The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings








Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London London Review

A joke that feeds an ignorance starves its audience.— Eddie Walters
Matthew Kelly as Eddie Waters
(Photo:Helen Maybanks)
We are told in the theatre programme that Trevor Griffith’s 1975 play Comedians starring Jonathan Pryce inspired a seventeen year old Sean Holmes. So it is that the recently appointed Artistic Director of the Lyric Hammersmith has included this play in his first season of plays.

Trevor Griffith’s play is about what made a stand up comic before the 1980s when stand up comedy became the new Rock ‘n Roll with the improvised Comedy Store type of alternative comedy. Comedians is set in a school used for evening classes for adults. Once on the comedy circuit as a professional, Eddie Waters (Matthew Kelly) is coaching a group of men, not working at present in show business, who want to be signed up by London agent Bert Challoner (Keith Allen). Eddie Waters is against the cheap laugh, the one at the expense of people which uses a stereotype, like much of the British stand up comedy of the 1950s and 60s, such as Les Dawson with his offensive mother in law jokes. Waters has encouraged the development of a freer comic style but the applecart is upset by the arrival of Challoner who tells the comics, "We are not missionaries. We are suppliers of laughter."

The second act sees all the men put on their act in a club, where the main attraction of the evening is a game of Bingo. Some have hastily improvised routines that they think will appeal to the agent. Others stick to their planned act and pay the price. There is a piano and pianist for those who want accompaniment and a curtain backdrop of ruched and swagged clover pink satin. In the third act, the men return to the classroom for a feedback session from Challoner together with his announcement of who he will sign.

We realise how serious some comics are when they are not performing and how often it is pain which has set them on the road to making people laugh. Most of the acts in the middle scenes are unfunny. Mick Connor (Michael Dylan) talks about what it is like being an Irishman in England, sharp suited Sammy Samuels’ (Simon Kunz) repertoire of Jewish jokes degenerates into racist jokes and Ulsterman George McBrain (Billy Carter) mines his marriage for anti-wife material. The double act of milkman Ged Murray (Mark Benton) with his brother Phil (Reece Shearsmith) as the ventriloquist goes wonderfully wrong as Ged stops being the oversized ventriloquist’s dummy and puts his brother on his knee instead. The sight of Phil trying to pull his brother onstage concealed within a huge laundry hamper was reminiscent of great clowning but I wasn’t sure whether this was their intention or not. The Murray brothers die a stage death and are mortified. Finally there is the youngest member of the class, Gethin Price (David Dawson) whose eerie, white faced mime act has us all mystified.

The acting performances are all wonderful. Matthew Kelly as Eddie Walters spends most of the middle act with his head in his hands despairing at the efforts of his class. David Dawson is ethereal as the original Gethin, really off the wall, in the part created originally by Jonathan Pryce. I last saw David Dawson as a memorable Smike in the Chichester version of Nicholas Nickleby. Mark Benton is brilliant as the milkman warring with his brother, an excellent Reece Shearsmith. As the dummy Ged had eyes painted on his eyelids to uncanny effect as he blinks. I liked too Keith Allen’s Homburg hatted, Crombie coated, show business agent who calls Gethin’s act "aggressively unfunny". Eddie, left alone with Gethin tells him he was brilliant but ugly. The closing scene of the play has Eddie describing what it was that made him condemn anti-Semite jokes.

The side events are the funniest in the play with the unscheduled arrival of Mr Patel (Kulvinder Ghir) and his sack of meat looking for an English class, and the School keeper (Paul Rider) in his muttering, incensed, erasing of the chalked graffiti a naughty class have left on the revolving blackboard. Incidentally the joke Mr Patels tells Eddie is the best of the evening and Mr Patel wants to sign up for next term’s class!

Trevor Griffiths’ play has been compared with John Osborne’s earlier play The Entertainer. Comedians is the kind of drama which lingers in your psyche as you reflect on the nature of comedy and the price of artistry.
Subscribe to our FREE email updates with a note from editor Elyse Sommer about additions to the website -- with main page hot links to the latest features posted at our numerous locations. To subscribe, E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message -- if you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.
Written by Trevor Griffiths
Directed by Sean Holmes

Starring: Matthew Kelly, Mark Benton, Keith Allen, David Dawson
With: Paul Rider, Reece Shearsmith, Billy Carter, Simon Kunz, Michael Dylan, Kulvinder Ghir, Nick Williamson
Design: Anthony Lamble
Lighting: Simon Bennison
Sound: Nick Manning
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes with two intervals
Box Office: 0871 22 117 22
Booking to 14th November 2009
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 15th October 2009 performance at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, King Street, London W6 (Tube: Hammersmith)

Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Comedians
  • I disagree with the review of Comedians
  • The review made me eager to see Comedians
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email . . . also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

a list of all book reviews, see our,
London Theatre Tickets
Lion King Tickets
Billy Elliot Tickets
Mighty Boosh Tickets
Mamma Mia Tickets
We Will Rock You Tickets
Theatre Tickets
London Theatre Walks

Peter Ackroyd's  History of London: The Biography

London Sketchbook

tales from shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
Our Review

©Copyright 2009, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from