A show full of balls – review of Adam Riches, Coach Coach

It's a win for Team Riches …

Adam Riches Coach Coach

The grand master of audience participation, Adam Riches, has done a comedy-drama show. Potentially trecherous territory, of course, but I can see why he would want to shake things up a little. His solo shows are not wildly different to each other, but they are remarkably successful – at what point does a winning formula become a flogged horse? Riches could probably have got away with producing another show cut from the same cloth as the last few, but it seems he felt it was time to try something a little different – in this case, something with a story, and a full cast.

Well, it was a risk worth taking. Coach Coach may not reach the wild heights of his previous works but it is a hoot, and I can’t imagine anyone else having created it. The show about a school sports coach, Eric Coach (played by Riches), who tries to get a bunch of deadbeat schoolkids to finally beat their arch rivals in a game of Volfsball (which is essentially netball, but no one goes to see a comedy show about netball). He's haunted by the miss of his life when he was younger, and is desperate to make amends.

The cast is strong, featuring some serious comedic talent, including John Kearns, Stevie Martin (Massive Dad), Ben Target and Charles Booth. And it is in many ways a recognisably Adam Riches show – as ever he plays the arrogant, swashbuckling showman; there is some riotous audience interaction; and the whole thing has the loose, raucous feel of barely controlled chaos. No one seems to enjoy Riches' shows more than himself, and it’s infectious.

Coach Coach is steeped in the teen movies of the 1980s, and it nicely captures the camaraderie and testosterone of the coming-of-age films from that period. There are some nice little sweet treats along the way: a high standard of one-liners (an under-rated skill of Riches'), and a few surprisingly touching romantic scenes between him and Stevie Martin, his stage wife.

The plot – such as it is – has more holes than Aston Villa's back four. That may seem a grouchy complaint towards a good-natured comedy show, but if you're telling story, you're telling a story, and this one certainly isn't as tight as, say, Max and Ivan's long-form comedy shows.

Still, there's no denying this is a triumphant, laugh-out-loud show, one which takes the slightly remarkable step of allowing the unreliability of sport – actual sport – anywhere near the drama. If you've ever watched a sport film and grimaced at the cringeworthy "live action" scenes where the hero inevitably wins against the odds, this show is the opposite of that. In that sense, no two Coach Coach shows will be the same, and with the potential for high drama comes the potential for anticlimax, even if every eventuality has no doubt been covered. That takes balls, and I like balls.

4 stars Review written by Paul Fleckney

Adam Riches, Coach Coach is at Soho Theatre until 2 April

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