy slapstick – shaving foam and all – before settling on a silly game that again welcomes the whole audience in on the fun. As clowning experiences an ongoing resurgence in festival comedy, these three up-and-comers, although not quite the finished article, show a promise that could have them snapping at the heels of Dr Brown or The Boy With Tape On His Face.

It’s a great turnaround for this act, previously known as Pekka and Strangebone, whose 2013 Edinburgh offering was crushed by a deliberately dreary compere, intimidating participation and crass characters. Now they are playing to their strengths, and hitting home a lot more consistently.

Review date: 19 May 2014
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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