Linda Smith – Original Review | Review by Steve Bennett

Linda Smith – Original Review

Note: This review is from 2004

Review by Steve Bennett

At one point in her solo show, Linda Smith describes herself as an 'inbetweener'. She means it in terms of her age ­ too old to be young, too young to be old - but it could just as easily apply to any aspect of her life.

With a profile in that fuzzy zone separating the famous from the obscure, and with sensibilities falling between her working-class roots and her resolutely middle-class Radio 4 constituency, she stubbornly refuses to fit any stereotype.

Any, that is, except for that of the grumpy, dissatisfied comedian ­ an image she plays up to on stage, as much as she does with her sterling contributions to The News Quiz or Just A Minute.

She's basically a professional grumbler, her deadpan diatribes punctured by exasperated, resigned sighs, as if to say: "The world's gone to shit, but, hey, what are you going do?"

In essence, she's claiming the reactionary stance from the right, demonstrating that it's not just bewhiskered ex-majors who write stiff letters to the Telegraph in sherry-induced stupours who want a return to days of civility and services that actually work. Unlike them, she would blame society's increasing selfishness rather than refugees or leftie social workers.

But there's little she won't moan about: her hometown, her life, the news, the media. Hell, she even moans about people who moan.

Most of the observations are about what you might expect to come into the radar of the touring comic: motorway service stations, useless railways and inane daytime TV ­ including the adverts for sun awnings, crippling loans and, inevitably, Claims Direct.

It's all delivered in that familiar style - downbeat, mundane and archly cynical. And although the show takes in all sorts of observational and personal material, it's always bobbing along on a gentle current of social politics.

The writing is simply superb. You never seem more than a minute or two from a perfect metaphor, a skillfully realised offbeat idea or just a silly bon mot.

Some of the gags might be familiar to those who know Smith's work on Radio 4, especially her underrated show A Brief History Of Timewasting, yet they all deserve a wider airing.

For all that, there's the nagging suspicion that she's happier behind a computer keyboard than in front of an audience. Smith tends to be clinically funny, rather than emotionally so, and her performance, though more than adequate, makes little progress in being warm or endearing.

Only in the second half of this near two-hour show does she seem to relax a little more, and the audience slowly start to take her into their collective heart. Until then, great lines sometimes struggle to get the reaction they deserve.

Nonetheless, this is witty, intelligent stuff, that will more than sate the comedy appetite of her Radio 4 public.

Review date: 18 Jul 2004
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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