Laughs In The Park

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

It was a brave idea… which everyone knows is usually a euphemism for ‘stupid’. Bring 66 trucks worth of kit to a park in the Home Counties and set up Britain’s first outdoor comedy festival, with not even a tent for cover. Oh, and hold it in late September, when nights aren’t exactly known for being balmy.

But in the end, the experiment worked, albeit on the whim of the elements. With temperatures at shiver-inducing 9C or so, these wasn’t the most comfortable conditions – but the rain held off, as that could so easily have rendered Laughs In The Park a distinctly miserable experience for the 5,000 or so people the site holds each night.

Producer Mick Perrin did everything in his power to ensure the experience worked. The staging was bold but effective, a triptych of pin-sharp giant screens framing the miniscule figure centre stage in a set-up Citizen Kane would envy, especially the vertical ones either side. And the sound was as precise as the images, with a clarity even purpose-built arenas often fail to deliver.

Enough about the technology; as the line-up was quite some draw: Eddie Izzard, Dylan Moran and Reginald D Hunter sharing the same bill over three nights. Under a bright full moon and menacing clouds, Izzard introduced each section and, naturally, headlined. The council-imposed curfew meant he had to limit his material; and in the end had to confine himself to the entirety of history, from dinosaurs to Dickens… even if he’s a little sketchy on some of the finer details.

As usual, he tackled big ideas through wonderfully daft comedy – a winning mix of steely rationalism with flighty surrealism. His assertion that God must be a human invention since he post-dates language is made by demonstrating how the Ten Commandments would be communicated by charade, for instance. On a similarly biblical theme, his demolition of the Noah’s Ark myth is masterful, knocking Ricky Gervais’s version of same into a cocked hat.

Izzard famously once performed a gig in French, and tonight he attempted another language – Latin, although he hasn’t really done his homework and takes diabolical liberties with the vocabulary. It’s a sublimely funny segment, standing out even among the high standard of Izzard’s recent return to form, ably continued tonight.

Dylan Moran opened the evening. It seems to have been too long since we’ve seen him on stage, though he toured just a couple of years ago. That’s probably because the opinionated grumbler always has something to say, so it’s unlikely to imagine anyone could have too much Moran.

His insights tonight covered the haphazard way we pair off into couples, the lack of respect he gets from his listless children, and the reality of a mature relationship – described with such perfect frustrated aggression to match his emotions.

The way he expresses such thoughts are so distinctively precise, even though they are delivered with his apparently languid style. He frequently appears to fluster around in a struggle for the metaphor, before barking out something apparently random, but that actually succinctly describes the ridiculousness of the human condition. Or at least his condition, as a sour grouch who wants to be left alone in quiet respect that he’s never going to get. He’s not exactly a rock-and-roll comic, but he had the audience – of maybe three-quarters capacity – hanging on his every word.

On this peculiarly illustrious bill, Reginald D Hunter may have been the least high-profile, but he brought his A-game to the park, and also held the audience rapt by his provocative philosophising. His shtick of couching contentious opinions in the bubble-wrap of Deep South charm, his arguments justified with a calmly logical insight, makes for fascinating listening.

His rich voice evokes late nights by the campfire – and boy, could we have done with one of those on the edge of St Albans tonight – as he puts forth his witty opinions on the world, by which I largely mean ‘women’, in a form of verbal essay. The process throws up some pithily quotable aphorisms, backed up by plenty of thought-provoking supporting evidence, making Hunter another fine choice for this unique bill.

Could Laughs In The Park indicate the next stage in the comedy boom, as it encroaches ever further into territories traditionally occupied by music? Quite possibly; if you could ensure future festival-style shows have a line-up as strong as this. And, of course, if you can get good, or at least not dismal, weather.

Review date: 25 Sep 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: St Albans Verulamium Park

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