Neal Portenza – the principal character of comedic mastermind and all round good guy Josh Ladgrove is hanging up his red beret at the end of the festival. Fafenefenoiby II: Return of the Ghost Boy acts as a swan song and final chapter of a masterpiece of creativity and mainstay of the Comedy Festival for at least the last 5 years. This show is not a comedy show, it is brilliantly funny, but Neal Portenza has given up comedy in favour of magic, and he’s taken to it rather well.
Portenza was never one for straight stand-up and his shows have always been a wonderful mix of sketch, clowning and audience participation, in recent years magic has also been added to the arsenal of the multi-talented performer. Gone also are the trademark hospital scrubs, replaced with a pressed white suit, giving Neal a more elegant air. This show largely dismisses with sketch, clowning and while there is still audience participation it is much gentler than previous shows. All replaced with some genuinely enthralling magic and a somewhat depressing subtext of falling out of love with a dream.
Halfway through the show Neal Portenza removes his beret to reveal Josh, the former robotics engineer behind the creation. Josh explains the reasons for this being his last show as Portenza, how the love isn’t there anymore and emphasising the difficulty of making a viable living as an artist. He manages to be heartfelt and genuine without breaking the momentum of the show, a testament to the years of development in the Portenza character and Josh’s ability to dive in and out of the character in a moment.
The show is bittersweet; it was very funny and humbling at the same time, opening the door a crack into the inner workings of the “business” of show business. The show relies an awful lot on the energy of the audience – Portenza says when you enter the room “put your phones on loud, it’s funnier”. He encourages people to call out, to heckle and to get involved. Ladgrove is a staggeringly accomplished performer and whether as himself or in character he can find the fun in any situation or any audience. Tonight the show was wonderful, an emotional rollercoaster that gave Portenza the send off he deserves. If you’ve ever seen Neal Portenza before, you must see this show, if you have never had the pleasure, do so before it is too late.
Fafenefenoiby II: Return of the Ghost Boy performs at the Town Hall until 22nd April