Adam Rowe, Ben Standish, Cameron Brett, Dave's Funniest Joke of the Fringe, Edinburgh Fringe, Family, Greenside @ Infirmary Street, Nottingham New Theatre, Theatre Review, Working Class Hero by Ben Standish
There is considerable bemusement across the Fringe and it is of totally the wrong kind. The “funniest” joke of the year has been finally revealed. The prize is sponsored by the Dave TV channel and here is the winner, courtesy of the comedian Adam Rowe:
Working at the Jobcentre has to be a tense job – knowing that if you get fired, you still have to come in the next day.
Inevitably, some people on Twitter have Googled this joke and found that it goes all the way back to the time when it was first told by Plato to Aristotle. In fairness to Rowe, he sounds just as dumbfounded as everybody else that it has won. But the reaction is universal: is this it?! There are more comedy shows in Edinburgh than there are stars in the night sky and this is really the finest joke? And through what extraordinarily convoluted weighting system did they process all of the millions of jokes until this one had emerged as the best?
Bad jokes are a theme in Ben Standish’s new play “Working Class Hero,” which is currently established at the Greenside on Infirmary Street. Standish plays a dad and he tells bad-dad jokes. When a conversation about John Lennon moves on to tonight’s fish supper, the dad pounces with unashamed delight on “give peas a chance.” A mention of the CIA tapping phones causes him to pause and tap his phone satirically, “like this?” Both of these jokes are surely giving Rowe a run for his money. Nonetheless Standish’s play seems to here isolate some very precious, wondrous element. It is mandatory that bad-dad jokes are dire, but what makes them so funny is the enjoyment that the old fool always takes in coining them.
His son (Cameron Brett) is growing up and moving on, but he still likes to linger in his dad’s kitchen and so, I think, do we. The dad is being left behind – probably, he has to be – and what we might feel for the homely detritus of his flat will be not wholly nostalgia. This is literally a “kitchen sink” drama – an entire workstation has been spirited on stage, with a sink, kettle and microwave. The two characters munch their way through the play, in consuming the sort of simplistic comfort foods that most of us had eaten as children. There is thick tea with dunked Digestives, beans on toast, crisps, and those powdery Bourbon Creams. It is meant to make us shudder, safe as we now are with our cosmopolitan cuisine of halloumi and spelt salad.
There is definitely the stirring of a primal fear whenever we are confronted with the depleted paraphernalia of the working class: the terraced housing, the music of the Beatles, the beans on toast, the crowing over Saturday’s football scores. You feel claustrophobic and impatient for the freedoms of modernity and the internet. Yet the son is a morally immense character, who is never smiling in his dad’s face and then slinking away to watch art-house documentaries. It helps that the dad has a clear edge in the banter and that he is evoked without any condescension. Music, in the end, furnishes a bridge between the two men. The son learns to listen to John Lennon’s music and the dad tries on the political rapper Akala for size. The son is still idealistic and the dad continues to be unsentimental, but an equality is brokered. They both sound equally right and wrong.
“Working Class Hero” is a very gentle and tender play. I don’t think that I have seen a father-son relationship being put on the stage at the Fringe before, and certainly not with two actors of about the same age, and certainly never with the naturalness of this production. The acting is beautifully paced and the writing marshals its details well, so that the end product is surprisingly, for all of the Coronation Street clutter, un-televisual. Sometimes, it might look and sound faintly like Steptoe and Son. It is brilliantly engineered and yet a thick slice of plain life, like a Dutch kitchen scene that shows no hint of the skill that had put it on the canvas.