It must be quite a gear change to go from playing your sell out hour long show at the Edinburgh Fringe to touring the Arts Centre circuit. Pappy’s current show takes their last Edinburgh offering – All Business – as the second act of a game of two halves; the first part sees them warming up the audience with a selection of sketches and songs with no particular through-line.
Despite the sparse audience at Swindon Arts Centre, the Pappy’s team hit the stage firing on all cylinders creating belly laugh after belly laugh. They could not rely on their reputation or their fan-base to win this crowd over and they didn’t need to. Their particular brand of shambolic silliness, childlike rudeness and verbal slapstick is underpinned by a preciseness of writing and structure, which balances the material to get the most out of the audience.
The stand-up skills of Matthew Crosby and Tom Parry are relied on to fine-tune the relationship with the audience making sure nobody misses a moment. Ben Clark provides the warm heart of the group as well as the musical strength behind their songs.
Often, though, it’s Tom’s wild improvising which threatens to steal the show as he gleefully jumps off the script to see how far he can push the audience and his fellow performers. With Matthew’s sometimes unsubtle signs to Tom to come back on track, and Ben’s frustrated attempts to follow suit, the improvising often ends up as a shared joke between the performers and the audience. Tonight the ad-libs were effortlessly hilarious and were yet another highlight of a show where nearly every joke hit the mark.
The greatest hits element of their first section suffered a little from its lack of narrative arc and climax. Their use of the dinosaur “Dean” from their 2009 show became a simple recurring character sketch, rather than its original character journey, and the links between most of the sketches seemed to step out of the show a little too much. That said, these sketches are well worth their repeat airing in any format, with classics like “Old Louis” and “Anne Frank’s Boyfriend” showing how a simple idea, realised well, makes comedy gold.
In the second act, the team proved again that all they need is a few low-tech props in carrier bags, and the energy to have fun with them. The show threatened to run off the rails a few times, the “Four Foot Freddy” character was acknowledged as not really working, and their techie for the night didn’t quite hit all the sound cues, but Pappy’s used this as even more fuel for their performance. Sometimes it seems like they’re on the stage to make each other laugh, as much as the audience, and watching the usually serious Matthew trying to keep a straight face is almost as funny as seeing Tom’s insane slapstick.
This is a show worth seeing more than once. A night with Pappy’s is side-splittingly funny.