Theatre review: Jigsy, Assembly Rooms

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HIS complexion florid from decades on the ale, Jigsy takes his leave of his audience and steps from the spotlight back into reality – the reality of his dingy bedsit, with its crisp boxes for furniture and fading photos of comedians long since gone.

Jigsy is one of the last of a dying breed, an old- school comic who has spent his life playing working men’s clubs, tail-ending endless games of bingo with his grassroots act.

He’s from Liverpool, but the picture is a universal one from any working- class area back in the day – Dalkeith, Prestonpans, it could even be the Leith Dockers.

They say that pathos lies at heart of the best comedy, that intricate melding of despair, desire and recognisable loss, and writer Tony Staveacre ladles it on.

In Jigsy’s case there’s a dawning realisation of the futility of his existence. Bittersweet memories of fellow funnymen, names now forgotten by all but a few, are recalled, along with scathing commentary on fellow Scouser Ken Dodd, a man who made money from 
making people laugh in a way Jigsy never could. Jealousy has never been uglier.

Now, with his health failing and life collapsing around him, Jigsy has come to realise his “showbusiness” career is nothing more than smoke and mirrors and that he, like the rest of his breed, is waiting to die, both metaphorically and literally.

Breathing life into the role is Family Fortunes and Extras star Les Dennis. On stage alone for one hour and ten minutes, Dennis’ performance is so well observed that even before he steps through from the stage of the club Jigsy is performing in, it’s hard to see the popular entertainer beneath the ruddy-faced comic.

The Jigsy he creates is real, a sad, lonely comic out of time with the world.

It’s a brave choice for Dennis. Jigsy may draw sympathy, but he’s not always likeable. An alcoholic, prone to bouts of regret and self-pity, his journey is the study of an unfulfilled life.

Emotional and poignant, Dennis plays all this with a subtlety that belies the gruffness of the character, and an innate comic timing that should be required viewing for every young stand-up on the Fringe.

Rating: ****

• Until August 26