Edinburgh Fringe 2012
Max and Ivan are… Con Artists is pure comedy genius. The boys may look young, but their souls seem imbued with an understanding of how to do comedy that belies their years. You’ll be in safe hands careening down freeways in a getaway car, infiltrating a casino and remembering what happened back in Monaco…
The princes of narrative sketch comedy, Max and Ivan, have been building a fierce reputation at the Fringe over the last few years, rising to prominence with Max and Ivan are… Holmes and Watson and ambitious The Wrestling. This year they have truly hit their stride with Con Artists. After giving it four stars when it previewed at the Brighton Fringe earlier this year, I was naturally excited to see how far it had come when I saw it on the last day of the run in Edinburgh.
I was expecting a more polished performance and a tighter script. But what I got was tantamount to comedy perfection.
Using all the best features of the classic heist flick, Max and Ivan seamlessly and lovingly parody the genre with a host of distinctive and hilarious characters – from the sexy heiress computer hacker to the South American getaway driver/bomb experts and shady Cockney Jim, the mastermind behind the con. Reuniting once more after what happened in Monaco (hilariously evoked in a series of flashbacks) for one final heist, the dream team have to infiltrate the charity casino of a Russian philanthropist/entrepreneur – but everyone is not as they seem, as we discover when rug is pulled from under our feet again and again in twist after ingenious plot twist in the denouement.
While the show is incredibly tightly rehearsed and plot driven – relying on split second character changes, beautifully choreographed physical comedy and even including a laser show – the two are also confidently across audience interaction and improvisation. They include a judicious and perfectly timed amount of ad lib that – instead of being a throwaway breaking of the fourth wall, as is so often the case in comedy – actually is built into the fabric of the show in a way that becomes essential to the narrative arc. They set up conventions – such as the flashbacks to what happened in Monaco – and undermine them brilliantly. Each character is so clearly defined that the tiniest hand gesture or twitch of the head evokes them perfectly, and we have no trouble following the performers as they play some 20 parts.
You see, there are times when you see an act that are so effortlessly in tune with their audience, whose work is crafted to give you just the right balance of what you want and what you didn’t formerly know you wanted, that it simply compels you to leap to your feet when the show is over. It’s not often that you see a unanimous standing ovation, but that’s what they got the day I went – it’s what comes from a show that is so deeply satisfying and so consummately performed as this one.
Without costumes or scenery, Max and Ivan prove again and again just what you can do with two chairs, a toothbrush and a couple of laser lights – it’s brilliantly theatrical but awesomely cinematic at the same time. They have just announced a run at the Soho Theatre in London – get along so that you can boast about how you saw them before they became megastars.