Brighton Fringe 2018
After numerous sell-out successes of their first show – Police Cops – it was somewhat inevitable that a second show by The Pretend Men would follow. Police Cops in Space unapologetically parodies every hit sci-fi movie ever, and using their own brand of high-energy physical comedy and breath-taking sound and lighting design, generate a non-stop cavalcade of raucous laughter.
The story centres around Sammy Johnson, the last Police Cop alive, whose father is killed by an evil robot. Sammy then travels around the universe, intend on avenging his father’s death. Facing a number of foes along the way, Sammy realises, in the tradition of all the hit Hollywood movies, that his biggest foe is himself.
The cast of three play an array of characters, with changes indicated either by adding or removing token clothing items, or by performing impressively quick full costume changes. The set is a standard black box, but the cast take us to a range of different worlds, utilising high-energy montages between scenes. Most characters are based around Hollywood film archetypes, and the recognition of such personalities is a key part of the enjoyment of the show. References to hit films are ten-a-penny – so much so that I can’t even begin to list them. Judging from some of the audience laughter it was clear that many of the references were lost on me, a good sign that the show had a universal appeal as there were also times when I was laughing almost alone. Characters included the lead Police Cop Sammy Johnson, the evil robot Tanner who was trying to take over the world, the hapless British pilot, the trustee sidekick robot C9, and Mr McGuire – the Police Cop sensei.
Most impressive was the precise choreography of a highly physical comedy. At times the show had a feel of three lads mucking around, but the precision of timing and the trust the performers placed in each other belied that, illustrating that this is a thoroughly rehearsed and very well considered piece of theatre. From straight-up dances to slow-motion scenes and story-moving montages, not a foot was out of place. Having said that, an arm did go rogue at one point, resulting in a cast member receiving a poke in the face. It’s testament to the improvisation abilities of the cast that it was unclear whether this was a genuine error, or a rehearsed “improvisation”. There was a similar feeling when cast members called each other out for forgetting their lines, but their charm and energy in recovering these situations meant that it never felt like a beat was dropped.
Props were kept to minimum, and often formed part of the set as well. A particular highlight was the use of glow sticks fired into the audience to represent lasers.
The montages – and there were unapologetically many – were supported by an impressive use of light and sound. Again, not a beat was missed when the lights dropped or the music kicked in- this is physical storytelling at its very best. The “reverse” montage towards the end of the show felt like it had dropped straight out of a movie and is something of which The Pretend Men should be particularly proud.
If there is a criticism here, it is that the lighting states could perhaps have supported the dialogue scenes better – for instance with softer lighting in the more intimate moments – rather than the full wash that was present most of the time. This is certainly not something that detracted from any scenes, however.
From my perspective – quite literally – I would have enjoyed this more seeing it in a bigger space, or at least in a space with raked seating. I was sat on the second row, and it was very difficult to see what was going on a lot of the time, particularly when the action was so fast-moving and covered all parts of the stage. These are, however, the typical limitations of the Fringe, so it is perhaps a compliment to the show that this is even a minor complaint. It may well not have been a concern for 90% of Fringe shows.
The story was strong – engaging from the start – although occasionally I felt slightly overwhelmed by the number of characters that we had seen, as I had lost track of their relationship to the story. As it happened this was largely irrelevant, as the script pulled everything together nicely at the end. The only real disappointment were the dick jokes in the script. There were only a couple, but I felt like they brought the show down in places where they weren’t necessary. The rest of the show was such high quality, and largely unique, and jokes resorting to this base level felt out of place. If they were intended as pastiches – which is highly possible given the rest of the script – they weren’t clear enough, and generally received a subdued reception compared to the rest of the show.
Nothing should take away from the fact, however, that this is a highly-polished, impressive piece of physical comedy, one which should not be missed if you like your comedy fast and physical. The full house lapped up the experience and most people’s jaws were undoubtedly aching on the way out. Police Cops in Space is contemporary theatre at its very best.