Catherine Tate

Catherine Tate

© Joeylamb88 | Creative Commons

Catherine Tate Show Live

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Hammersmith Apollo

Last time I saw Catherine Tate perform her own show live was in Edinburgh’s 50-seater Pleasance Cellar 15 years ago. But then, she’s never toured since.

Even her TV show hasn’t been on air for almost a decade. However, strong comedy characters never die (even if Tate did bump off schoolgirl Lauren on screen), and her fans’ enthusiasm hasn’t  dimmed for catchphrases that resonate as strongly as ever.

Despite her absence from the comedy stage for so long in favour of TV and more ‘legitimate’ theatre, Tate works the crowd like a dream. She plays her occasional fluffed lines for laughs – indulged and encouraged by her co-stars Mathew Horne, Brett Goldstein and Niky Wardly  –  adding a fluidity that makes this more spontaneous than a simple retread of old favourites from the box.

She’s playful when selecting a patsy or dealing with the more over-enthusiastic punters. And when Nan blows through the auditorium like a sweary hurricane, the room is electrified not just because this is her most familiar character, but because she banters, bullies and teases her way down the aisle deliciously.

This the culmination of a long-running gag, played on screens to cover costume changes, in which the grouchy pensioner wins a pair of tickets to the show via Radio 1. These inserts are hilarious, not least because of Nick Grimshaw’s genuine joy at being swept along in the joke.

In another series of videos, lighting technicians gingerly explore an awkward physical attraction, while a couple of lesser-known characters from the BBC series get an outing, including Frightened Woman, who’s self-explanatory, and Aga Saga Woman, terrified of the working classes.

Actually, it’s the characters that haven’t become overly familiar that best demonstrate what a fine observer – and exaggerator – of everyday tedium Tate is. Away from the catchphrases, we all know such irritants as the office workers ever begging her long-suffering colleague to ‘have a guess’ at something, or another desk-jockey seeking sponsorship for an obscure cause while being viciously mean in her casual comments. Then there’s the effusive Essex woman Sam, giggling inanely as she relates to her husband some trivial incident such as putting soy milk on her cereal as if it was an epic comedy tale. Suck creations boast the same level of ‘relatability’, for want of a better word, that made such successes of cantankerous Nan or insouciant Lauren, their traits perfectly captured.

That said, plenty of scenes are played for silly laughs – not least the super-camp, closeted Derek,  a screaming delight with more mince than Fray Bentos yet protesting ‘how very dare you!’ at any insinuation he might be gay. Also pure silly is another little-known character from the TV show, an actress who can’t stop her Lady Macbeth morphing into Frankie Howerd

While the characters themselves are funny, big punchlines can be something of a problem, and rather too many skits end on a needlessly brutal line just to get them finished. Speaking of scene changes, director Sean Foley adds a touch of quirky style by having Tate and her cohorts dance on and off stage, backlit in bold colours by the screens that make them look like iPod adverts.

And yes, there are a few misses among the hits as dictated by the First Law Of Sketch Comedy, even the final scene involving a bed-blockingNan – which gets self-consciously high-concept and featuring a real-life comedy god on screen – falters a little. But a couple of lively tunes bring the show to a suitably showbizzy conclusion.

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Published: 14 Nov 2016

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