Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

Zimbani is the latest comedy show to venture into the Garth Marenghi territory of ridiculously overblown melodrama, played with uncrackable deadpan no matter how outlandish the plot.

In place of cheesy horror, Colin Hoult (of Colin & Fergus) and Dave McNeill have taken their inspiration from equally naff action-adventure escapades of the Sixties and Seventies. That Hoult’s machismo agent Lenarkos wears a too-tight royal blue safari suit is probably the only clue you’ll need to their frame of reference. Or that as his Wilbur Smith-obsessed boss Chester, McNeill bears more than a passing resemblance to George Cowley in The Professionals.

If you were a fan of Stephen Fry and Hugh Grant’s middle managers aggressively proposing business-babble strategies to put Uttoxeter on the map, you’re likely to enjoy Zimbani, as Lenarkos and Chester trade macho banter in a similarly puffed-up vein, punctuated with shots of neat whisky. They’re unreconstructed men’s men, with no room in their testosterone-driven lives for women, except as notches on the bedpost.

So they pay little attention to Clare Ward as the token female known only as Receptionist, little stretch from her role in Pleasance show Reception, on just before this one. But she mugs along with the best of them.

The plot, for what its worth, sees Lenarkos dispatched to Africa to broker a deal with African despot Zimbani, avoiding a band of scheming rival Norwegians on the way. But this staged in a Portakabin on a Fringe budget, most of the action is set in Chester’s office rather than on the majestic plains of the Kalahari.

It’s all merely an excuse for lots of arsing around and overdramatic acting, perfectly pitched with a straight-faced levity despite the manic stupidity that such an over-the-top parody demands. This is never more true than when the cast play the Norwegian versions of themselves, with such grossly exaggerated characteristics that would make the Muppets Swedish chef look realistic.

The biggest pitfall is that this is swaggering spoof is a repetitive, one-joke idea, and the team ultimately can’t extricate themselves from that, especially over a full 60 minutes. But the one joke is played out with remarkable style: the stupidity is well-judged, the physical set pieces are skilfully choreographed to look plainly ludicrous, and even the soundtrack is impressively evocative of the era and genre being spoofed.

So while several sequences seem overlong – especially the revolving door farrago – the skill of the cast make this an entertaining, and fleetingly brilliants, hour.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

Review date: 1 Jan 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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