The Penny Dreadfuls, Pavilion Theatre, Brighton, October 18

The Argus:

"We had the Fringe announcer announcing it as Anus Favours-Ham, which was disgusting every single day for three weeks," says David Reed, one quarter of comedy sketch troupe The Penny Dreadfuls. "Luckily we didn't get too many people coming in on the basis of that title."

Difficult names aside, Aeneas Faversham, the consummate cad's cad, has proved to be a lucky charm for the growing fortunes of these four university chums, Reed, Jamie Anderson, Humphrey Ker and Thom Tuck. It's odd then, that despite sell-out shows and critical plaudits at the Edinburgh Festival for the past three years, the eponymous bounder, like the errant Monty Python, never actually makes an appearance.

"He doesn't appear," says Reed. "The first ever show we did was based upon this character who was like Flashman, but Flashman if he were actually true to his word rather than a coward.

"We wrote an actual narrative show with little snippets of sketches in between scenes to flesh out the world but we soon realised the Aeneas bits were our least favourite part of the show - we were bored of him to be honest. So we ditched the narrative through-line and we ditched Aeneas, but his name remains."

The Penny Dreadfuls, who take their name from the cheap pulp stories that were a Victorian precursor to comic books, have taken the sketch show format back in time with tales of devilish English spies, rituals of the Magic Circle and gags about the Crimean War, all impeccably dressed and presented with giggles by gaslight.

"It's a sketch show but it's all set in Victorian times, turn-of-the-century kind of thing," says Reed. "The show we're going to do in Brighton will be a sort of best-of the sketches we've done over the past three years at the Fringe.

"We wanted to set it in a place that people could believe in so we made this kind of hyper-real Victorian setting - because we loved it so much, to be honest. It's a time that evokes such imagery to everybody, the whole Dickensian thing, industry and empire, science and spirituality, superstition and ghost stories."

This setting has found monster hunters giving lectures and handing out complimentary "not a vampire" badges, secret society birthday parties and allegedly barren wives putting up with their repressed husbands. Their Edward Gorey in Royston Vasey approach has even given The Penny Dreadfuls a stab at hitting the airwaves.

"We're now starting our own radio show at the BBC, talking about Aeneas' brothers," says David. "The show's called The Brothers Faversham. It's four episodes and each one charts the life of each sibling but once again you never get to hear Aeneas' story."

As for their absent character, will he ever make an appearance?

"We're hoping that if we keep running with this, the legend of Aeneas will become so great that only a film will do credit to his legend. I don't think we could do justice to him on the stage or the radio."

  • 9.15pm, £12/£7, 01273 709709

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