Canned Laughter, King’s Theatre, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Neil Laidlaw and Gavin Kalin
Ed Curtis with Allan Stewart (writers), Ed Curtis (director), Francis O’Connor (set and costume design), Ben Cracknell (lighting design), Richard Brooker (sound design)
Allan Stewart (Alec), Andy Gray (Gus), Grant Stott (Rory), Gabriel Quigley (Maggie)
Running time

Successful non-solo comedy acts have always come in pairs. From Laurel and Hardy to Morecambe and Wise to Reeves and Mortimer and beyond, they all knew that two’s company but three’s a crowd. In this bespoke show written by Ed Curtis and Allan Stewart, it’s a ‘70s comedy trio called We Three who take centre stage.

Back in 1973 when velvet jackets (in this case plaid sateen ones) and plush curtains were the order of the day for comedians singing “bad salads” between jokes, Alec (Allan Stewart), Gus (Andy Gray) and Rory (Grant Stott) set out on the road to fame via the usual route of pubs and clubs. Of course their aim is the big time and every star’s dream of a TV spot on Sunday Night at the London Palladium. It’s on this road that friendships and loyalties are tested. The theatrical posters on the flock papered wall of the set’s dressing room, whose lit mirror smoothly doubles as footlights, show a contracted version of an Agatha Christie theme from We Three to The Two of Us - and then there was one.

‘70s tracks put the assembling audience in the mood of the era that continues with contemporary entertainment in the form of a sketch featuring the Manhattan Transfer song Chanson d’Amour with dodgy maracas that has echoes of the Morecambe and Wise sketch when they try to sing Are you Lonesome Tonight? to the accompaniment of ‘boom ooh yattatata’. It’s in scenes like this that Andy Gray shows his comedic mettle with his timing and vast array of facial and physical gestures.

Gray and Stott have taken to the stage on two recent Fringe shows, Kiss Me Honey, Honey and Willie and Sebastian but this is the first time the three veteran panto stars have tread the boards outwith the panto season. These three have such an easy working relationship based on their years together in that genre that they could read the phone book and get laughs though some of the language in this show may shock their fanbase. They do indulge in a bit of patter with the audience that sheds the innuendo demanded by panto.

It is testament to Gabriel Quigley’s talent that she can slot in so easily to this established group. She brings some serious theatrical experience to the piece and her costume changes as Maggie just about match the number Allan Stewart has as Dame.

This play, involving a fictional play called Canned Laughter, is done through flash backs, both narrated and acted. But there’s just too much telling, not enough showing so the show feels protracted although ends on a positive note of reconciliation. Despite the story’s sadness of splits, and the inevitable wounding they cause, it fails to induce much real emotion beyond some gasps and some contrived ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs'.

A poster claims that laughter is guaranteed for hours after the show. Maybe for some, but Andy Gray asking Dougal (somebody’s cousin) instead of Google how to find a person is a corny wee gem worth minding.

Tuesday 29 March – Saturday 2 April 2016