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Flag Reviewed: 24:7 2011

Joan Davies gets into the Festival mood with 24:7 theatre festival

Published on July 25th 2011.

Flag Reviewed: 24:7 2011

FLAG is Brian Marchbank’s second play at 24:7, Manchester’s festival of new one hour plays currently running at various venues in the city centre. For an overview click here.

The issue is familiar: what is acceptable in comedy, where can and should the lines be drawn or are all targets acceptable?

Jimmy and Mark are two characters it is difficult to like. 

Jimmy is an aging comic who isn’t averse to pandering to his audience with a few politically incorrect jokes, including some pretty foul ones, if that is what the audience wants.

Mark is a comedy writer with a keen and cruel eye for gags but no performing skills, strongly driven towards success and apparently lacking any moral compass: he’s almost guaranteed a hit.  Perhaps Jimmy and Mark are made for one another. 

Between them they create a comedy monster, Corporal Gordon Flag, hoping that while almost everyone will hate him many might be willing to pay to see him.  Of course the character is a terrific commercial success, and also something of a critical success in some quarters, even attracting the fictional support of The Guardian on the grounds of artistic freedom. 

After a slightly shaky start the two performers grow in confidence and stature.  Darren Scott as Jimmy is whiney, miserable and weak when off-stage and a convincing comedian when delivering his stand-up comedy routine straight to the audience.  Matthew Stead, who gave an assured performance, in Marchbank’s very funny ‘Pawn’ last year, takes a little longer to develop the really unpleasant side of his character, but delivers superbly at the end. 

You know that parts of the performance are going to be very uncomfortable, and they are, though the effect is lessened by delivering the most objectionable ‘jokes’ outside of the direct-to-audience stand-up routines. 

You know that this is something of a cop-out, you know that it’s probably necessary, and you know that, to be honest, most of the audience were probably grateful that it was so.  One of the biggest laughs went to a mild yet clear and essential feminist heckle.  It would be interesting to see some stronger heckling, though I’m not sure theatre audiences would take that step. 

The issue is familiar: what is acceptable in comedy, where can and should the lines be drawn or are all targets acceptable? The focus is less familiar. Brian Marchbank asks about the effect not on the targets of such comedy but instead on those who deliver it.    

It’s still an uncomfortable watch at times, and I found myself wanting to see some of the other characters mentioned so that the issue was explored more deeply. But in the end the focus on the two comedy practitioners works well and the best gags, just simple funny victimless ones, are at the end. 

The writer’s previous success Pawn was a hard act to follow.  Director Rebecca Taylor, with some stand-up experience behind her, delivers a two-hander that stands up well.  It seems that when Brian Marchbank retired from police work and moved to writing, Manchester found a box of comedy treasure. 

Flag is performed at as part of 24:7 Theatre Festival.  13 premières of one-hour plays will be performed over nine days, from Thursday 21st July to Friday July 29th across 3 venues: Sacha’s Hotel, The Midland Hotel and New Century House, where Flag is performed. Tickets are £8/£6.  Click here for details

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