Comedians who become famous are always presented with a dilemma of how long to keep using their best material. The growing number of new fans won’t have heard it, but die-hards will want something new. The situation is complicated with musical comedians, as comedy works best when it surprises, but music works best when it becomes familiar.
With his usual elegant ingenuity, Tim Minchin’s decision to work with an orchestra offers a fantastic solution, using the grander scale to reinvent some of his old hits, as well as introducing plenty of new songs in this near two-and-a-half hour show.
Bill Bailey and – disastrously – Dame Edna Everage both worked with orchestras last year, but they both, to different extents, seemed awed by the occasion and messed about with the musicians. In contrast, Minchin uses them to realise his epic ambitions, with emotive orchestration combining with his blatant showmanship to create a powerful live experience.
Some of that energy is undoubtedly dissipated on DVD, but the brilliance of the songwriting and the entertaining performance still shines through. The extravagant orchestral treatment is given to greatest hits such as Rock And Roll Nerd, If I Didn’t Have You, Prejudice and Dark Side and – brilliantly – to a new rag extolling the joys of cheese. This is pretty certainly not what the magnificent Royal Albert Hall was built for... although it should have been.
His recent work has had a more serious purpose, promoting rationalism and the debunking the blind adherence to religious doctrine. The sublime Pope Song is on here, as is a jaunty number about the healing power of prayer. But Minchin’s no fan of new orthodoxies either, and provocatively slaughters modern sacred cows from Che Guevara to the Dalai Lama. Minchin is the world’s premier – and indeed only – iconoclassicist.
His banter and stand-up between songs is initially awkward, as ice-breaking one-liners are not his strong suit – but he has a few cheeky jibes at the William and Kate royal wedding, which by quirk of fate happened on the same day as this performance.
The more towering set pieces later in the show are where he finds his forte as a comedian. As with his music, he’s not afraid of sincerity – as proved by the touching Not Perfect and White Wine In The Sun, both included here – nor is afraid of completely demolishing that sincerity for a gag. So he can take his audience on quite the journey into the rabbit hole, before revealing what he’s really thinking on such hot potatoes as parenting and Islam.
As well as the catchy, witty songs that you can easily listen to time and again (though be careful you don’t end up singing ‘fuck the motherfucker’ to yourself in the aisles of Tesco), this impressive DVD also includes the gorgeous Storm animation of his beat poem as an extra, along with a couple of short ‘behind-the-scenes’ featurettes.
One of Minchin’s themes is that the world isn’t black and white, that few things are fully good or evil. But this release is most definitely good... but to follow another of his themes, don’t take my word for it, but go and gather the evidence for yourself.
- Tim Minchin And The Heritage Orchestra Live At The Royal Albert Hall was released by Universal Pictures on Monday. Click here to buy from Amazon for £12.93.