We’ve sometimes seen plays around comedians about to go on; but one who’s called on to ad-lib for late acts, introduce, do his show and again introduce, is unheard of. A fractured act for a fractured man.

It’s Andrew Kay’s Punchline: directed by Rupert Charmak and starring Brian Capron it plays at the Lantern Theatre, till April 14th. As I write, it’s long sold out. Queue, or await its return. Kay’s previous play I Will Survive won the drama competition at the Word On Worthing literary festival, and his second play Morning Glory was performed by Allan Cardew to huge acclaim at Theatre Royal Brighton.

Tensions affecting one man’s journey through the long night of a Manchester club, are unique: moving, funny (has to be), deeply melancholic but not in any way you’d expect. Hurt. Very. And not by missing out after that TV slot with Jim Davidson.

Brian Capron’s Terry (best known on TV as serial killer Richard Hillman in Coronation Street) arrives to confide his past: colleagues, marriage, career as he prepares. He doesn’t speak at first, edges around his make-up mirror (a nifty hollow one so we’re not occluded); riffles with his clothes-rack and looks to apply a little finesse.

Finesse is Capron’s by-word. He projects, wholly differently to any other performance of his, a winning vulnerability. His confiding quietly insists, almost insinuates itself modestly as he hesitates a joke then pounces with it. “That’s a good one” he starts with, sashaying delicately into Ken Dodd, Larry Grayson, Tommy Cooper, Jim Davidson.

Above all there’s Max Miller: we’re confided a shocking little detail. And did anyone opt for the ‘white’ not ‘blue’ books? There’s no-one younger than Davidson, now 70. How long has Terry been out of the swim? Yet he’s still working.

Why is Terry not bold? Not the cliché tears-of-a-clown, something hederides. But Terry saws his hands through the air with a certain diffidence, gradually warming up.

His monologue’s punctuated with fruity tannoy announcements from a regional voice (this will shift depending where in the country the comic plays). The voice asks an owner to get their car out of the way,shames a stripper by announcing a pair of panties has been handed to Barry, found in the male toilets. Sometimes it directly informs the comedian he’s go to cover for a late-arriving stripper, a delayed-in-traffic act; to go and ad-lib till the vamps are ready.

At these moments Capron steps forward, and white lights irradiate a confident persona as Terry joshes with the crowd, calls to one Carol to take her glasses off and hand them to the woman behind. Then there’s a gallimaufry of lights: green, blue, red as we’re onstage proper (light, stage and tech down to Erin Burbridge).

The reveal’s a slow-peeling-back of a marriage; its clue lies in the title, double-edged as it is. How will Terry struggle back?

Capron takes courageous risks in flaying a fragility that borders on the mesmerising. It’s an incredibly moving performance. Pace will pick up, though at 55 minutes it’s hardly a long work. It’s destined to be a riveting play in Kay’s late-emerging canon. We need more of Kay; and courtesy of Steve Barrey’s Liquorice Dragon Productions, we’ll soon see Punchline again.

Simon Jenner


Lantern Theatre

April 12th 2024

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