Bill Bailey: Dandelion Mind (Work in progress)

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

Comedy-goers, you’re in for a treat. Even at this stage, Bill Bailey’s next tour is about as perfect a stand-up experience as you could hope to get. And this at merely a ‘work in progress’ gig, before a month-long run of preview shows in the West End’s Wyndham Theatre, announced this morning, and the tour itself.

This is a show that has everything: politics, whimsy, music, passion, fun, rap, poetry, speed bazuki, a history of art lecture about the various interpretations of The Incredulity of St Thomas… all performed with the skill, wit, intelligence and originality of a true maestro of comedy.

There’s surprise at every turn, with such an embarrassment of exquisite jokes, imagery and ideas you can’t help but be enchanted. While the show title suggests a flighty brain (‘one pffft and it’s gone’), there’s no doubt that behind that acid-casualty exterior lies a super-sharp operator.

If, as the aphorism goes, a comic says funny things, while a true comedian says things funny, them we’d better make a new category for Bailey. Not only can he get a laugh just from mumbling ‘Thank you for coming’ at an unusually brisk pace, getting the ball rolling straight away, but there’s a richness and depth to all his material, which means that each one of his plentiful laughs is uniquely earned.

Following his previous, diluted, escapades with a full orchestra, here’s back to what he does best – even if it’s not exactly pared-down basics. The stage with littered with musical detritus, from the Iranian oud to the Tenori-on, an electronic gizmo that translates patterns into sound. You would expect him to put this one-man band to use for some of his trademark mash-ups; and he doesn’t disappoint, especially with his joyous French pop version of Cars. Bailey doesn’t need to change the words of a song to get a cheap laugh, he can change its speed a get much stronger ones.

However, the music – plus the classy videos that accompany some of it – is an adjunct to his sharp wit, not a replacement for it. Despite battling a rasping throat, Bailey is on top intellectual form tonight, his rationalist point of view perhaps more tightly focussed by the Pope’s visit, which gets plenty of tongue-in-cheek mentions. Bailey has a plan to get close enough to lunge at the Pontiff, by disguising himself as a badger, the perfect illustration of his mix of surrealism and sharp opinion.

In fact, Bailey’s whimsy is singularly grounded. He doesn’t string random ideas together for the sake of it, but has such expert command of the language that he can succinctly demolish anything he sees as ridiculous with the perfect heightened of its extremes that may seem bizarre, but makes a point.

Brevity is thus at the heart of his wit, with the Saw films boiled down to one or two brilliantly bizarre horror scenarios, or florid gastrobollocks perfectly parodied with flamboyantly imagined menu description . While spoofs of such things as cosmetics ads or James Blunt songs – easy comic targets by any measure – are so devastatingly accurate they transcend the ordinary.

Bailey’s in playful mood tonight, too, the intimate confines of the Leicester Square Theatre perhaps allowing him to be especially relaxed. Typically oddball hecklers, prompt his usual disclaimer: ‘I should warn you, I do attract a lot of nutters.’ But they give him rein to spin off into a mix of improvised silliness and snippets of back-catalogue to make for an irresistibly fluid performance.

Keen Bailey-watchers will spot a few of the prime routines from his last Tinselworm tour making their way into this set. This may be a part of the ‘in progress’ nature of this gig, but they sit seamlessly alongside the vast majority of new stuff, and are a delight to hear again in a show that’s perfect. Just perfect.

Review date: 18 Sep 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Leicester Square Theatre

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