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“I’m an entertainer,” says Rob Brydon, as he launches into his first live stand-up show for seven years. He goes on to prove his point. He flexes his brittle charm on the front rows, befriending and amiably belittling them.
He whips out his acoustic guitar to make up a song about the 55-year-old lawyer he’s been mocking as one of the “old crumblies” that make up his demographic. He suggests that ageing will be the big theme of the night — life after 50, he tells us, “gets . . . what’s the word? . . . worse” — but soon he’s segueing into showbiz stories and impressions. Try stopping him from lurching into his Tom Jones voice. Hear him demarcate Young Elvis and Old Elvis, then Young Alan Bennett and Old Alan Bennett. He takes questions from the crowd. If he could tap-dance while juggling goldfish, you suspect he would.
And it’s a delightful evening. It takes a while to get into its groove: Brydon’s quick-wittedness is quite something as he toys with his crowd, but his abrasiveness can be wearing. While you’re grateful for his ability to mock everything from the “arena” in which he’s performing — “it’s a church hall, let’s be honest” — to his own semi-starry status, he’s never entirely comfortable as himself on stage. Even though he touches on his home life in Teddington, southwest London, and the weariness he feels after raising five children over 22 years — “I’ve been married twice: two lucky ladies” — Brydon is always putting on some sort of an act.
Perhaps that’s why he’s most himself, and the show goes from pretty good to terrific, when he allows himself to go the full showbiz, with anecdotes and impressions. Brydon tells us of meeting Mick Jagger at a party, impersonating Jagger impersonating him impersonating Michael Caine. He tells us a backstage story about meeting Paul McCartney, flanked by his mate Steve Coogan — whom he always gives an Alan Partridge voice. And as he vamps on Al Pacino, Ronnie Corbett and Ken Bruce, as he taunts the younger audience members for not getting his references, as he mixes material with crowdplay to make this feel like a true one-off, this jack-of-all-trades proves that he is a master at giving an audience a good time. It’s a step on from his last tour, and it’s a lot of fun.
Dominic Maxwell, The Times, 20 March 2017