The Awkward Silence: The Bastard King | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Hen & Chickens, London

The Awkward Silence: The Bastard King

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Hen & Chickens, London

Something like a two-man Game of Thrones – but with a toad king in place of dragons – The Bastard King is an historical epic about various factions battling for the right to rule the fictional realm of Etherium.

Between them, The Awkward Silence – Ralph Jones and Vyvyan Almond – realise a cast of dozens, though that does come at the expense of characterisation, most of their creations being little more than an accent and an attitude. But they whip between them with ease and speed. 

The labyrinthine storyline also, unfortunately, means there’s less investment in any single strand, as there’s no one warmonger we are supposed to be rooting for.

There is the Hannibal-syle elephant army to the east, producing tonnes of manure as it marches; the pirate vessel bearing a young pretender from the sea; the scheming archbishop manipulating an enfeebled, ageing monarch; and the true heir to the throne, the titular baby that King Reginald had with a prostitute and who must now be kept from harm.

As well as their fine range of accents – including Almond’s sonorous RP that should be voicing wildlife documentaries and movie trailers – the Awkward Silence are fine physical performers, especially shining in the fight choreography that enacts brutal, bloody brawls with nothing more than the power of mime.

However, the writing, while evocative, dramatic and eccentric, lags when it comes to the comedy. There are some amusing running gags that fit the narrative and the characters, but also too many surreal non-sequiturs that seem bolted-on, and trying too hard to be bizarre.

For example, the geriatric king insists on his subjects all be free of body hair. It’s an idea that barely sustains a couple of not especially funny scenes, and then is dropped never to be mentioned again. Alternatively, a mildly amusing detail of messages being delivered by badger loses its throwaway appeal when the practicalities of tattooing and catapulting the creatures are dissected in needless and  specifics, making heavy weather of how weird the pair are being.

The Awkward Silence clearly hope to follow in the footsteps of fellow oddball multi-character narrative comedy duo  The Pajama Men, but while the performance is faultless, the script needs both editing and punching up.

Some of their random ideas do pay out in the end, and even if the organic humour is underpowered, the peculiar, mythical atmosphere draws you in to the action. But hearty laughs are as rare as dragon’s teeth.

•  The Awkward Silence: The Bastard King is on at the Hen & Chickens, Islington, until Friday

Review date: 5 Sep 2017
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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