THE PAJAMA MEN: IN THE MIDDLE OF NO ONE
Charing Cross Theatre, London WC2
Opened 10 January, 2012
****

The Albuquerque-based comedy duo’s current show opened Soho Theatre’s new basement comedy space last summer, and now returns for what is billed as their West End debut. Well, this 275-seater venue, the former Players’ Theatre beneath Charing Cross rail terminus, is no more and no less West End than the Soho address, but if it helps bring wider recognition to Mark Chavez and Shenoah Allen, then no one should quibble.
    
The pair’s trademark style is now well established: a stage bare save for a couple of chairs, and performers bare save for a couple of pairs of pyjamas; high-speed character/sketch comedy linked by a basic but unconstricting narrative; great physical discipline spiced by riffs of improvisation; and an almost endless inventiveness. The action begins in a hospital, switches bewilderingly to outer space then coalesces back into a tale about the discoverer of time travel travelling back in time to prevent its discovery. (He, it transpires, is also the literally bouncing baby boy who has just been born in the hospital.)
    
Their mime capabilities are glorious: a four-handed representation of a horse’s mouth heralds similar renditions of the kind of mouth-and-forehead alien make-up now conventional in screen SF… then they raise the stakes still further by making the forehead a separate character. Their improvised segments have them constantly on the verge of corpsing each other, but not in the self-indulgent way evident in less skilled companies; we can tell that this material will be fed back into the show, and indeed there are significant differences from last summer’s version. Furthermore, I don’t think I have ever seen a performer set out to sabotage and send himself into giggles, as happened on press night when Allen got carried away in a duologue with his own echo. The duo are accompanied by musician Kevin Hume, who gets a solo number or two towards the end of the hour-plus show when Chavez and Allen go into montage mode. As for the give-it-to-me bird and its peculiarly orgasmic calls, let us agree never to speak of it. It strikes me that I have not luxuriated so richly in this kind of comedy since the mid-1990s heyday of The Right Size (whose Sean Foley has directed the current West End comic delights of The Ladykillers); I can imagine no higher praise than such a comparison.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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