Last evening I and the man who continues to defy logic by loving me and living with me went to see the new show of Mr Stewart Lee: "If you prefer a milder comedian, please ask for one". Having enjoyed his recent BBC2 series, I was expecting something quite special, and I was not disappointed.
There are three or four basic themes in the show, skilfully interwoven and layered with callback references, pointed comments on current affairs, some improvised elements and a great deal of irony. Whilst this is week 6 or so of the tour proper, and the bulk of the material has been kicking around for 6 months or more, it's obvious that the performance itself is a living organism, flexing and developing according to the dynamic between Lee and each audience. This freshness of delivery is vital to good stand-up, and can at times result in the routine suddenly darting down an obscure and apparently unconnected rabbit warren. Lee basically allows himself to go wherever he feels is necessary in order to drive home a point. Read interviews with him and it's evident that he's conscious of his at times repetitive style. The decision he seems to have made to indulge this side of his performance speaks volumes for his maturity as a performer, for it is in these passages of absurdity that Lee shines brightest. It takes a certain level of confidence to repeatedly (I'm talking about twenty times) shout the phrase "MASSIVE PRAWNS" at the climax to a rant against people who emigrate from the UK for a better quality of life. Never, ever, ever have I laughed harder. Ever.
The real beauty of the set is the way it allows for these excursions of varying lengths from the basic script, yet still comfortably sits within a framework of just that handful of overall themes. The thought which must have gone into the construction of the routine is evident throughout. Changes of pace, volume and tone - some subtle, some abrupt - put me in mind of Dave Allen, in style if not content. Most of all the slow and elaborately detailed build-ups to climactic outbursts give the show a tremendous sense of connectedness, despite a myriad of asides.
We were barely ten feet from the stage. And all for well under £20 apiece too. A resounding 10/10 rating from me. SEE THIS SHOW!
ps - Richard Hammond fans, it may not be for you.