End of the Pier at Park Theatre
Two comedians, father and son, are brought crashing back together in this exploration of race, comedy and class at Park Theatre. The dramatic fall from grace of Bobby Chalk (Lee Dennis) – formerly one half of famous 70s duo Chalk and Cheese – after telling one racist joke too many has affected everyone around him, including his son Michael Davidson (played by former Inbetweeners star Blake Harrison). But now the younger man arrives on his father’s doorstep on the eve of a career-defining performance, in need of help after his own stag night “incident”. Michael is closely followed by his mixed-race, pregnant fiancée Jenna (Tala Gouveia). Could this be a shot at redemption?
Under director Hannah Price, the production makes interesting staging choices which work well. Two stand-up performances crucial to the play are delivered live to an audience momentarily transformed into Apollo attendees. In these scenes the drama’s other characters become both audience and performer, faded into the background of the stage as they watch and react to the recorded routine, played back to them on TV. There are no heckles and the Park Theatre never becomes one of the “bear pits” referenced on stage, but it does ensure the performances feel immersive and that the set performed by Mohammed (Nitin Ganatra) in the final act delivers on its comedy and pathos. It’s a really impressive performance all round from the former EastEnders star, whose energy and enigmatic eyes really lift the story after his character is introduced.
Unfortunately, if the stand-up is immersive, the rest of Danny Robins’ script means that often dramatic scenes are not: call-backs are frequently telegraphed; jokes are grafted onto characters; complex topics are hit too squarely on the nose; and hackneyed comedic tropes about expensive coffee get a final flogging.
Ultimately, the plot and characters stretch credibility too thin, as Harrison in particular struggles to hold his character together following a complete 180-degree turn. Dennis delivers Chalk’s deliberately dated jokes with skill and an instantly recognisable rhythm, but even his performance lacks chemistry with others on stage – again hampered by the writing.
End of the Pier takes on bold themes, and its analysis of Britain’s racist attitudes isn’t inaccurate, just ultimately quite bland. The play’s stand-up routines frequently break the fourth wall, but it there is not much new ground explored through the issues the piece tackles. The production’s success comes in its well-staged comedic interludes and a sparkling performance from Nitin Ganatra.
Photo: Simon Annand
End of the Pier is at Park Theatre from 11th July until 11th August 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.