A barmy and surreal sketch show, Phil Dunning: The People’s Prince is slick and funny, but not quite the sterling it aspires to.
Phil Dunning: The People’s Prince takes us through a gaggle of characters and stories, that aren’t quite all they seem.
I do love a bit of surrealism and absurdism: it makes life more bearable and is also a lot more fun. Some of my favourite comic troupes include Monty Python’s Flying Circus and The Mighty Boosh, not to mention a bit of Ionseco when it comes to theatre. So, it’s inevitable to make comparisons of Phil Dunning: The People’s Prince alongside these, especially if the PR also does so in the press release. The difficult with following any of these greats is how do you going about making your mark and bringing something different to the absurdist’s table? Dunning’s focus is more on putting surreally comic twists on character observations for Phil Dunning: The People’s Prince. Dunning’s character observations are actually quite inspired: they brim with satire, wit, and an slick imagination in just how to grotesque them without the surrealism getting in the way of the joke. Dunning also does this in inventive ways too, especially the strange songs several of his characters end up singing to the audience.
The only problems with the show are as follows. Firstly Phil Dunning: The People’s Prince does start to get a bit repetitive. Characters will come on, say something completely unrelated and that particular sketch will end abruptly and bizarrely. It’s certainly mad and fun the first few times, but then it becomes a bit predictable the the comic spontaneity starts to diminish. Secondly, there’s nothing that stands out as being completely original and brilliant. That’s not to say Dunning is derivative: he’s certainly created a very definite style to what he’s doing, and I certainly can’t think of anyone else doing what he does in the way that he does it. It’s just that it’s nothing so outlandish or out there that it feels particularly ground-breaking.
But even so, Phil Dunning: The People’s Prince still achieves it’s primary aim: it’s funny. It’s certainly not difficult to laugh, especially with some of the stronger sketches: the man lost in the forest being a particular highlight of the show, as well as the man on the prowl for girls (GIRLS). Dunning as a performer also has a kinky charm that really reels you in and makes you giggle, making Phil Dunning: The People’s Prince a wonderfully oddball night out.
Direction & Production
People often don’t realise that structure and pacing is actually quite important for a genre that appears to have little logic or sense. Thankfully, Phil Dunning: The People’s Prince is actually a great example of this done well. Music and sound design keep pace going, such as the increasingly distorted treatments to Duning’s “theme song” giving a sense of development and direction to Phil Dunning: The People’s Prince. Then the actual structure and order of the sketches also help give a sense of cohesion to a show that is intrinsically non sequitur: such as the frequent moments where characters sing their strange songs, and also Dunning working steadily through the line-up of purposefully bad wigs at the back of the stage. The overall effect is that you never feel lost or overly bewildered. Despite the fact that nothing is related or sensible in Phil Dunning: The People’s Prince, it never feels like control is ever lost or the show itself is rambling.
As mentioned earlier, Dunning’s charm is key to the entire show. Dunning also has a great knack for reading his audience excellently well and building a rapport and interaction with them. There are moments in the show, and at the beginning especially, where he’s able to scout out which audience members are game for getting involved and interacted with, and builds on that to make Phil Dunning: The People’s Prince slick and devoid of awkward non-cooperation from from shier or surlier patrons. In other words, thanks for not forcing me to conga, even if I was the only one who didn’t!
Slick, silly, and surreal, Phil Dunning: The People’s Prince is comic regency on the rise, even if the crown jewels aren’t quite as sparkling as they could be.
Phil Dunning: The People’s Prince plays at the Pleasance Courtyard (venue 33), Edinburgh, EH8 9TJ, until 28 August. Tickets are £7 – £9 (concessions available). To book, visit tickets.edfringe.com.