End of the Pier recovers from a wobbly first half to question the role of comedy, especially regarding race, at the Park Theatre – with glints of dark humour and ferocity.
With the popularity of Family Fortunes in the late eighties to early noughties, Les Dennis became a contender for the title of “national treasure.” In the Park Theatre’s End of the Pier however, he plays Bobby: a former standup comedian who has fallen from grace after making a less than kosher, racially aggravated joke on stage. As Danny Robins’ play unfolds, Bobby watches in horror as his son Michael (The Inbetweeners’ Blake Harrison) descends into a destructive spiral after attacking an immigrant on a night out.
End of The Pier is set in a bleak vision of Blackpool, opening in the dismal home of Bobby (cluttered with clunky trinkets steeped in nostalgia). The Park Theatre’s stage is littered with a tacky pig jar for sugar, a poster from Bobby’s comedy double act heyday, an austere and incessantly ticking grandfather clock…a gollywog jar for the biscuits. These objects become symbols of an antiqued and seemingly oblivious form of racism that Robins interrogates throughout the play. Despite a smattering of Bobby’s dad jokes that will cause audiences to groan out loud (yet somehow become endeared by his character), Robins writes snippets of truly fantastic dialogue.
There’s a clear generational divide between Bobby and his son Michael which becomes more apparent as they delve further into their attitudes towards race, as well as comedy. Whilst Michael’s initial stand-up set drags on for too long and feels laboured (much like the first half of the play), the staging is masterfully executed. This is contrasted by the next stand-up stint pulled off by Mohammed (Nitin Ganatra) in the second half of the play. Nitin’s comedic timing coupled with the acerbic wit of his character brings an exciting intensity to the play’s latter half.
Michael unleashes his anger and vitriol in the second half in a disturbing manner. Blake’s performance takes on more bite which is captivating and equally commendable, however it does feel incongruent with his character’s trajectory in the first half. Bobby comments “it’s like you’re two different people”, but the Jekyll and Hyde element of Michael’s character isn’t pulled off seamlessly – ultimately to the detriment of the plot.
Part of Robins’ message is to highlight that in much of comedy now, “someone always gets hurt. We laugh because we’re glad it’s not us.” He leads us to ruminate on what could happen when one “meet our punchlines”, whilst still causing us to laugh. Whilst much of the dialogue is intelligent and well-acted, his writing only really comes to life in the second portion of the play.