The Pin return to the Edinburgh Fringe with an Alan Ayckbourn type conceit: as suggested by this year’s title Backstage, the bulk of the show has performers Alex Owen and Ben Ashenden apparently biding their time as the warm-up act behind the red curtain while long-established big name performers Phillip and Robin (also Owen and Ashenden) get the actual stage time and plaudits. When, Alex and Ben wonder, will they have their chance to hit the big time? After a while, the divide between the four-ish comics become blurred, particularly – as you may have already guessed – we get to see a lot more of backstage than we do front of the curtain.
The Pin push sketches past their natural narrative boundaries.
Once you recognise that the main gag here is that we know that Owen and Ashenden are indeed sketch performers (as opposed to the bulk of other comedy shows, where, for the most part, the actors leave their real life personas – well, backstage - for the majority of the skits, there’s a curiously distancing element to the evening’s sketches. To be clear, this isn’t a negative thing: it’s clearly a very deliberate choice, and indeed there’s something very cute about having a sketch repeatedly heralded before its actual arrival, and in often being told that what we’re watching is indeed a sketch, and even further, having the very concept of a sketch broken down to its barest DNA (‘just a harmless mix-up’).
This often means that the audience has a pleasing amount of control in their own response to each gag. Which then in turn allows The Pin to push certain sketches past their natural narrative boundaries. There are plenty of so-called ‘straight’ sketches in the hour, but it’s clear that the pair are fascinated by what is at its core a reasonably ridiculous concept: the humour of a great deal of sketches depends on the significant characters not bothering to signal very basic information to one another that would negate much of the confusions that lead to the joke.
It is indeed mix-ups and misunderstandings that power much of the material in this hour (except where, in one case, you could argue that the confusion comes from a complete lack of misunderstanding). The pair’s natural chemistry – from Owen’s giggly skittishness to Ashenden’s slightly nettled persona – is the engine here, as the comedy ranges from answering job adverts in the paper to an attempt to cash in on the Nordic drama craze. As is often the case with sketch shows, to say any more risks spoiling the jokes.
It all ends in a collapse of the divide behind the curtain (if not an actual collapse of the curtain), as Owen and Ashenden attempt to wrestle top-billing status from Phillip and Robin. For the happy audience at Pleasance Two, top billing is already safely assured – The Pin are as sharp as ever.