Aug 17 2023 | By More

★★★☆☆     Ambitious

Greenside @ Nicholson Square (Venue 209): Mon 14 -Sat 19 Aug 2023
Review by Tom Ralphs

In Varmints, Punch Monkey Theatre follow up the success of their 2022 Fringe debut with a new play by writer and director Ben Ramsay which again delves into movie pastiches for much of its humour.

Varmints goes beyond last year’s Reservoir Knobs, however, to link the comedy with a more serious side, looking at the gap between the reality of someone and how we choose to remember them, and the reasons for this.

A scene from Varmints

But before Varmints heads down that path it is aiming at pure comedy and pure parody. Opening seemingly in a bar somewhere in the American mid-west, a barkeep played by Ramsay is confronted by Colby (Alistair Maxwell) who proceeds to pull out a gun, and announce that he is there to receive an apology.

It’s not clear to the barkeep or the audience who he is waiting to get the apology from, but the stakes soon escalate with the arrival of a second gunman, Rooster Cochran, played by Chris McCall, who is even more armed thanks to a second pistol.

The over the top accents and the over the top moustache sported by Ramsay, suggest that this is a pure farce, mimicking a bad Western movie, but don’t hint at what the nature of the farce is until the arrival of a stranger (Blair Young) dressed in a tracksuit and boasting a strong Scottish accent.

twists and turns

From there, the script twists and turns, as the real identities of each of the characters in the Western are revealed, alongside the real setting of the play, the writer of the script – a man named Jack – and the different memories each of the four have about him.

Varmints publicity poster

Ramsay’s script is clever as it switches between various movie tropes and amateur film makers in a pub that they only have booked until 7pm.

As the person pretending to be Colby, but actually Alan, Maxwell switches between a comic sense of unsuccessful menace, and someone clinging stubbornly to a memory and a task that he may be better to forget.

Young as the stranger and Gavin is equally adept at switching between a movie geek determined to muscle in on the action and unable to follow the instruction not to ad-lib, and an angry person with a grudge against Jack.


McCall as Rooster Cochran and Lewis, acts as the middle man between the two, while Ramsay as the barkeep and Wee Pete manages to be bemused by what’s happening as his fictional character and also by what’s happening in reality.

David Sellars’ music is particularly effective at creating the mock Western feel, and Chris McCall’s bar set design also convinces in both of the worlds in the play.

However, it’s hard to escape the feeling that there is too much going on with too many ideas struggling to get the air space they need to really come alive. Also the move into more serious territory fails to land against the frenetic backdrop and ridiculousness of the comedy. By attempting less, the play could have delivered more.

Running time: One hour (no interval)
Greenside Nicholson Square (Lime Studio), 25 Nicolson Square, EH8 9BX (Venue 209)
Monday 14 – Saturday 19 August 2023
Daily: 4.05pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

Punch Monkey Theatre links

Twitter: @TheatrePunch
Facebook: @PunchMonkeyTheatre
Instagram: @punchmonkeytheatre2022



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.