views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Pilgrim Shadow
Tristan Bates Theatre
29th July 2013


It might seem like difficult second album time, as writer/director Steve Jordan once again launches his hapless anti-heroes Gary Patches and Tyler Smith into the void. But following his justifiable success with last year's Dead Static - currently being turned into an audio play - it's clear Jordan has very little to worry about on that account. Pilgrim Shadow is everything you and I loved about its forerunner and more, just like a sequel should be.

Rather than the basic "escape the impending doom" plot, as we had in the original, Jordan has provided Machiavellian simpleton Gary (Adam Joselyn) and effete space pirate Tyler (Cliff Chapman) with a quest. Now they seek the lost treasure of legendary adventurer Shadow while aboard his vessel (yup, you've guessed it) the Pilgrim. Along the way, he's fleshed out the characters, providing Tyler with motivation and history and Gary with a superbly ill-fitting Hulk T-shirt.

You may be thinking that, with the Poe allusion in the title, a subversive Riddle of the Sphinx climax and an injection of pathos akin to Arnold Rimmer's (the only Red Dwarf comment I'll make here, honest, guv!) that it's suddenly become highfalutin. But fear not, this journey to the mythical El Dorado isn't a navel-gazing and introspective work, at least not explicitly. From the Indiana Jones theme before the play begins, past the wonderful Knightmare reference and on to the running gag about former Fun House presenter Pat Sharpe's astonishing accomplishments, you're in familiar territory and safe hands. Awash with extended similes, self-referential rebuttals, geeky gags, it's all pulled off with a bat-on-caffeine-binge energy. But it's not only that. From the get-go, you can see it's braver and bolder than the first, with an actual set for one thing, it's a distillation of what made the first very good indeed, rather than a rehash.

While not tackling existential and moral nihilism head-on, Jordan continues to create a sense of urgency of escape and tension, without (for the mostpart) the now pointless artificiality of time constraints and impending death. This sequel, if anything, highlights more Gary and Tyler's mutual need for one another and the mutual destruction that comes from that. In the long tradition of Beckett, Galton and Simpson and Grant/Naylor (I lied) Jordan carries on this seething, bubbling resentment and pathetic longing masterfully. In the script, it's not what is said as much as it is left unsaid that really hits home.

This is in no small part thanks to Chapman and Joselyn, who once again carry the comedy and characterisation off flawlessly. They've inhabited their roles for so long - last year's Camden Fringe to a later revival, then the aforementioned audio play and on to here - that it's unsurprising. The pair continually push their characters' believability to breaking point in search of a laugh, but always know when to pull back. As ever, Tyler is the bumptious, frustrated and cynical one, Gary the happy-go-lucky idiot manchild who always seems to be a couple of steps ahead. It's a classic contrast and one that the pair, all bluster and wide eyes respectively, work beautifully. As ever, if on TV, but not BBC Three, obviously, their pairing I suspect would be seen as one of the greats.

If I must be critical - and I must - I would say that it takes too long for the plot to kick into warp-speed. This may just be because Dead Static threw you into the situation without warning - mirroring Gary and Tyler's predicament - and thus there was little need for establishment of any kind as that occurred naturally in the plot. But, quite frankly, any time spent with these characters is a joy, regardless of what's going on. And again, in its defence, the establishment does provide an entry point if you haven't seen the first - indeed, you really don't need to have, as it welcomes newcomers gladly, with a bottle in its hand. Also, despite slimming back on pop-culture references, in parts there's a tendency to old groaners which I like, but honestly aren't for everyone.

In my review for Dead Static, I stated that I wanted to see more of Tyler and Gary so Jordan happily wrote this (I'm choosing to believe) entirely for me. Once again, though, it doesn't seem like he's quite exhausted all of those tortuous - and torturous - puns or Pat Sharpe references. If he and the team take anything away from the review, it's this - rest our dynamic duo for a while, then come back with one final blistering show because, as the holy trilogy proves, the best sci-fi comes in threes.

Pilgrim Shadow ran from 29th July to 3rd August 2013, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Leicester Square (Piccadilly, Northern)

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