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The Theatreguide.London Review

Noonday Demons
King's Head Theatre   Summer 2015

Peter Barnes' satiric comedy and Mary Franklin's production are full of some very funny stuff overfull, perhaps, as neither author nor director seems satisfied with making a good joke once when they can repeat or stretch it until it starts losing its comic power. 

The subject is religious fervour and holier-than-thou posturing. A desert-dwelling, self-abasing,constantly praying hermit is visited every lunchtime by a tempting demon, who takes over his body in the persona and voice of a mid-20th century Jewish comedian. 

Between gags and one-liners the devil offers the traditional triumvirate of temptations, wealth, sensuality and power, which the hermit manages, after a bit of comic struggle, to resist. 

Having exhausted that plot line, the playwright drops it and begins a new one. A second hermit appears and lays claim to this patch of desert, and the two begin a competition over which is the holiest. 

Verbal one-upsmanship in piety, sacrifice, humbleness and the like gives way to farcical physical humour as they attempt to top each other in supposed miracles. 

A lot of this is funny, and even makes its critical point about religiosity. But almost all of it is beaten to death, repeated or just extended beyond its effective comic length. 

It is very funny the first time the demon sounds like Groucho Marx or Henny Youngman, a little less funny the second, less funny the third, and so on. 

When the invading hermit claims to be levitating while he's obviously just standing there, it's a legitimate comic bit. When the resident hermit tries to top that by claiming to transport himself across the room without actually moving, it doesn't score as well, because it's just the same joke. 

Unwilling or unable to fight the playwright's tendency to beat dead horses, director Mary Franklin actually contributes to the sense of diminishing returns by extending every sight gag and bit of physical comedy beyond the length where it's made its comic point. 

But actors Jordan Mallory-Skinner and Jake Curran work hard to keep the comic energy level high, developing a good double act as the former invests the resident hermit with a mad intensity (and delightfully plays both roles in the opening sequence) while Curran makes the interloper more laid-back. 

Somewhere in this 90-minute play there's a good one-hour satiric farce, and maybe even a really good half-hour revue sketch, trying to come out. But you only catch occasional glimpses of them here.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Noonday Demons - King's Head Theatre 2015

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