Review: The Comeback, Noël Coward Theatre

The Comeback proves to be a piece of warmly inclusive comedy at the Noël Coward Theatre, perfect festive fare

“Who wants to see the Alex and Ben show?”

For someone who first became aware of comedy duo The Pin due to their impeccable Twitter content during the first lockdown, the idea of them doing a full length play seemed rather improbable given the strength of those sketches was their 70 second running time. But Ben Ashenden and Alex Owen’s credits stretch much further (you can tell I don’t listen to Radio 4…) and The Comeback actually began life at the 2018 Fringe before being pimped for this West End run at the Noël Coward Theatre.

And over and above the pleasure of being able to go to the theatre again, something sadly not true for everyone in the country and possibly not even for London for much longer, The Comeback offers the kind of warmly generous comedic thrill that feels perfect for the season. I found it to be ‘Christmas Day on the sofa’ -funny throughout, with some moments that are frankly hilarious and others that didn’t quite tickle my funnybone as much, though the beauty of comedy is that we all have different senses of humour and so you’ll just have to come and decide whether it is funny for yourselves.

The set-up for the show sees Ashenden and Owen play two double acts who are sharing the bill on a regional tour. Support act Alex and Ben are young and struggling to break through, old-timers Jimmy and Sid are wondering whether they’re past it, but when news of a Hollywood producer in the crowd trickles backstage, the stakes are suddenly raised. What follows is a dizzying combination of farce and stand-up, as we switch from pair to pair, from backstage to onstage and sometimes into the audience too.

For me, the production is at its strongest when Alex and Ben are playing… ‘Alex and Ben’. Whether rattling through sketch ideas or ruminating about their lack of career progression, the sharpness of their comic timing is just a delight and even more so once they concoct a plan to bump themselves up the bill. As Jimmy and Sid, their nod to comedy duos of the past feels less acutely observed (did they have to be northern…?), though once Noises Off-esque shenanigans kick in – superbly directed by Emily Burns – the frenetic energy is entirely winning.   

Throw in a luxury celebrity cameo, a hilarious singalong, their own song and dance routine and some lovely creative work from Rosanna Vize’s resourceful set, Giles Thomas’ sound and Prema Metha’s instructive lighting, plus a beautifully warm hug of an ending, The Comeback is just the kind of inclusive comedic treat we need right now. You could take your parents and laugh, you could go with your pals and have a great time, let’s just hope we have the opportunity to do so after Wednesday.

Running time: 85 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Marc Brenner
The Comeback is booking at the Noël Coward Theatre until 3rd January, Covid restrictions permitting

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