Comedy Review: Mark Banks – Mask About Face, Or Magnanimous Mania

March 6, 2022

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By BRUCE DENNILL

Mark Banks: Mask About Face // Theatre On The Square, Sandton, Johannesburg

 

It’s pointless trying to predict what will happen in a Mark Banks show – his poster shoutlines are punny punchlines, he’d improvise on an affidavit and his natural mixture of cynicism and kindness means it’s not easy to know if you’re being praised or pilloried when he’s chatting to you.

New show Mask About Face, built on a foundation of material inspired by lockdown life but never relying on experiences most of us are already tired of talking about, sees the comic patently happy to be performing again, feeding off the energy of a cheerful, supportive audience as he works his way through segments of straight(ish) stand-up, interspersed with character-driven sketches. Indeed, he seems to be having at least as good a time as his audience, giggling as new angles on a planned bit become apparent to him mid-delivery.

Occasionally – and generally hilariously – Banks will wander down surreal comedy rabbit-holes that are entertaining but sometimes bewildering. In this piece, there is much less of that. His performance remains loose and fluid, but he stays within a set of boundaries that allows less nimble minds to keep up with flow. There is also a thread of empathy that runs through all of the gags, making for a far more appealing tone than many comedians whose acts seem to be based on the level of caustic aggression they can get away with in the name of “saying what everyone else is afraid to say”.

Judging the success of a comedy show can be tricky, but it’s difficulty to argue with belly laughs as a marker of material hitting its mark, and in Mask About Face, there is a preponderance of guffaws – for the bulk of the show, it feels like audience members are trying not to inadvertently spit out their drinks or snort like cattle as they wipe streams of laugh-induced tears from their cheeks. It must be noted that, post-pandemic, there is just a touch of performance fitness lacking both onstage and in the audience, but the couple of brief dips in pacing pass quickly, hardly noticeable in the general mood of goodwill and goofy grinning.

In all, this is good-hearted, controlled mania that sees everyone leaving the theatre with a wide smile on their faces.

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