Review: Simon Jay

On arriving at the Old Fire Station last Saturday I had no idea what I had come to see. A one man show, purporting to be comedy. Does that mean stand-up comedy? Sketches? Part of the problem with this show, written by Scott Payne and performed by Jay, is that it didn’t seem to know what it was either. Sure there were elements of humour – I think it extracted a least three chuckles from me; not nearly approaching guffaw or rumbling, inexorable belly-laugh territory but nevertheless mildly amusing. These attempts at comedy drowned in a sea of half-baked allusions to more serious theatrical genres or forms.

The premise of the performance was to trace a man’s life through his interactions with other people. The man in question was actually a jacket placed over the back of a chair, with a claw-like plastic hand protruding from one sleeve. The narrative arc, such as it was, was provided by a motley cast of characters rendered by Simon Jay, who lithely skipped between genders, ages, and regional accents, verging on the hysterical.

Despite their skilful portrayals many of these characters were lazy caricatures, from the drunken cockney football fan to the airy-fairy, spiritually attuned hack hypnotherapist Dr Strepsils. If comedy means reciting tired stereotypes for a cheap laugh then this, unfortunately, was comedy of the highest order. When the joke wasn’t about the characters themselves, all we were left with was toilet humour, the bulk of which took place in a sewer works. I’ll leave it up to you to guess what that involved.

The main trouble I had with this piece was not the immature, pedestrian attempts at humour; it was their juxtaposition with dark plot twists and tragic notes which could not be reconciled with jokes about poo. When looked at objectively there is little to laugh about in the subject’s life. His sister dies in the blitz; his mother is a prison-bound drug addict who hates him; he fails to turn up to his own wedding because he’s in bed with another woman; his wife deals with this for 39 years before divorcing him; he works in a sewer; and eventually he dies of a heart attack. In a show lasting under an hour, there was no time to marry a depressing biography with humorous asides, and on the basis of this performance it is not something to be attempted again.