10:00am Wednesday 18th April 2012
By Gill Jaggers
STANDING before a Monty Python-inspired backcloth depicting his brain being delicately picked at by many hands, Paul Merton admitted to an impressive 30 years as a stand-up.
We, the audience (the New Theatre was full of fans) were of course well acquainted with his appearances on Have I Got News For You and Just A Minute and were to see a less well-known part of his history using the magic of vaudeville.
Through a series of sketches from Paul, his 10-year-old self (an identically dressed ventriloquist’s dummy that occasionally talks without the aid of the ventriloquist) and a number of puppets playing against a pitch black backdrop – a glove-puppet flying rabbit squadron, a stripping nun with hands and feet on opposite sides of the stage, a bed flying across the moon – we delve into Merton’s dark story and enjoy his love of classic British ‘variety’ acts.
And this is where Merton finds his comic gold by digging into veins of his own past.
After seeing his 10-year-old self (first Merton, then the dummy) being humiliated by ‘Sister Gallista’ at his Catholic Convent School, we quickly followed Paul’s path from a solitary early adult life, to TV success so quickly that we almost miss the double-edged humour in his jokes about himself dropping off the edge of sanity and plunging into life in a psychiatric hospital as exhaustion takes over.
But the helium filled bubble-wrap of mirth he wraps around the audience never faltered and every quip (scripted or improvised – and there were plenty of those) was bounced back by a wall of laughter.
Ably supported by fellow Who’s Line Is It Anyway? panel members Richard Vranch and Lee Simpson plus Suki Webster, the show fizzed along nicely after a slowish build.
The show is touring to the end of May and includes the Swan Theatre (High Wycombe).
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