It's obvious from the loud, excited audience in Assembly Studio 3 that London-based comedy theatre trio The Pretend Men – Nathan Parkinson, Zachary Hunt and Tom Rose – have returned to Edinburgh with something of a reputation, after previous critically acclaimed, sell-out performances of their high-tempo, cinematically-inspired Police Cops, and its unexpectedly 1980s "low-fi sci-fi" sequel Police Cops in Space. Tonight's audience is clearly expecting to have a really good time.
Pretty much all of the show is incredibly silly, but that doesn’t mean The Pretend Men assume their audiences are stupid.
We do. The humour – verbal, visual or both – isn't so much thick and fast as a constant downpour, leaving breathing between laughs very much a personal option. Pretty much all of the show is incredibly silly, but that doesn't mean The Pretend Men assume their audiences are stupid; the speed at which even the envelope narrative – set on a distant alien world where robots rule and humans are despised third-class citizens – is genuinely surprising. The Pretend Men clearly assume their audiences are sufficiently up to speed with the genre to know what's going on with a minimum of explanation.
The main story, about the drunken son of a famed Police Cop in Space who comes to accept his destiny in the face of a murderous android, is iconic enough to be understandable – to the extent that much of the background is sketched out with a few scraps of dialogue and some moments of physical theatre, during which the cast seem willing to loose layers of clothing. This main part of the narrative is focused on Sammy (Parkinson) getting back to Earth; his pilot Ranger (Hunt) is no Han Solo, however, and the other characters (mostly Rose) aren't exactly Star Wars material either.
The improbability and ridiculousness of some of the situations, plus the occasional "malfunctions" of props and costumes (inevitable, really, given the speed of the show), is such that even these three performers aren't always capable of keeping a straight face. But they’re lucky; with this kind of show, "corpsing", while still to be avoided, nevertheless enhances the mood, reinforcing the bond between the cast and audience. Simply put, we're all "in on the joke".