Pajama Men: In The Middle Of No One

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

Nearly two months in the West End is an ambitious residency for the Pajama Men, who are about to learn the hard way whether or not Edinburgh Fringe acclaim can translate to the success in London.

Not that ambition is a stranger to New Mexicans Shenoah Allen and Mark Chavez, who create weird and wonderful words with no props, save for two wooden chairs, and no costumes, save for the nightwear which they have made their trademark.

This is the fifth show the talented pair have performed, and after all their award nominations, they not going to change the winning format now. Over an hour and a bit, they whip through a series of weird and wonderful sketches, snapping between convincing characters in a heartbeat. And not only human ones, either, as they intimidate space aliens, ice beasts and even the mouth of a zebra (the whore of the animal kingdom, according to the duo) with brilliantly effective invention.

It’s clear the fast-paced scenes are somehow linked, but exactly how is initially as obscure as the In The Middle Of No One title. Yet there’s satisfaction to be had when all the pieces start to fall into place and the narrative emerges.

Not that the pieces necessarily fit snugly – the time-travelling caper of explorers on a quest to find a grounded alien space craft still ends up somewhat jumbled, but that’s not really the point. The function of the fragmented – and sometimes comic-book gruesome – story is to provide a framework on which to loosely hang the myriad skits, which combine astute physical comedy skills with silly, sassy backchat that can trace its heritage back to Abbott and Costello.

A quickfire Q&A routine most blatantly shows that influence, while a oddball exchange to test the theory that other human senses are heightened when one is denied is clever, bizarre and funny in equal measure.

Even the most straightforward of conversations zings with wit, while their physicality is shown off to best advantage when they become marionettes, clopping hilariously around the stage as if controlled by inept puppeteers.

However, the most memorable scene is the one that could have come straight out of a joke book: the bartender who has an exotic South American Give It To Me Bird, whose calls are as lascivious as its name suggests.

Despite the ready supply of inventively funny scenes, In The Middle Of No One does seem to lack some of the performance verve of previous Pajama Men offering, with the Knockabout improv that adds a spontaneity to their precisely-engineered show slow to appear, and unusually self-conscious when it does. But that’s only a slight failing against the high-water Mark Allen and Chavez have set for themselves.

Even on stage, with such a pared-down production, here’s a filmic quality to the Pajama Men’s thinking – a trait they share with the similarly offbeat League Of Gentlemen – and not just in the epic, sweeping ambition of their storyline. Musician Kevin Hume provides an evocatively idle soundtrack to the show, as well as providing an all-important backing to the flashback montage that helps put some of the strands in context.

It’s another touch of class for this head-spinning comic romp, which fizzes with vaudevillian originality.

Review date: 11 Jan 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Charing Cross Theatre

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