To be honest, gentle reader, I wasn’t really expecting to like Russell Brand too much. It’s nothing to do with what we might have heard about him in celebrity gossip – we can’t be bothered with all that; in fact his legendary drug dependency, womanising, and generally addictive personality, actually makes him sound like quite an interesting bloke to my mind. No, my opinion of him was diminished by the whole Andrew Sachs furore. Nevertheless, everyone deserves a second chance; and he does support my football team; and as we’ve never seen him live before, we thought we’d give it a go.
I’m very glad we did because he’s absolutely ace. Immensely charismatic, incredibly quick witted, verbally dextrous, and, despite his persona, he doesn’t seem remotely to take himself seriously. It is he who brings up the accusations that he can’t act, with a mock-hurt expression when we laugh at it; it is he who mentions the Andrew Sachs incident, without any pretence to defend himself; it is he who projects photos onto the screen on the stage of him looking ludicrously stupid when he met the Olympic rowers; and it is he who has structured the evening around the idea of a Messiah Complex, examining the characteristics of his heroes, Gandhi, Che Guevara, Martin X and Jesus Christ, and then drawing out absurd similarities between them and him.
But first – the support act. Not your usual run-of-the-mill chuckle muscle teaser, but poet Mr Gee. Just a fifteen minute introductory spot from him, where he gave us a couple of his poems and just a general, gentle welcome to the evening. You don’t need a riotously funny warm up act to prepare for Russell Brand, and actually this different approach was very entertaining in a laid back, rather thoughtful way. Mrs Chrisparkle and I enjoyed his fifteen minutes very much; once, that is, I and several other people in our row and the one in front had glared sufficiently long enough at the two women sat next to me, so that they finally finished their rather loud conversation.
It quickly becomes obvious that you can’t be sure where an evening with Russell Brand will lead. He seems to have no boundaries that he won’t cross if his instinct tells him that comedy lies in that direction. There are also a couple of similarities early on in the evening to Julian Clary’s approach to stand-up. He starts the show by picking up the local newspaper and just commenting on the headlines and articles – as did Mr Clary when we last saw him here. After that, Mr Brand jumps off the stage and wanders all around the auditorium, instantly purloining one woman’s handbag, which he then gives as a gift to another audience member – whose friend later returns it to its original owner, but Mr Brand spots that and grabs it, up-ends it totally on stage with all the detritus (his word) in this poor woman’s handbag scattered for miles. Again this was an old Julian Clary trick which we saw him do back in the late 80s when he was performing as The Joan Collins Fan Club. We remember that as being digit-curlingly embarrassing; and Mr Brand’s version of the same stunt is possibly even more horrendous (delightfully so), as he boots the bag across the stage with a deft toe-punt and dismissive aplomb. Mrs Chrisparkle watched it all through the gaps in her fingers, desperately grateful he hadn’t chosen her bag.
When he eventually gets on with the show – he overran by about 25 minutes I think – it’s a very enjoyable and intelligent romp through psychology, celebrity, history and hero-worship, and the time just flies by. But actually the more entertaining part of the evening was probably just watching him freestyle with the audience. Like the Duracell bunny, just wind him up and let him go and he’ll cause fantastic havoc. He has a few more dates in his tour, including a return to Northampton on April 18th. Great stuff!