The Comeback, written and performed by Ben Ashenden and Alex Owen, is a comedy mocktail consisting of some fizzy short form sketches, a dabble of slapstick, a generous amount of mistaken identity and garnished with the odd ‘Dad joke’.
A simple story of a warmup act struggling to keep up with the intricacies of the business becomes hectic when they decide (through unfortunate circumstances) that they’d like a shot in the spotlight. The madness that follows is a mixed bag of fruits, quite literally, as Owen and Ashenden run endlessly around the stage of the Noel Coward Theatre hardly breaking a sweat and still finding the breath to sing a song or two!
From entering the theatre, a striking red curtain immediately catches your attention, reminiscent of Italian street theatre ‘Commedia dell’arte’. I’ve not seen a piece of theatre on the West End that manages to capture an audience’s attention, without relying on great spectacle in the form of huge sound and visual effects, since Emma Rice’s 2018 production of ‘Wise Children’. Yet, The Comeback manages to achieve just that with effective sound design by Giles Thomas; simple and clear lighting design by Prema Metha; and thoughtful set & costume design by Rosanna Vize.
The comedy pair, directed by Emily Burns, have adopted some great material and written some exciting new material themselves, but at times the execution is somewhat lacklustre. With routines very similar to the greats such as Laurel and Hardy, Alex and Ben assume the roles of clever and stupid, respectively. Ben’s ‘clever’ comedian treats us with a brilliant sketch involving a hat, a photo frame and his brilliant understanding of comic timing and great connection to the audience, Alex’s character finds the larger-than-life approach, giving it 110% effort. The quality of the writing saves Owen from disrepute with a few laugh out loud gags dispersed throughout the generally ‘amused’ reaction.
There are a few moments to look forward to including: a creative fourth wall sketch, a surprisingly polished TV celebrity sketch presented with precision and some successful games with the audience using the rule of three. I can understand a lot of the difficulties the boys will have faced in bringing their creative talents to the stage with countless hurdles from suddenly implemented lockdowns to looming tier systems; for that I will give them credit where it’s due.
However, some of the physical comedy is of a similar standard to many fringe debuts; the connection with the audience seems to dwindle; and the oldest tricks in the book tarnished with questionable execution. I have no doubt The Comeback has the ability to leave audiences chuckling for hours, but perhaps not for days.