I always enjoy seeing Alan Davies on TV – whether it’s on panel shows (not that we watch them much), doing a bit of stand-up, or appearing in Jonathan Creek, which we used to watch avidly in the early days, but then kind of went off it after a few years. Nothing wrong with Mr Davies’ performance in it though – I just thought the storylines were a bit duff.
We’d never seen him live however, and I was confident that he would be able to fill the Derngate auditorium with laughter and merriment for a good two and a half hours on a Friday night. And that, indeed, is what he does, although I was expecting him to have a little more bite and attack. It’s more like an evening spent continuously smiling dotted with healthy amounts of laughter rather than the other way round.
He has a very relaxed approach to his art, with very un-showbizzy entrances and exits, and pacing around the stage as though it were a leisurely stroll with lots of stop and sit opportunities. There was some gentle mocking of the few latecomers, but nothing too savage, and nor were their cards marked for later in the evening. He seems to value the audience as company more than anything else. I really enjoyed his warm-up device, which was to ascertain the age range of the audience – I’ve not seen that done before. Firstly, he identified who was the youngest in the audience – it was someone born in 2000. Then he started calling out all the decades going back in time and if he called out the decade in which you were born you shouted out a big “hurrah”. The Eighties were quite popular, the seventies very popular, the sixties pretty popular too (Mrs Chrisparkle and I both shouted out our hurrahs – and he welcomed all the Sixties Kids as “my people”); then fifties – much smaller shout out, forties – very few and far between; and finally we identified the oldest person in the audience, born in 1935. A simple device, but very effective – you all know where you stand as far as your fellow audience members are concerned – you almost establish a pecking order amongst you – and you got an opportunity to do a shout out for fun too.
The show is called “Little Victories”, but it’s a title and topic that’s only very lightly touched upon. When Alan (and Mrs) Davies finally had kids, Mr Davies’ not-very-warm father had a somewhat aloof relationship with his new grandkids, and it obviously still irks Mr Davies (Jnr) that his father didn’t seem to care much about them. He tells a story about how his father once dismissed the grandkids with some ill-chosen words, and then, sometime later he gets his own back on his dad by tricking him into agreeing that he likes blackcurrant jam – I know it sounds like a non-sequitur, but it works. And this is what Mr Davies describes as a “little victory”. Not sure that I could identify many other little victories in the rest of his material though – but I expect they’re there if you look.
Two things stood out for me about Mr Davies’ act. The first is that his supremely confident delivery means he is not remotely scared of silence – he will use pauses in the flow of material constructively to emphasise elements of what he is saying; in other words, I guess, great timing. The other is that while some comics would spend their two and a half hours encompassing a wide range of scenarios, Alan Davies only discussed about four topics the whole night long. You could interpret that as a strength – going really in depth about situations and examining them thoroughly; or as a weakness, if those topics don’t particularly tickle your funny bone you might have quite a long wait until the next belly laugh.
Much of his material concerns the trials and tribulations of having two young children, which is probably going to appeal to parents more than non-parents. I very much liked the observation that anyone seen apparently mistreating children – giving them a clip round the ear, bawling the riot act them – is definitely going to be their parent and not some “stranger danger” character. Dotted throughout the evening are stories which end up with his daughter shouting out “you’re hurting me” because she knows it gets attention and is a potential minefield in public. A common problem – I remember my young cousin in Toronto at the age of three having sudden tantrums in shopping malls for no apparent reason other than sheer mischief, crying out “Don’t Beat me Daddy” much to his surprised daddy’s enormous embarrassment. There is also a very entertaining extended routine about Mr Davies getting stuck in a children’s soft play zone as he accompanies his rather scaredy-cat daughter through the padded climbing frame ups and downs, negotiating the seas of soft balls and unexpectedly scary slides.
But as a non-parent I rather preferred his material about things with which I could more easily identify. He did some great material about the horrendous things that boys do at school, including brewing and nurturing farts so that they can be released at a time and place where they could wreak maximum havoc; and how school trips abroad simply turned into (apologies, gentle reader) wanking contests. He has a very funny sequence about how, in changing rooms, men hardly ever seem concerned that they’ve omitted to put on their pants although they’re perfectly happy to bend over to reach lockers for hours on end; and there’s a really funny (albeit not overly original) routine about the aches and pains of sexual intercourse when you reach more mature years. This is very much geared towards a man’s-eye view of life – I’m not quite so certain if it appeals equally to the ladies in the audience.
So, all in all, an entertaining night’s comedy, looking at the domestic side of life that will particularly appeal if you’ve ever had (or indeed currently have) a young family. Alan Davies is a shrewd comic who paces his material perfectly and creates a very enjoyable rapport with the audience – without your ever being scared he might pick on you too much. He’s got a few more dates in December and then comes back with a bang next March. Well worth a punt!