Review – Frank Skinner, Man in a Suit tour, Derngate, Northampton, 13th May 2014

Man in a SuitI’ve enjoyed watching Frank Skinner on the TV on and off over the past 25 years or so. He’s always good value guesting on panel shows and we both used to love his Fantasy Football programmes with David Baddiel. Mind you, I draw the line at Room 101. You have to have some standards. This is his first stand up tour in about seven, and certainly the first opportunity we’ve had to see him live, so I grabbed excellent tickets the moment they went on sale. Unfortunately, Mrs Chrisparkle was delayed coming home from work before the show so I was sent on ahead to the theatre to order the drinks, whilst she gobbled her evening meal and followed on in a mad flustery indigestive panic, arriving one full minute before the show started. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. However, she needn’t have worried too much about hurrying as the first twenty-five minutes or so was in the company of support act Gareth Richards.

frank skinnerMaybe it’s a big ask to warm up a full Derngate auditorium on a Tuesday night, but I’m afraid I just didn’t find Mr Richards very funny. His style seemed quite detached and introverted, which I don’t think transferred to the big stage very well. Amongst his material he had a couple of rather dubious jokes that, if you thought about them, made fun of the mentally ill and debased the status of women – you can get away with that kind of stuff if you have a really deft touch or a controversial persona to hide behind but he had neither. Before launching into his final song he said that after the interval we’d have the pleasure of the company of “Frank Skinner!” which was a cue for cheers and applause. But the cheers and applause were infinitesimally quiet, to which Mr Richards said “Oh no, I’m meant to have warmed you up – I’ve killed you!” He had a point. Mrs C needn’t have rushed after all. I should say though, in the interests of fairness, the people I stood next to at the bar in the interval absolutely loved him, so what do I know.

As the title of the tour suggests, Frank Skinner emerges after the interval, dressed in a very smart suit. Stylistically he’s undergone something of a sea-change over the years and now presents himself, visually, as the height of respectability, despite inside being still as mischievous as ever. He’s very engaging and smiley, gets a great rapport with the audience, has lots of chats with people in the first few rows, and gets us all on his side right from the start. He’s excellent at setting up jokes for later on too, which is always a rewarding skill.

F SkinnerHis delivery is relatively slow and deliberate. Not too slow; but you wouldn’t want it any slower. He also spends the entire evening pacing from one side of the stage to the other, but again, very slowly. Not so much like a caged tiger (which can be very offputting), more like someone who’s been told to exercise but doesn’t want to. I always think the way a comic walks (or doesn’t), and speaks either quickly or slowly, gives you an indication of their energy levels and their self-confidence. Mr Skinner’s presence was very reassuring and extremely self-confident; the relatively slow pace allows him the time to think on his feet and to be flexible with his material, going off at tangents in a well-thought-through way, rather than blundering into them only to find a dead-end.

A lot of his material concerns his relationship with his girlfriend. We loved his observation that at his age – which is not dissimilar to mine – to say he has a girlfriend sounds as weird as if he said he has a skateboard. He has a really funny routine about her horrendous ability to remember an argument and make it last…and last. It’s material that many people do but his is somehow additionally credible. Another of his very quirky observations was a comparison between poor people of today and poor people of forty years ago. Very nice. But all round, he’s cram-packed with excellent material.

Frank SMrs C noted how, as the evening progressed, his language became progressively more profane. It’s true, I think he held back some of his more old-fashioned material for the end of the show. It’s a bit like when you meet someone new for the first time, you’re always on best behaviour for a while. Then you might accidentally on purpose let slip a minor swear word to see how they react – that’s how you find your combined level. Once you’re old mates, you talk the same way. I guess he thought his average audience is probably quite a rude bunch. He’s probably right. Mrs C was also disappointed he didn’t sing “Three Lions”. I have a feeling that phase might have passed several years ago. Would have been fun though, if he’d sang what is the best football song evah.

A very enjoyable night with a very assured performer delivering great observational comedy at a deceptively relaxed pace. His tour continues into June and I believe he’s doing Edinburgh this summer too. Definitely recommended!

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