Penny Dreadfuls: The Never Man

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

Over the past three years, the distinctive Victorian theme of their Aeneas Faversham shows have helped the Penny Dreadfuls stand out from the comedy crowd. That, and the considerable performing talents of Humphrey Ker, David Reed and Thom Tuck that brought their comic capers to life.

But their latest offering bravely shuns that world in favour of a more modern milieu. The Never Man is an imaginative action-adventure set on the mysterious theme park island of Beef Island. But is everything what it seems? Well, no, of course not. It would be pretty thin plot if it were…

The story is prefaced by some engaging out-of-character, front-cloth banter between the trio, setting the scene for a much looser show than before, now unconstrained by the starched emotions of Victorian England. They are now more free to play with the theatrical conceit of their endeavours: making myriad gags about trying to stage an 007 plot on a 0.07p budget, freely ad-libbing, even corpsing, and frequently giving the audience a knowing postironic wink – all of which give the show a thoroughly relaxed feel.

Everyone knows the conventions of these clichéd Hollywood yarns, so rather than simply offering a direct spoof of the genre, which a lesser troupe may attempt, the Penny Dreadfuls gleefully muck about with the expectations, producing a charming, silly and very funny hour of Knockabout entertainment.

A grizzled ex-cop connives his way on to the sinister island, where mysterious meat magnate Dr Beef has assembled a bunch of Willy Wonka-style competition winners for the first tour of his new venture. Along the way he must deal with mad scientists, a confused amnesiac, My Little Pony-wielding henchman and an over-eager eight-and-three-quarters-year-old boy, who insists on tagging along.

It is young Paul – daftly and deftly played by 6ft 7in Ker – that provides the strongest, most subversive thread to the proceedings, not to mention many of the best lines, but almost all the exaggerated characters (with the probable exception of the irritating Australian backpackers) provide a rich line of gags.

Like the League Of Gentlemen before them, the Penny Dreadfuls have found a way to run together great sketches with a narrative – however unlikely – to keep the audience engaged. The result is like an Austin Powers film, but with buckets more wit.

Review date: 25 May 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Brighton Otherplace at Bar Broadway

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