Six wannabe comedians attend an evening class at a school in Manchester in preparation for a performance in front of London agent. Faded music hall star acts Eddie Waters acts as their tutor, in an age when comedians wore dicky bows and political correctness was decades away.
The original production of Comedians, seen in London at the National Theatre after its premiere at the Nottingham Playhouse, starred Jimmy Jewel as Eddie and Jonathan Pryce as aspirant Gethin Price. Pryce later reprised his role in the show’s Broadway transfer. There hasn’t been a major London production of the play in nearly 20 years, though Holmes did revive it in a 2001 tour that starred Ron Moody as Eddie and David Tennant as Gethin.
In the new Lyric outing, Matthew Kelly plays Waters and as part of a stellar ensemble that also features Keith Allen, Mark Benton, Reece Shearsmith, Kulvinder Ghir, David Dawson (as Gethin Price), Billy Carter, Simon Kunz, Michael Dylan and Paul Rider. The production is designed by Anthony Lamble, with lighting by Simon Bennison and sound by Nick Manning.
Most first night critics consider Comedians a “period piece” whose “state of the nation” appeal has diminished somewhat because the state of this nation, and particularly its comedy culture, has changed so much since the 1970s. However, critics still found the Trevor Griffiths’ play at turns “bold”, “daring”, “unsettling” and “thought-provoking” in Holmes’ “meticulous” production that “retains its crusading vitality” and chimes nicely with today’s “karaoke culture”. The various performances were all roundly applauded, with particular praise heaped on David Dawson’s “stunning” turn as Gethin, played with “chilling intensity”.
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