The Ushers

Etcetera Theatre
Oxford Arms
(2004)

Kieran Fay and Sophie Fletcher of People Can Run Theatre Company are a pair of Le Coq trained actors with impeccable timing and a delightfully batty sense of humour. And it is their physical dexterity and frequent sallies into the realms of the comic absurd that makes this otherwise pleasingly simple scenario stand head and shoulders above most of the comedy on offer these days.

Neil is a theatre usher with a long-standing track record of dedicated service to his punters, investing his ticket tearing with highly polished expertise and a smiling self-effacement honed to perfection through years of practice. Neil, in fact, is a sad little man who needs a life, and into his life walks the new usher, Jennifer, naïve and bubbly, aspiring to a career on the stage and overawed with the theatrical ambience even in the bland routines front of house. But in the shadows lurks the lugubrious perv, Bob, their superior, even more unsettling as a dismembered voice on a walkie-talkie, a reminder of the grim realities beyond their dream-world of aspiration and perfection, their innocent Eden. And, indeed, in time we learn of some sordid past in which Neil has become embroiled involving Jennifer's tragic predecessor Alison. When Jennifer is called for an audition, Neil is in danger of losing all.

Here we have a situation just bristling with comic potential and, together with script-writer and director Ben Lewis, Fay and Fletcher are a team that have got the balance in the comic formula absolutely right. The basic scenario is a spring board for round after round of comic mayhem. Underneath the dull treadmill of Neil and Jennifer's existence one can see a fine piece of contemporary Commedia dell'Arte in which the lazzi, the extended physical gags, draw us into gleeful moments of imaginative absurdity. This is a Chaplinesque type of humour and Neil and Jennifer are our present-day equivalents to Chaplin's tramp: sad, dispossessed, outsiders looking in, but utterly loveable. And the performances indicate that Fay and Fletcher are actors we should keep an eye on.

"The Ushers" runs until 28th March

Reviewer: Jackie Fletcher