Steve Bennett reviews the first part of the comic trilogy at Soho Theatre

Joe Bone is a man who not only never grew out of playing cops and robbers – he somehow managed to go professional. He first introduced his hard-bitten anti-hero Brice Bane in 2009, and since that Edinburgh Fringe debut it has spawned two sequels – and even a Brazilian stage franchise – all of which are playing in various permutations at London’s Soho Theatre this week. Well, except for the Brazilian version.

Although usually listed under ‘theatre’, this noirish one-man action thriller is full of comedy goodness, too. Last night’s first installment is a fast-paced, snappy-dialogued, densely-plotted version of the imaginary adventures most boys grow out of while still in short trousers. Over the hour, Bone gets to peeyow the imaginary bullets, Matrix-dodge the poison darts and mime out as much gore as his childishly exaggerated creativity will allow.

The title character is the sort of cookie-cutter brooding anti-hero, full of enigmatic charisma, that men want to be, and women want to be with. And if that description’s too cliched for you, the show might prove a bit of a slog, since Bone trots out every corny B-feature trope from sinister villains with vague but indeterminate Germanic accents to dangerous vats of acid, to cornball exchanges like:

‘I thought you were...’

‘...dead? I get that a lot.’

Bruce Bane. Even his name, floating somewhere between Gotham City and The Simpsons’s Schwarzeneggeresque action hero, reeks of testosterone.

The script is packed with more old chestnuts than the leftover Christmas stuffing and plot points more flagged up than the United Nations headquarters. But it needs to be this way to spoof a genre that’s so ripe for parody, and indeed which has has been parodied so often before.

While Bone mocks the formulae in a fashionably postmodern way, he does so without jaded irony, but in joyful celebration. So while this spoof is not so wildly original, it is made greatly enjoyable by his cheerful execution.

He’s certainly a powerhouse talent, spinning in a beat between cartoony characters ranging from the mysterious Sheldon, though his own Q, a mad scientist who hands out props that ‘might come in useful later’, to a New Jersey comedian dying on his arse (don’t ask). Only the scene in the opera proves a challenge too far for his vocal range.

Physically, too, he sets himself the challenge of miming everything from a terrifying chimera to a blow job. It’s rather like the Pyjama Men with extra narration. And although I called it a one-man show, the impact of Ben Roe’s atmospheric guitar soundtrack to enhance the theatrical experience shouldn’t be underestimated.

The taut, melodramatic plot cracks along, which keeps things interesting, and while some of the comic aspects of the writing are predictable, Bone makes them zing with his on-stage verve. And not everything is quite as you might expect: there are also moments of great comic invention, sometimes with deliciously bleak undertones, sometimes just unashamedly silly. It’s a fun ride.

  • Bane 1 is at the Soho Theatre on Thursday; Bane 2 tonight (Tues) and Friday and Bane 3 Wednesday and Saturday, all at 9.30pm. The trilogy will be performed back-to-back from 4pm on Sunday.

Published: 8 Jan 2013

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