Review: DOCTOR BROWN: BETURNS, Soho Theatre

Doctor Brown returns with his first new show in over a decade. Be scared. Be very scared.

By: Apr. 26, 2024
Review: DOCTOR BROWN: BETURNS, Soho Theatre
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Review: DOCTOR BROWN: BETURNS, Soho Theatre Coming on like some kind of sadistic Mr Bean, the scarier-than-Pennywise Doctor Brown has been terrorising audiences with his silent comedy since 2009 and returns to Soho Theatre with his first new show in over a decade.

Those lucky enough to have seen Doctor Brown: Becaves or Doctor Brown: Because will likely still be raving about how, without saying a single word, this master absurdist is able to generate such extreme reactions through non-verbal means. Under the guise of childish slapstick, he pulls us into his dark imagination, casually ripping up the book of theatre etiquette as he goes; he knows that sacred cows make the best hamburgers and wants us to know it too, especially those who have broken the first rule of cabaret shows.

His appearance - blue dressing gown, grey slippers, white T-shirt and knee supports - is deliberately underwhelming. This time around, with more grey hairs in his beard than his last Soho Theatre appearance, his schtick centres around feigned fatigue and old age: he struggles to get undressed and then dressed again or even to sit down and needs our help. As Princess Leia said, it’s a trap but it’s a trap his fans will jump into headfirst as the real joy of seeing Brown in the flesh is discovering just what satanic plans he has in store for us. 

As his alter ego Phil Burger, he has recently appeared in Mae Martin vehicle Feel Good but, thankfully, being around The Stand Up comedian has not softened Brown’s uncompromising brand of entertainment. If anything, his act is the quintessential opposite of observational comedy: rather than pontificating on the world at large, he knowingly invites the audience to watch his every move at close quarters.

All eyes are on him as he throws banana skins into the front row, douses some unlucky souls in water and then turns all playful, throwing an imaginary ball out to the crowd and encouraging us to throw it to each other. His features skip from doe-eyed innocence to extreme outrage in a flash and he is never ever above mocking the particularly loud laughers. With a bare minimum of physical props and stage space, he leans on those nearest to him (asking someone to spank his bare behind with a copy of the Times, for example) or wandering up and down the pews to literally sniff out his next willing victim. 

It’s been a good year for clowns of all hues. Spymonkey returned from a period of deep tragedy and loss with The Frogs, after a decade away Puddles the singing Pierrot put on another Pity Party and Laura Murphy (an academic with a PhD in the aerial arts) expertly blended the absurd with the philosophical in her A Spectacle Of Herself.

Where does this leave Brown? Has he noticeably developed artistically since he won the Edinburgh Fringe Comedy in 2012 for Befrdfgth? On the basis of Beturns, the answer is “not really” but no-one complains when the height of Mount Everest goes up or down by a few inches. The way he can still cram so many watercooler moments into an hour speaks to a wicked intelligence and imagination that still deserves our attention.

Doctor Brown: Beturns continues at Soho Theatre until 4 May

Photo credit: Doctor Brown




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