Julian Hall is disappointed with The Penny Dreadfuls’ first show they ditched the Aeneas Faversham series.
By comparison to last year’s show from these Edinburgh favourites, The Never Man is a crushing disappointment. Gone is the binding narrative and engrossing atmosphere of 2008’s Victorian romp, and part of the Aeneas Faversham series, only to be succeeded by an unholy synthesis of Hammer Horror, James Bond and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Should it matter what the plot is? Or perhaps the question should be, when does it matter if there is no plot? The answer is when there’s so much goofing around that you lose interest in it. But when was goofing around a bad thing in sketch comedy, especially when it is done by three very funny people? Well, it’s a circular argument, clearly.
Humphrey Ker’s character, an eight-and-three-quarters year old boy called Paul, is the best and worst thing about the show. The best because the funniest lines either come from him of through him, but the worst because the knowing joke that he embodies (he’s ludicrously tall to be that young) is a symbol of the constant fourth wall-busting humour that undermines the show’s cohesion.
For anyone new to the charms of the Pennies, of course, the benefit, or otherwise, of hindsight will not apply. For these people the gags alone will be enough to satisfy their ‘bang-for-your-buck’ or ‘puns-for-your-penny’ requirements.