24:7 Theatre Festival
New Century House, Manchester
After last year's Pawn, writer Brian Marchbank returns to 24:7 with a rather uncomfortable comedy about comedy called Flag.
Weary club comic Jimmy Earl has been in the business for twenty years and is not shy about turning on the racism and the sexism if he thinks it is "what the audience wants". Comedy writer Mark Poste is from the "Comedy Store generation" (which must be at least two generations old by now) that sometimes uses the same hateful gags of the Bernard Manning style of comic that it grew up despising but in an ironic, postmodern kind of way.
Poste's idea is for Earl to play a character called Corporal Flag with extreme right-wing views who will spout offensive bile about pretty much anyone to disturb the audience up to the point that it realises it is all a joke at their expense and starts laughing at the irony. Poste's concept works on the comedy club circuit and at the Edinburgh Fringe, making Corporal Flag Earl's greatest success, but there are some personal consequences to Earl that give him serious doubts about his Faustian pact and about the lengths that his Mephistopheles — Poste — will go for fame.
This is a really interesting idea and at its best this play can be really quite gripping, but it doesn't always work. It is probably a mistake to include the actual comedy routines as they aren't very funny even on the terms described in the play. They certainly produced some shocked gasps at the performance I attended, but this was never converted to laughter or enlightenment, and the offensive jokes are pretty old—even the ignorant complaints about such modern concepts as Twitter and Facebook already sound clichéd and well-worn. Also, the psychological links hinted at between Poste's character and his father don't really ring true.
Darren Scott gives a superbly authentic performance as weary comic Jimmy Earl, with some good support from Matthew Stead as the increasingly-despotic writer Mark Poste.
While there are many reservations about the final product, there is something about the concept that I really like and can see a great deal of potential in if the focus of the play is clarified.
Reviewer: David Chadderton