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Review: THE COMEBACK, Nöel Coward Theatre

The Comeback is a farcical comedy that centres on two comedic double acts - both played by Ben Ashenden and Alex Owen - who are trying to revive their careers

Review: THE COMEBACK, Nöel Coward Theatre

Review: THE COMEBACK, Nöel Coward Theatre It's safe to say we all need some light relief and entertainment right now, so the timing couldn't be better for Ben Ashenden and Alex Owen's debut show, The Comeback, to hit the West End.

Known more recently for their online sketches based around Zoom calls which have amassed over six million views, The Pin (as Ashenden and Owen are more commonly known) have created a four-man show and star in all the roles.

The plot centres around two comedic double acts - both played by Ashenden and Owen - who are trying to revive their careers. The younger, up-and-coming comics Alex and Ben are warm-up acts for an older comedy duo, Jimmy and Sid, whose star power is no longer as bright as it once was.

Each pair is frustrated to be playing in worn-down theatres in seaside towns, but when they find out there's a Hollywood producer in the audience, they find themselves fighting their competition for the stage time.

The show is set, rather appropriately, in a theatre, so all the action takes place either backstage or onstage. From mistaken identity and intentional sabotage to internal conflicts and farcical fighting, The Comeback has everything you'd want in a comedy show. Each night will also feature a surprise celebrity guest taking part in the shenanigans; our particular evening had Katherine Parkinson and we can't wait to hear who else makes an appearance.

Each of the four characters have defined personas, and their style of comedy completely matches up with their characteristics. While Sid and Jimmy are more old school with light-hearted songs and a Morecambe And Wise quality about them, Alex and Ben are more modern with skits, props and punchy-one liners, reminiscent of Mighty Boosh or Mitchell and Webb.

Ashenden and Owen are clearly masters of their craft who not only have sharp comic-timing and charisma that fills the stage, but also clearly love and understand comedy. To create four unique comic characters and swap between them so quickly (there's often seconds between switches) is a remarkable thing to witness.

From fast-paced scenes where they're running from one side of the stage to another, changing characters along the way, to touching moments where friendships are being put to the test, you're never in doubt which character Ashenden and Owen are playing. Considering there's not a costume change in sight (apart from a hat and jacket here and there) this is an incredible accomplishment, especially for their West End debut.

The Comeback is jam-packed with gags; from throwaway one-liners to clever call-backs which only get funnier and never lose speed or outstay their welcome. But what makes it so clever is how emotional moments are brought in and out throughout the show; you aren't just watching farcical situations, there are real moments of emotion too, as the individual partnerships deal with the idea of splitting up.

The tear-jerking moments aren't ruined by a sudden introduction of comedy either, they are played for just the right amount of time, and when the jokes return it's never overplayed, it's just enough to bring you back into the laugher. It's this perfectly balanced tightrope of writing that makes this so much more than a comedy show.

With so much going on throughout, it must have been an incredibly hard production to direct, especially with social distancing rules to consider during rehearsals. However, Emily Burns has done a magnificent job of directing this flawless show.

Creating a believable set is hard enough, let alone in a pandemic and the set needs to convey both on and off-stage effectively without changing anything. The work of Rosanna Vize (set and costume designer), Prema Mehta (lighting designer) and Giles Thomas (sound designer) should therefore be praised.

The attention to detail to the backstage area (full of props in just the right place, with references to other comedy double-acts), the simple lighting during scenes where characters are backstage looking onstage, and spot-on sound cues that mirror the calamities going on around them, all work together harmoniously to bring the comedy not only to life but make even the most ridiculous moments believable.

It's hard to do audience participation at the moment, but the audience feels part of the action without needing to take off their face mask. Breaking the fourth wall in an original way, Alex and Ben talk about the fictional audience they've just played to while looking right at you and pretend to throw objects at walls while facing you.

Ashenden and Owen are sure to be the next big comedy double act, and if their West End debut is this phenomenal, then they've got an incredible future ahead of them on the stage.

The Comeback is an unmissable show full of heart and hysterical chaos that will leave you smiling for days and booking to see it again immediately.

The Comeback is at The Nöel Coward Theatre until 3 January 2021

Photo credit: Marc Brenner

From This Author - Eleni Cashell

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