Imagine the Marx Brothers without Groucho, Chico or Harpo, or Morecambe and Wise without either of them, and you have the measure of this extremely strange two-hander written and performed by Martin Marquez and John Marquez. The conceit of numerous characters (all performed by the Marquez brothers) caught up in a flea-bitten circus, invited to Venice to play before the Doge, ends up in a massive exercise of self-indulgence, toilet humour and a mix 'n' match of comedy styles which at best is bewildering and bizarre, and at worst tedious in the extreme.
Whether the point of the exercise was to explore the nature of comedy and the narrow line between tragedy and humour, or for some other purpose, perhaps only disclosed to Chichester's artistic directors, I have yet to fathom. The point, if there is one, is certainly not communicated to the paying audience. As to the nature of comedy, perhaps the Brothers Marquez should have borne in mind the wise words of Eddie Waters, the dour music hall comedian/teacher in Trevor Griffiths' masterpiece Comedians: "It's not the jokes. . .it's what lies behind them." What lies behind this mish-mash is unclear and like Griffiths' anti-hero, Gethin Price, is embarrassingly unfunny.
In I Caught My Death in Venice, what passes for a script centres around a number of, largely, double-act vignettes of characters, variously depicting cartoon Mafioso mobsters and circus masters to unfunny clowns, and what is presumably supposed to be a touching relationship between a kind of verbal Harpo Marx, holy fool, Pee-Po, and his brutish and uncaring father whom he tries to impress by volunteering for the 'Drop of Death'. These and three other sets of characters are delineated by accents varying from cod De Niro, to Eddie Grundy of The Archers and language that veers, more crazily still, between Scorsese and EastEnders by way of Samuel Beckett.
On the credit side, the show is set in an inventive circus ring ambience by Ashley Martin-Davis, and the brothers run around endlessly and with enormous energy, doing double-quick changes to well stage-managed music and effects. Some of the scenes do have the haunting Grand Guignol quality of the Tiger Lillies' Shockheaded Peter but - in this reviewer's opinion, and with some regret - all to little avail. Martin and John Marquez may well be capable actors, but they are not naturally funny men, and certainly not in this show of their own creation. Director Martin Duncan's influence on the ramshackle proceedings appears non-existent.