Having embarked on their first ever full tour, sketch duo Max & Ivan (Max Olesker and Ivan Gonzalez) are most likely performing to many audience members for the first time, which seems odd given how long they’ve been a key act on the British sketch comedy scene.
Despite the numerical difference, there are certainly some parallels with one of the other leading sketch acts in the country: Pappy’s. Most notably, both have a predilection for shows which bring together multiple characters and sketches into a narrative whole. Additionally, both have intangible strengths which mean their best work is on the stage, with forays into other media not working quite as well (see Radio 4 series The Casebook of Max & Ivan, which failed to live up to their fearsome live reputation).The pair managed to put interesting spins on a whole cast of character archetypes, populating the town of Sudley-on-Sea as it tried to come to terms with an impending nuclear disaster. The framing device of The End, a tour of the local area, provided them with plenty of opportunities for quickfire gags and more developed character insights, with the relationship between author Clive and his estranged father providing the main emotional thrust of the show, though in truth it was light on pathos with much more attention focused on wringing big and small laughs out of visual gags, clever wordplay, silliness and a fair selection of outright smut.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of what Max & Ivan do was their ability to render a believable, vivid world from such a minimal set, which consisted largely of a bench and little else. The show was short on props – Ivan’s wonderful turn as a helicopter aside – and yet they were able to conjure a world which really felt lived-in, as well as being able to use visual humour successfully even with very little help.
The End did touch on, or perhaps jab with a pointy stick, the question of what people would do when faced with an apocalyptic event, and the different mindsets of the town’s many residents introduced through the show contributed to much of the humour, though the real highlights were the duo’s joke-writing abilities and especially their physicality and commitment to a bit. Max & Ivan have cemented their place in the hierarchy of UK sketch acts, and it’s likely they’ll be playing larger rooms when they head out on their next jaunt around the country.