Park Theatre, London – until the 11 August 2018
This latest play from Danny Robins effectively uses comedy to explore racism and the class war to provide thought-provoking but entertaining viewing.
“All comedy needs victims,” Jenna declares in Danny Robins’ brutally honest play examining comedy and the influence it can have on discussing topics such as racism. In End of The Pier, this sentiment is strikingly highlighted through the eyes of a father and son involved at the heart of this story.
Bobby was once a popular comedian – until one day a joke was told that ruined his career, leaving him resigned to only doing occasional pantomime performances and the knowledge that his glory-days in comedy were gone. In contrast, his son Michael is an up and coming star in comedy – but when he arrives at Bobby’s door asking for help out of a terrible situation, both are forced to confront terrible truths about their pasts.
What makes Hannah Price’s production so engaging is the way in which she draws out the strength of the characters’ feelings and attitudes without coming across preachy or judgemental – allowing the audience to fully comprehend the issue of racism in a different light. It might make similar points about racism heard elsewhere, but the production and play deliver it in a fresh way that allows the comedy to subtly highlight the ongoing problem in society of racism – as captured perfectly in Mohammed’s brilliantly written stand-up routine towards the end of the play.
The way in which Robins has written End of the Pier, as well as making the two central characters realise the impact of their actions on others, makes the audience sit up and consider their own actions and reactions when hearing something relating to race and immigration that can make for uncomfortable viewing – such as when Mohammed encourages one member of the to say ‘chicken tikka masala’ in an accent it is an uncomfortable moment that reveals the impact that stereotypes still have in society today. By showing the contrast between the comedy Bobby was making in the 1960’s to Michael’s general attitude to immigration and racism today – it sadly shows that we still have a long way to go before racism even stands a chance of disappearing.
But to make this production utterly convincing, the performances have to be utterly sharp and raw – which thankfully these are. Blake Harrison has perhaps the most to do, transforming from the ‘nice guy’ who does observational comedy to a person who takes out his frustration at the state of society in absolutely the wrong way. His performance is utterly raw, angry and conflicted that is compelling as it is horrific particularly when it comes to his attitude towards Mohammed in the final confrontation. Elsewhere, Les Dennis is warmly engaging as Bobby, who realises his attitude towards black people was wrong and has been regretting it ever since. It is a performance that is deeply sincere, highlighting the full horror when he sees what his son has become adding to the guilt when he realises that his joke has had a long impact on even his son’s life. Tala Gouveia as Jenna also shines – feisty and not afraid to confront the injustice she has felt over the years by people’s attitude. The moment in which she discusses Bobby’s infamous joke had on her own family is one of the most poignant moments in the show. Nitin Ganatra as Mohammed gives a delightfully sharp performance, delivering his lines with great honesty and commands the attention of the audience to great effect.
Overall, End of the Pier is a sharply observant play that is transformed into a compelling production that makes the audience sit up and pay attention.
By Emma Clarendon
End of the Pier continues to play at the Park Theatre until the 11th August. For more information visit: https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/end-of-the-pier.