We’d seen Rob Brydon before, back in 2009, when he last toured the UK – it was just before I started blogging so I can’t easily check back to see how much we enjoyed it – but I do remember thinking he was good fun and so I was perfectly happy to see him again almost 8 years later, to see how he’s getting on. Of course, his career has gone from strength to strength since then, with endless panel games, guest appearances, loads of voiceovers, and so on; when we first saw him, the third series of Gavin and Stacey was still getting its first airing on TV. Even so, he’ll still break into a rendition of Barry Islands in the Stream at the drop of a laverbread.
But before considering Mr Brydon’s role in the show on Saturday night, the first twenty minutes were spent in the company of a supporting act – Scott Bennett. He’s a bright and breezy Yorkshireman who wasted absolutely no time in making the most of his introductory slot, with lots of very good material about family relationships – especially with his dad, Roy. Roy’s the kind of guy who has a structural plan about how to get the most food onto your carvery plate (start with the meat first as your base layer and work your way up). Good comedy of recognition that – because if we ourselves are not the person who tackles a buffet strategically, we all know someone who is. I also liked Mr Bennett’s observation of people out on a romantic meal date night – each on their separate phones, Facebooking the people they should have married. He was very funny and got a really good reception, despite the fact that he wasn’t Rob Brydon.
Talking of whom, Mr Brydon is essentially a very funny man, with a delightful sense of comic joy about almost everything he does. He’s so self-deprecating which is always an attractive trait – like when he’s asked if James Corden still rings him; answer, yes he does, which gives rise to a joke that’s both anti-Brydon and anti-the town in which he’s performing; but it’s very cleverly done. When something particularly funny happens or someone says a great one-liner – even if it comes from the audience – he will break off the routine and rush over to a little table and write the joke down in a notebook, saying that next week’s show will be amazing with all this new material – thereby implying that this show, and his comedy hosting skills, aren’t as good. It always gets a laugh when he returns upstage to jot it down.
He has that ability that the best comics have of being able to weave together separate strands from different members of the audience and come back to them later in the show from a new angle. Towards the end he creates songs that mention all the individuals with whom he’s spoken earlier on. Again, very cleverly done, very inventive and always very funny. In our show Mr Brydon explored comic possibilities with George and Lucy – clearly the young middle class couple – and encouraged them always to close the loo door if they want to keep romance alive; we met Cynthia, the Elvis fan who’s not as young as she said she was, and who was in for a particular treat right at the end; and we met Tim and Lisa, bravely sat in the front row; she’d stoically worked for Mr Kipling for 32 years, woman and girl, never complaining and always ‘umble, which gave rise to Mr Brydon from then on referring to her as a Dickensian Woman, doing wonderful impressions of a dowdy drudge with mock-19th century language. Totally bizarre, but it really worked.
As you might expect, he does a prolonged sequence when he’s impersonating celebrities out in the jungle, Ant and Dec style, which is very good but I think he overplays the Tom Jones impersonation. It isn’t really quite as good as he seems to think, and he makes him into a grotesque that I don’t really feel is justified (but, hey ho, that’s just me.) He did a Ronnie Corbett as a request from the audience, brilliantly conveys the essence of Ken Bruce by just mumbling with the occasional 88 to 91 thrown in, and tells very funny stories involving Steve Coogan (roar). Towards the end he gears the subject matter towards the Welsh language so that he can sing All Through the Night in the original Welsh, Ar Hyd y Nos. Where’s the comedy in that? It’s when he then gives you the Google Translate version; thus proving it’s always worth paying for a proper translator. There were reminiscences about Uncle Bryn, and dealing with how weak your wee stream is when you get to his age (I’m five years older, so I totally sympathise), and there was even a charming brief hark back to the golden days of Blockbuster. It was all very lovely.
But, do you know what, gentle reader? I kind of wanted more. I needed something a little more challenging. It was incredibly cosy, incredibly comfortable, a veritable Black Forest Gateau of delectation; and if that’s what you’re after, you’ll get it in spades. Maybe I ask too much. You don’t expect Rob Brydon to be all caustic and cynical, and I don’t think I wanted that either. It was all just a little too easy. I’m probably way out of synch with everyone else on this, because he went down extremely well. It was just, ever so slightly, insubstantial. He’s clearly a really nice guy and extremely funny, so I feel a bit mean criticising him like that. But I have to be honest, don’t I? His tour continues throughout March all over England – and if you haven’t already booked your tickets, it’s probably sold out.
P. S. Either inflation is higher than I thought, overheads have gone up, or someone’s stock is rising; top price stalls seats for Rob Brydon in 2009 cost £19.50 each. In 2017, virtually the same seats for the same show in the same theatre cost £32.50 each including my friends’ discount. Interesting, no?