NextUp Review: Max and Ivan – The Reunion

Max Olesker and Ivan Gonzalez are a comedy duo who perform what they describe as “Narrative sketch shows”, and this is their hour long effort from 2013 which has also been made (though in a fairly altered way) in to three shorts for Channel Four’s Blaps series. Both take on a variety of roles and their acting skills are remarkable, they convince completely in each and every one, even when a lion is unleashed upon the stage. But I’m getting ahead of myself a little there and will return to that in a bit.

Teasing at first that it’s going to be a show about an elite soldier (who menacingly informs the audience “You’ll never go thirsty if you acquire a taste for hyena piss”), it’s actually set at a high school class reunion and revolves around the far less exciting character of Brian Bollingsworth, a man who’s allergic to everything, everything except love that is. He’s a shy and sweet type who has strong feelings for his school friend Jessica, but unfortunately for him she’s in a relationship with a twat called Kal who is planning to propose to her this very night. And also sell a herring flavoured alcoholic drink, because who doesn’t dream of vomiting the moment you down a shot. There’s also a rich supporting case including Alan Jones, a man who now works as a gun polisher who no one remembers, not even his best friend and the bully who made his life a living hell, and Paul and Alex who used to be in a band together but had a falling out after an incident at a house party. All of the plot strands converge at various points to make a narrative which is not only gripping but very, very funny, and also oddly lovable.

It might sound like a fairly conventional story but it’s far from it, what with Brian’s issues with the world, to the extent where at one point he bleakly utters “I struggle with cheese” and it turns out he has an iron lung inside his body, I’m not quite sure how that works but the performance is so strong I was more than happy to just go with it. Brian’s also occasionally chided by Jerry, a dog puppet who wishes he was operated by Nina Conti, and to his great concern a voice over predicts Brian’s death early on. There’s also the antics of Paul and Alex who are responsible for the aforementioned lion incident, as well as some fantastic audience interaction and a bit of improvisation when it comes to band names, along with a guitar battle which an audience member called Theo pulls of with aplomb. And that’s not even mentioning Alan’s ongoing misery that no one can remember a single thing about him, and brief appearances from characters like Stacey and Mr Long, who were in a pupil teacher relationship (which was okay as she was a mature student, being forty three at the time), and they seduce each other with geography facts

It’s packed with killer lines, impressively intricate plotting, and the two leap from character to character in an incredibly delightful manner, with Max often having conversations with himself but it never becomes confusing as to who is who. It’s also something which I could have watched for double the length of time, the only disappointing thing about it was when it became apparent it was coming to a close, but I couldn’t complain as the ending is so satisfying, and so unexpected (despite it being signposted earlier on) that it actually gave me goosebumps. If I was to be annoyingly picky it could be pointed out that Max’s intonation occasionally reminds of Reece Shearsmith, and there’s hints of Steve Pemberton in a couple of Ivan’s characters, but that’s a compliment if anything as both are two of the most formidable comic actors out there. And it certainly doesn’t apply to the majority of their roles, most of which just go to show how enormously talented the duo are, and I’d be amazed if anyone who saw this didn’t fall deeply in love with it.

Alex Finch.

Related Link:
Max and Ivan’s Official Site.

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