Pajama Men: In the Middle of No One, Soho Theatre, London
Thursday 23 June 2011
With its American basement club vibe, it was apt that this excellent US duo were chosen to be the inaugural act for Soho Theatre's new downstairs venue. Assembled around tightly packed cabaret tables, tonight's audience faced a curtain backdrop on to which the Pajama Men's name was projected, something almost too fancy for this pretty no-frills (yet high-octane) act whose only props are their expressive voices and bodies.
When on stage Mark Chavez and Shenoah Allen delight the audience, justifying their name in lights, with a glorious exhibition of how to marry sketch scenarios born out of goofy improvisation and high-quality lines, many of which are sitcom-tight.
The gags range from those that smack of great improv reflexes ("Tell me!" implores one of Chavez's characters to which Allen's replies "I'll tell you... and then you'll know!"), but also of careful exploitation of a concept: a life-support machine is made to sound like an alarm clock and when it is stopped Chavez yells "that man just hit snooze on death!" The plot? It barely matters in the zany mêlée of ludicrous caricatures whose movements are as cartoonish as their voices. The first 15 minutes or so suggest that the action will all take place around various dysfunctional characters in a hospital but it then leaps into lunacy with a story about aliens and time travel.
If it sounds childish, it is; but this playing around throws up so many rewards, from the image of a centaur with two ponytails (one on the man and the other on the horse end), to a discussion on the numerical confusion that lies between the definitions of "a pair of lips" and "two lips", and on to a hilarious human-marionette routine that both ridicules and pays tribute to the discipline. Imagine Sesame Street overtaken by the asylum lunatics and you'll get some idea of this Pyjamarama.
The Pajamas will always be a tough act to follow and regularly set the bar for others, but in this way they have helped Soho's latest space enjoy a terrific start.
To 2 July (020 7478 0100)
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