Al Pitcher Picture Show

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

‘This could just be an overweight ginger bloke from New Zealand showing holiday snaps of a place where you live.’ So Al Pitcher warns at the start of his current show, a PowerPoint presentation of snaps he’s taken during the day of the gig.

Indeed, for some stretches this is pretty much exactly what we do get as Pitcher desperately tries to ad lib something out of often ordinary pictures: a Greggs store, a few kids arsing about for the camera, or shoppers milling around. He tries hard, but there’s often not much to say apart from an offhand glib observation, as attempts to impose comic meaning on the mundane. There’s a limit to just how much you can spin, for example, a whiteboard listing tickets for London tourist attractions or a picture of workmen standing around idly.

That, though, is the risk of a show that he reminds us is a one-off; created just for tonight. Sometimes the inspiration isn’t going to come on cue.

Sensibly, though, the day’s snaps are interspersed with some of the best from his travels round the UK, and indeed the world. India, Australia, Wolverhampton – they’re all here. Having been filtered, these images do provide more consistent laughs, sometimes in Pitcher’s commentary, sometimes in the image itself. He certainly owes a debt to a few creative graffitists around the world, or the prankster who put up a plaque in the ‘Democratic Republic of Galway’.

Easy-going Pitcher takes the rough with the smooth, though, revelling in the loose structure he’s set himself. He enjoys bantering with the audience, encouraging them to contribute back, and he certainly creates some comic highs as he winds up the front-row punter with the audacity to need the toilet, or probes a little too deeply into the love life of a girl a few seats along.

He’s got an open, laid-back demeanour that works well with such fluidity; although its sometimes at odds with material where he appears to be trying too hard. A brief flight of fantasy about midgets, for example, seems unnatural compared to the whimsical conviction someone like Ross Noble or Noel Fielding might bring to a similar routine. And his constant affirmations of the show’s supposedly ‘uplifting’ message seem an unwarranted hard sell for the feelgood factor, when it’s really just a mix of daft and everyday photos.

Ignoring that, there are some playful pieces that provide good chuckles. There’s a very nice take on the New Zealand-Australia rivalry, a ‘what’s the deal with bus shelters?’ bit that overcomes its initial blandness to become a fine example of observational stand-up and the myriad of health and safety notices he’s spotted provide a few gems.

Pitcher seems to have taken a quantity over quality approach, though – chuck enough material at the audience, and some of it will stick. As a result the show’s too long and decidedly scrappy, with plenty of lulls. But also enough peaks to keep proceedings entertaining.

It wasn’t polished, but as the audience knew why, they happily to bask in that unique shared experience he promised from the get-go. Rather than a meticulously premeditated comedy show, Al Pitcher’s Picture Show feels more like having a laugh with an old mate who you’re so happy to see again you can readily overlook the dips in conversation.

Review date: 5 Nov 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Bloomsbury Theatre

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