James McNicholas @ Pleasance Courtyard
James McNicholas' The Boxer is an appealing first solo hour from a well-established comic talent
James McNicholas, of sketch comedy group BEASTS, has already proven himself to be a skilled actor. This translates well to The Boxer in the characterisation of his grandfather Terry Downes, who just so happened to be world middleweight champion in 1961. The Boxer takes us on a journey of Terry’s life and achievements, amusingly contrasting them against his own (literally – there are graphs).
McNicholas opens in character as Terry, setting the tone and subject of the show (but also reassuring the audience that they haven’t accidentally walked into a play). The rest of the hour switches between our two main characters: Terry Downes the boxer and James McNicholas the comedian. The Boxer also follows the basic structure of a boxing movie, which all seem to follow the exact same format: underdog, training montage, lose, ADRIAAAAN!. This gives it an affable cheesiness, with narrative tropes such as the rise and fall of the great hero prevalent throughout. Snippets of phone conversations with McNicholas’ grandmother add emotion, but also tie up the narrative between the past and the present neatly. It is a very slick way of doing things, and here McNicholas demonstrates his strengths as a writer.
However, it is hard to prevent this kind of narrative from becoming predictable. The format also faces difficulty when maintaining consistency of jokes; some often feel shoe-horned in. Nevertheless, there are a couple of big laughs in it when they’re given breathing space. The strengths of the show lie in its poignancy. At its best, The Boxer is an entertaining story that tugs on the heartstrings, making it an appealing first solo hour from an established comic talent.
James McNicholas: The Boxer, Pleasance Courtyard (Bunker Two), until 25th Aug, 4.15pm, £7-£10