Ross Noble: Noodlemeister tour

Note: This review is from 2004

Review by Steve Bennett

The backdrop to Ross Noble's latest offering is a jumble of brightly coloured threads, most with beginnings but no obvious ends, and all intertwining into one eye-catching mess. It's a fairly accurate visual representation of this quick-witted surrealist's apparently chaotic style.

But while he remains an unparalleled improviser, taking the minutest of spontaneous ideas and running a marathon flight of fancy with it, large chunks of material are more carefully planned. Not that you can necessarily spot the joins, and nor should you try to, either, for fear of breaking the illusion.

His freeform skills become apparent seconds after he takes to the Apollo Theatre stage following the best 'turn off your phone' animated announcement you'll see anywhere. Spying a front-row pensioner take a surreptitious sip on her lager, this self-proclaimed 'Geordie Aesop' spawns an sprawling fantasy about genies, magic handbags, snipers and ninjas, gently mocking her shy responses throughout.

By and large, this tends to be more impressive than it is soil-yourself funny, although there is plenty of comedy inherent in merely saying phrasess like 'ninja assassin', 'ensuing gun battle' or 'bizarre wildfowl alchemy' in his North-Eastern drawl. The weird meanderings get small, widely-spaced pockets of intense chuckles, which only solidify into universal laughter when he pulls back to acknowledge, and puncture, the ridiculousness of whatever scenario he's painting.

In such spontaneous moments of tomfoolery, Noble certainly exposes himself as someone who watches way too much TV, dropping in references to satellite's favourite SAS expert Chris Ryan, daytime agony uncle Dr Phil and even launching into a word-perfect rendition the Beverly Hillbillies theme at the drop of an anecdote. It's all good-natured, childish stuff that creates an atmosphere of amused bemusement, peaking with the occasional smart punchline.

But the more straightforward, if fragmented, tales that form some of the first half and almost all of the second hit paydirt with much more consistency. The daredevil spirit is maintained by throwing many set-ups into the air, only to return to their punchlines much later, when the audience is beginning to forget there was ever a story to finish. It's taking the comic's trick of the callback, when a joke refers back to earlier material, to the nth degree.

It stops any routine going stale. With a less exciting delivery, tales like that about body hair removal might outstay their welcome. But not here: you've already been given a tantalising glimpse of the next subject on the agenda to whet the appetite. And what bizarre topics they are, too: a squirrel-based saxophone, Richard Whitely being buggered by a baboon or the man who wanders the streets of Soho in camouflage fatigues, stroking a ferret. Yes, animals feature large in Noble's wonderland – but not exclusively so: his brilliant take on the smugness of parenthood is the sort of side-splitting classic calling card a more conventional comic could build a whole career out of.

As for his agitated, animated, delivery, you can't do better than Ross's own description of himself as 'an attention-deficit child who's just discovered a big stash of Sunny Delight'. Limbs flail wildly as he recreates the farcical scenes of sliding on the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain; he mimes a Muslim women's marching band so convincingly you convince yourself you can see the burkas billowing; then he swirls around the stage to recreate a Guantanamo Bay conga line going horribly wrong.

'I'm like this all the time,' he says of his manic, flyaway imagination. 'You just happen to have caught me for the two hours when there are lights on me.' You believe him, too; except that the show lasts closer to two-and-half hours - and it's not one moment too long.

Steve Bennett
London
September 2004

Review date: 1 Jan 2004
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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