Alex Owen and Ben Ashenden are the veritable princes of the meta-theatrical sketch and descendants of a very British kind of comedy. With Owen’s gleeful child’s smile and genuine-seeming enthusiasm for each newly offered activity; and Ashenden with his oddly intimidating eyebrow-raising and generally maverick demeanour, they are great fun to watch perform.
They were a quintessential Pinky and The Brain, and this dichotomy allowed them to showcase both spectrum ends of their style, the bizarre and the intellectual.
I’ve made them sound like children which is not quite fair because their comedy is intelligent. The Pin work by picking apart (no pun intended) the mechanics of the sketch before our eyes. They examine and explain these ‘bizarre situations’ and ‘funny scenarios’, pretending to workshop them mid-show. They will often perform a sketch - usually quite funny in its own right - and then repeat it from a different perspective, with further explanation.
Now for a quick comparison to their 2013 show. Last Fringe, Owen and Ashenden took up two firm, distinct roles. Ashenden was the funny, endearing semi-lunatic. Owen was the straight man, the try-hard drama school dickhead - pretentious, intent on every detail of the show going according to plan, becoming enraged at each and every one of Ashenden’s silly deviations from the ‘status quo’. They were a quintessential Pinky and The Brain, and this dichotomy allowed them to showcase both spectrum ends of their style, the bizarre and the intellectual.
This year however, no such roles exist, and the two blend quite interchangeably. Whilst this may be more fair, and more fun overall for each performer, some hilarity is sadly lost. Every joke veers more towards the self-referential. Every laugh is won because of things going wrong. The techie doesn’t know what she’s doing, the participating audience members are at a total loss as to what they’re supposed to be doing, Ashenden and Owen pretend to muck up their own sketches. A particularly inventive example of this was in the sketch where they used a clip of themselves, filmed months before, only for their older selves to intrude upon the show and wreak havoc and chaos. The illusion of chaos is purely deceptive though, as everything is meticulously planned, and everything mentioned is referenced back impressively. Although very successful in what they do, this did at times take on a somewhat repetitive tone - the show overall lacking the ludicrous gems that last year’s show had to offer. (Ashenden’s attempted search and abduction of the best crocodile lookalike among the audience instantly springs to mind.)
Nevertheless this pair is still well worth a watch. The Pin, though not as sharp as last year, are still as penetrating as ever in their dissection of what makes comedy shows click.