On Target
(Ben Target Edinburgh preview, Camden Stables, 7/7/2011)

Ben Target enters wearing a scarf wrapped across his face. He pulls it away to uncover a pacifier. This presently falls from his mouth, and he stands revealed, looking like a man who should be running a vegan crunk night (2.25 here).

The starting point for describing this show might be character comedy. But the comedy is not really about the character, so much as a character imposing himself on us through a series of set-pieces. We learn very little about Target’s persona, or what he (as opposed to Target himself) is trying to do. If asked after the show to describe him, it would be difficult to go beyond such generic terms as ‘eccentric’, ‘oddball’, or ‘idiot-savant man-child’. But what happens in the show is clearly the product of a definite, albeit tangential, vision. It makes sense for this person to ride around in a tiny car, get laughs out of juxtaposing a cake with a candle, or earnestly present silly cartoons on a flipchart. Or so at least it seems to me. I daresay it would be quite difficult to enjoy this show if one did not accept this; there would presumably be a strong temptation to regard it as self-indulgent sub-Dada antics.

What’s more interesting is that if one buys into the conceit of the show, it becomes surprisingly difficult to dislike. With a lot of comedy, one can appreciate what the performer is up to without necessarily enjoying it. This is harder in the case of Target; partly because the joke often simply is that he is actually doing what he is doing, and partly because he does it with such dedication, never breaking character even when his vigorous pounding on the door goes unexpectedly awry.

The freedom from character, narrative or any explicit theme is in one sense liberating, but can also be somewhat constricting. For one thing, it gives the show as a whole a rather episodic feel. Target gets round this to an extent by saving the most sustained set-piece for the end, but there is still room for his character to be brought out more. The closest thing we got was a thread of romantic yearning. An early set-piece involves him finagling one member of a couple out of the room on a theatre and champagne date, only to return a moment later, deflated and sadly carrying a large, phallic vegetable. The vegetable (it looked like a long turnip, if that makes sense) did not feature before or after, and he did not draw attention to it. Never mind; it paid its way in poignancy and a low note of innuendo. But this snapshot of emotion was not explored further. There’s something there, and in his ridiculous champion-of-the-world posturing, that could turn a hugely enjoyable and compulsively inventive show into something genuinely moving.

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