Canned Laughter – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Writer: Ed Curtis with Allan Stewart

Director: Ed Curtis

Reviewer: Dominic Corr

Regular patrons of the King’s Theatre might just recognise tonight’s stars without their panto make-up. Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott play a trio of ageing comedians once a triple-act, who go their separate ways. After writing the titular play, Gray’s character Gus tries his hardest to convince old ‘Wee Three’ member Alec (Stewart) to join him once more as the presence of their abandoned colleague Rory (Stott) lingers at the dressing room window.

First and foremost – Canned Laughter doesn’t need the laugh track for which it is named, in keeping with the theme of old-time comics returning to their younger days, a few of the hoary old jokes have been dusted off too, though to their credit they’re performed with the timing of comedic greats. It harkens back to the glorious era of Morecambe and Wise (though, if you’ve seen the King’s annual panto you may recognise a gag or two).

That being said; when Stewart and Gray fight for the spot light on stage during a wonderful rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow the ripples of laughter seem as if they’re never going to cease. No joke falls flat,it’s clear these men live and breathe comedy.

There’s a much needed darkness to the script, but it doesn’t push hard enough. At times the sudden bleakness comes out of nowhere only to beswept away by bright lights and a gag. Stott’s performance as Rory fails to fully deliver the poignancy of his character’s struggle with humiliation and alcoholism. This is more of a scripting error than that of the performer; Stewart too, is always on the brink of portraying a character who fully realises the damage he has done only for it to be ripped away as the script shies fromconfrontation.

Like the comedy greats these three showbiz veterans blend drama with the jokes, striking out at the audience’s empathy but not pushing hard enough to leave a deep connection. Canned Laughter will leave you reminiscing and chuckling, but little more than that.

Runs until Saturday 2 April 2016 | Image: Contributed

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  1. Sorry really disappointed with Canned Laughter. We were looking for our yearly tonic but it was a let down to our party of twenty also public opinion on leaving the theatre. Allan stick to trying to revive the old-time Palladium-type shows which were a hit and brilliant to look forward to after our panto visit. This production did nothing for the three of you. Stick to what you do best -music and entertain. We still are your number one fans in the front two rows of your productions

  2. I found the play funny in parts but mainly poignant. The three were seat wettingly funny when “onstage” but their calibre shone through when “backstage” I found myself disliking Allan Stewart’s character and finding Andy Gray pathetic, the contrast with the onstage performances was striking. Then of course it dawned on me that they were acting, and doing it well.
    Edna’s point shone through in the Blackpool scene when Grant Stott was having an alcoholic breakdown on stage and most of the audience were watching in mortified horror but a number of people to the right of where I was sitting were cackling with laughter. I was appalled, how could they find this funny? But I suppose they were expecting a laugh a minute show, such a shame.
    I do agree about the writing though. At times it shied away, “what did happen to Rory?” The cheesy ending was abrupt and not cheesy enough. The moment when Gus failed to come on stage was excellent, but really, once the three were reunited they should have milked it.
    Overall though, I loved it.

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