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McNeil & Pamphilon: Fringe 2012

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

Superficially, McNeil and Pamphilon could be an old-school double act.

Steve McNeil is the straightman: by day a project manager in Milton Keynes, by night the one fretting about the show’s finances and keen to impose some discipline on their performance. Meanwhile Sam Pamphilon is the Eddie Large to his Syd Little: the feckless if more instinctual comic, getting laughs from hamming it up.

But rather than stick to the pantomime bickering of the music hall, these two trade snipes that get rather too close to the bone, so feel more wounding as they are based in the inescapable truth of their situation.

They get laughs from pre-empting criticism, joking about McNeil’s rather stiff stage presence, or that Pamphilon’s floppy-haired charisma and bold energy distracting from any holes in the writing. Even the big opening number is an anthem of self-deprecation as they wonder why anyone would think of coming to this particular uncomfortable Portakabin on a damp Wednesday afternoon.

But they also indulge in more personal point-scoring to niggle away at each other. There’s no escaping that it’s all scripted and delivered with a slight theatrical distance, but such pointed banter does give them more humanity than many other well-rehearsed double acts.

This is exploited in a contrived but effective running gag in which they can transfer into each other’s bodies – a macguffin that’s a little overplayed, but gets them to explore each other’s characters and give some sort of through-line to the hour. Has the man who’s settled down with wife and mortgage wasted his 32 years on the planet, or is it the one living in a bedsit with tax debts and casual jobs, hoping his showbiz dream will pay off? And aren’t they both just a little jealous of each other’s lifestyles?

Of the more conventional sketches, they have a couple of solidly funny scripts about confusing pre-decimal coinage or the Talking Clock man going gaga with the pressure. The skits generally have a strong central joke, which is teased out nicely with committed performances, although the scene mocking Daniel Day-Lewis’s commitment to Method acting is strung along too much.

But this is a nice little show, not with towering ambitions to change the face of comedy, but with an appealing quirk, two personable performers and some strong lines.  That’s why you should find yourself in this particular uncomfortable Portakabin.

Review date: 3 Aug 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Pleasance Courtyard

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