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Russell Kane: Manscaping

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

Russell Kane has a way of heading off criticism. By referencing the sort of complaints observers could have about his show, as part of his running commentary, he attempts to own those comments; to defang them.

Indeed, the main problem you could say about this show is that Kane hasn’t really worked out who he is – even after all these years on stage – yet that’s the very point of it. ‘Manscapes’ are the personae he’s adopted like some insecure teenager, as he tries to find an identity that fits and the approval of the world. This particular bout of soul-searching was prompted after falling into a serious funk – medical term – after the collapse of his marriage earlier this year.

For all those personalities, Kane still seems to see the world in a binary way. You are either working class or middle class, salt of the earth or arty and pretentious, a brutal alpha male, or fey, preening and camp. There is no middle ground, although that’s where most people live.

After a very long and largely off-topic diversion about the X- Factor, during which he temporarily abandons the psychological analysis, he declares that either you watch the talent show, or you’re the sort of person who’ll ‘cover yourself in hummus, go into your garden and sing Free Tibet’. He’ll admit he’s lazy to use such clichés – but somehow he can’t stop himself.

Of his own image, he’s well aware that he’s grouped with Messrs Brand and Howard into an archetypal ‘Russell comic’ – bold, cocky, sexy… although off-stage he professes to being none of the above. The second-best anecdote here involves him scoring with a glamour model, and being absolutely petrified about it. He says he felt feminine: pressurised into sex and a passive participant.

Kane’s posturing delivery does little to dispel that stereotype he’s supposed to be. Every five seconds he seems to have urgent business at the opposite end of the stage, so strides purposefully there before stopping for a line, then turning back. From his point of view the audience must look like they are watching a Centre Court rally.

And he dances around the stages more than he ever did when dressed as Beyonce for Comic Relief. Punchlines are often delivered with a pirouette, a physical equivalent of slapping four exclamation marks on the end of a jokey sentence to emphasise the point. Less would definitely be more on this front.

For a four-star review, I’m aware this has all been largely negative so far – and it’s true that Kane can be irritating in his over-dramatic delivery. But at it’s heart this is an interesting slice of navel-gazing, with some good jokes and strong tales, delivered with Kane’s obvious passion for sharing. As always, he’s tried to pack more than possible into an hour (we came in at about 75 minutes in the end), though we could probably have cut back on the X-Factor stuff and dropped the extraneous routine about Mum’s trip to Greece to hit the time.

His best anecdote, about a first-class train passenger’s prejudice against him, is an excellent one, hugely revealing about the class system with which he is perennially preoccupied, and told like a master storyteller.

Elsewhere, his peripatetic style infuses the material, and the result doesn’t, perhaps, have the clarity a strong director could bring out. But there are lots of ideas on show and a great show bursting to get out. Even flawed it’s pretty damn funny.

Review date: 27 Aug 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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