First show of the new year – can I get an Amen? Amen! Thank you. And it was the first night for Jack Whitehall’s new At Large national tour. He’s yet another in the long line of comedians that we’ve heard about but haven’t really watched much on TV – the occasional appearance here and there, perhaps; we started watching his sitcom about being a teacher but got bored (sorry). We nevertheless booked to see him because – well, we only live down the road and he’s a big name, you never know, he might be good.
But first, a support act in the form of Lloyd Griffith. He’s an unusual chap. Very likeable – one of his first exchanges with the audience was a challenge for us to guess his other job. I would have said lorry driver. Someone actually said undertaker. But no, he’s a singer – and to prove it gives us an unexpectedly enjoyable aria before going onto the next joke. He’s got a couple of superb gifts, both of which are the basis for this warmup act. Firstly, he is ace at recreating the sound of sticky tape being rolled and torn off a reel. All types; all strengths. Secondly, he can give you a fact about every single cathedral in England. Whilst we didn’t have an impartial expert on hand to judge the accuracy of these fun facts, I had no reason to doubt him. So plenty of interaction with the audience as we challenge him on the more obscure cathedrals and forms of sticky tape. In many respects, a really odd act. But it worked!
Back to Jack Whitehall then. You probably already know his persona – posh boy, cheeky chappie, hugely self-deprecating. He treads a very fine line between being (very) slightly camp and oozing wealth and privilege – and he meets where the two cross over. He plays up to that image immaculately – talking about his friend Dave, whom he later clarifies is the Earl of Daventry, for example. He’s a perfect example of how an excellent education gives you enormous self-confidence. He can walk with kings yet keep the common touch, as Kipling almost said. For one thing, he can do a superb ruffian down the pub accent, much better than most ruffians down the pub can do posh. If you see the show, you’ll just love his interpretation of Danny Dyer reporting back from Syria.
But the key to his charm is the self-deprecation. Almost every routine will have somewhere at its heart something to do with a frailty on his part that means that life doesn’t go to plan. He may or may not blame himself, but we’ll find it funny nonetheless. There’s a sequence about his recent time spent cracking America, until he comes home with the continent still considerably uncracked. He’s merciless with the way he teases himself for his appalling luck and disastrous decisions. Because of that self-deprecation, his poshness never comes over as pompous – even when he’s dissing any other purveyor of comestibles other than Waitrose, it’s funny and not snobbery. It’s a skill, and he’s got it off to a fine art.
Mr Whitehall makes sure you’re not short-changed with this tour. Especially after the interval, he jam-packs it with more material than you can shake a stick at. And – as an additional benefit – absolutely everything hit home, there wasn’t one flabby or unthought-through sequence. Amongst the subjects he considers are his new job as the voice of Asda (how ironic), Prince Harry at the Royal Variety Performance, alcohol free beer in Glasgow, stag dos and Colin (there’s always someone called Colin at a stag do), his professional rivalry with Robert Pattinson, the difference between wine consumption in the US and the UK, and what happens when you’re sat on a plane next to a man with an erection.
We both enjoyed the evening very much – perhaps Mr Whitehall tapped into my comic psyche slightly more closely than Mrs Chrisparkle’s, but, after all, I did go to a good school too. As an entr’acte between Lloyd Griffith leaving and Mr W coming on stage, they play an introductory video, showing the trials and tribulations of our good host from waking up in a strange bed next to a strange man to realising he’s miles away from the theatre and working out how he’s going to get there in time. I thought it was pleasantly amusing. Mrs C thought it was a waste of time. We agreed to disagree. But don’t let that stop you booking for his tour, which carries on throughout January and February – it’s excellent and you’ll love it. That’s a promise.
P. S. First night glamour in the stalls bar at the Derngate, as Mr and Mrs Whitehall (Senior) were accompanied by Northamptonshire’s own Mr Nick Hewer. Social media was buzzing. We sat further away because We Know Our Place.