Watermill - The Comedian
24th to 25th September 2004, and on tour, then 29th March to 2nd April 2005, and on tour
From Kick FM (2004 production).
This is Ade Morris's play about Jimmy Baker, a comedian, his dead wife and his daughter. The main character had to drop out last week and Shaun Hennessy took over starting last Wednesday, with the first performance on Friday. He did an excellent job as Jimmy Baker, and the other two actors (Eleanor Brunsdon and Sarah Niven) were very good too, but I found the play tedious and unconvincing.
Jimmy Baker was supposed to be a successful, big-time comedian, but his patter, intermixed with his serious philosophising about life, were more at the level of Archie Rice in The Entertainer.
Ade Morris is a good director, and he's written some very good plays. This wasn't one of them.
From the Newbury Weekly News (2004 production).
The Comedian, at The Watermill, on Friday, September 24 and Saturday, September 25, then on tour until Wednesday, October 27
The Comedian, written and directed by Ade Morris, tells the tale of Jimmy Baker, a man at the top of his comic career, but evidently a lonely and haunted individual.
In the climb to the top he has lost those most dear to him, his wife, his daughter and much of his self respect. Over a bitter winter weekend on the piers and abandoned stages of Brighton he accepts that he needs to make amends, to remember where he came from and, more crucially, where he is going.
Cutting across the decades we detect a man who once had 'walked on water' now grappling with alcohol, demons and ghosts but still a man with hope - unlike Osborne's pathetic entertainer, Archie Rice.
From his 'conversations' with his dead wife it is apparent that Jimmy's 'success' has seen him go from political presence to a resplendent comic redundancy, superbly illustrated here by a couple of particularly lacklustre routines.
It is to his credit that Shaun Hennessy, on his fourth tour with The Watermill, played this disintegrating comic with so much conviction. He portrayed Jimmy's angst with haunting clarity. It is important to note that he took on the part at two days notice and was still getting to grips with the script at this second performance.
Even though all three members of the cast worked their socks off, particular mention has to go to Hennessy. Ade Morris worked with him in earlier productions notably Gigolo and I Dreamt I Dwelt In Marble Halls. That earlier partnership probably helped in settling any doubts he may have had, resulting in an edgy, accomplished performance.
Eleanor Brunsdon as his wife and foil Katherine provided stability and sanity to Jimmy's tortured soul, adding a reassuring chorus to the proceedings. As the errant daughter Millie, a raffish Sarah Niven filled in the 'narrative' gaps, furthering our knowledge of her father's past.
If criticism has to be levelled it is at the script, a bit wordy in places and in definite need of judicious pruning before hitting the road. Authors are rarely the best directors of their own work and must recognise that editing is a black art.
As drama, The Comedian upheld the standard expected from both the Watermill and Ade Morris. The production team were also lucky to have Brunsdon, an accomplished pianist and violin player, whose playing contributed an immediate personal touch - somehow capturing the essence of Watermill performances.
From the Newbury Weekly News (2005 production).
It's the way Shaun tells 'em
The Comedian, at The Watermill, from March 29 to April 2, then touring to May 14
There are, apparently, five subjects for comedy death, race, religion, politics and sex. If that doesnt work, says Shaun Hennessy, playing the title role, bring on the dancing midges.
The talented little nasties are not required in this production. The Comedian is an extraordinary tale of contrasts. Jimmy Baker is a restless man haunted by the death of his wife and by guilt for having sent his only daughter Millie (Sarah Niven) off to America with her stepmother to avoid being reminded of the dead Katherine.
He is also an extremely successful comedian who finds rapport with his audiences easier to achieve than a relationship with feisty Millie, who has returned to England overflowing with blame for the father she believes she hates.
This is not, however, a play full of gloom. Rather it dances along and the memories of seaside holidays, the arguments, the angst are interspersed by Jimmys patter routines crampacked with quickfire jokes (close your ears children!) on politicians, his family, their dog Cortina (Dad couldnt afford a Rover!), women (men are from the pub, women are from Argos) and the world in general. As with all the great comedians there were jokes with poignancy at their root but still the audience laughed as audiences do when theres a good man telling them.
The ghost of Jimmys dead wife (Morag Cross) drifts through the play, helping Jimmy to remember and occasionally turning absorbing storyteller, often picking out simple tunes on the piano, and a music soundtrack mingles with seagulls and waves for added atmosphere.
Director Ade Morris fascinating play now tours the villages, so I will not give away the twists and turns of its plot. Those who go to see it will find three actors who make their characters so completely believable that in spite of the torrents of words the play never flags for a moment.
Morag Cross and Sarah Niven are superb, but it is Shaun Hennessys outstanding performance as Jimmy which will take the audiences breath away. Its not simply the volume of words he has had to commit to memory, nor the jokes. It is simply, sad or funny, the way he tells it and the way he tells it is dazzling.