The Poof Downstairs @ BAC, London

It’s always hard to review a play built around a surprise conceit without giving too much away, so be warned that the following review contains a bit of a spoiler. Namely, that The Poof Downstairs (which is part of a trio of plays being shown under the banner The Big Story at BAC) isn’t actually a play at all – it’s a one-man comic show.

Though such is the effectiveness of Jon Haynes’ persona that it takes a few minutes to realise this is the case: when he shuffles on stage with an air of bumbling apology that one of his actors has cancelled, there was some awkward laughter before the crowd realised that this, in fact, was the show. There is a similar delayed recognition as you gradually realise that the “Fat Dave” he refers to as the bane of his schooldays isn’t a random comic construct or an actual figure from his past, but a politician with a wife called Sam and an election to contest…

Jon Haynes is one half of the award winning duo Ridiculusmus, and this solo show is part comic “autobiography” and part political satire, encompassing the performer’s public schooldays, his dysfunctional family upbringing and his past and current relationship with the pompous bully and would-be actor, the elusive “fat Dave” whose last minute phone call to pull out of the play is the catalyst for this monologue.

With a mostly low key style (bar occasional diversions into character, ably assisted by a couple of wigs), Haynes delivers his material with an almost Izzardesque talent for digression. Seeming to wander from one point to the next, he actually has timing that wouldn’t shame the expert of the comic meander Billy Connolly, with each tale of woe folding back in on itself to a satisfying whole.

The only mistake, perhaps, is trying to cover too many bases at once: lampooning Cameron is funny, (admittedly the politicians an easy target, but there is a lot of gold to be mined from his public schooldays and his current luvvie-like persona). Haynes tales of his family also resonate, but he misfires with lazy stereotypes when talking about the “Asbo family” upstairs – do any so-called chavs still call their daughters Sharon and Tracey? – and at times it feels like he is trying to cram too much into one routine. The act is also slightly too long, with blunts the humour. The extract of the “actual” play The Poof Downstairs glimpsed at the end of the show feels pointless and tacked on, extending the routine past its shelf life.

But these are minor quibbles in an otherwise entertaining show. Jon Haynes is an engaging and disarming performer and, on this evidence, one that we should be hearing much more of.

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