Sparks of humanity to be found in play's skilfully drawn takes on deeply flawed middle-aged former buddies.

Playwright Stephen Sinclair's latest work could be seen as a meditation on the extreme poles of his own career which has swung between spectacular international success and the hard grind of low-budget productions in studio theatres.

The story centres on a forced reunion of three middle-aged buddies who forged an intense bond when, as aspiring comedians, they embarked on a chaotic tour of South Island small towns relying on the enthusiasm of youth to get them through the horror of playing to empty houses.

In the intervening years one of them became a superstar on the international comedy circuit while the other two eked out a bleak existence doing unpaid local gigs.

The set-up brings forth plenty of middle-aged angst along with some provocative and perceptive thoughts about success, failure, envy and the schadenfreude that comes from seeing the mighty brought low.

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The acerbic dialogue is interspersed with stand-up routines that showcase divergent styles of comedy from brash gonzo-style rants to self-deprecating deadpan and witty intellectual jesting.

The skilfully drawn characters are brought to life with very fine performances that find sparks of humanity among the bitterness of deeply flawed middle-aged men.

Jeremy Elwood convincingly portrays a life unravelling in a drug-fuelled spiral of self-destruction while Stephen Papps brings a discreet charm to the sullen animosity of a cynical misanthrope. John Glass amusingly captures the relentless optimism of a man devoted to the redemptive power of a cup of tea.

The conclusion is open-ended without the reassurance of any upbeat moments or sentimental messages apart from the suggestion that the real value of friendship lies in helping us to see ourselves as we are.

What: Success
Where: The Basement, to August 7