Simon Munnery: Hats Off For The 101ers And Other Material

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

Simon Munnery may have the pin-sharp mind of man with two Oxbridge degrees – but he combines that with the shambolic amateurism of the late Malcolm Hardee. It’s a yin-and-yang paring that produces this amiably rambling anthology, with peaks of dizzying comic invention mixed with lots of good-natured faffing.

Munnery’s ambitious plan was to write a full-scale musical based on the ill-fated R101 airship, inspired by a visit to their vast hangers. But, symptomatic of his whole approach, he rather lost interest, leaving him with just one song and a couple of minutes of background research.

Still, as he does time and again, he makes a virtue of his apparent ill-preparedness, which serves to put him on the back foot and lower his status compared to the equally easy-going late-night crowd.

So what if the puppet show’s broken, the mic stands misplaced and the pop-up metal arch refuses to stay upright? We’ll muddle through somehow. The one piece of handwork that does function as intended is the home-made top hat he wears on stage – a throwback to the days when he performed as the League Against Tedium – which blows a steady stream of bubbles across the Soho Theatre’s intimate basement. But the explanation for this Dadaist look – an analogy, allegedly, for the parlous state of capitalism – is as rickety as the rest of his props.

Sitting alongside the short-lived salute to the airship pioneers are a couple of brief black and white films, which owe a debt to Monty Python without being overtly Pythonesque, a poorly-sung song or two, and a beat poem about London that makes him sound like a Southern John Cooper Clark with a loop pedal.

These are mixed with more conventional stand-up segments, some in character, some not. His monologues on the delights of living in Bedford or the messages in Bruce Springstein songs are fairly straightforward, without the flashes of creative inspiration that sparks some of the other set pieces, even if the use of language is perfect and precise. But his support for Sainsbury’s, expressed through the medium of the football chant, is charmingly offbeat.

In character, it’s a whole different league. In one section, which he’s been performing for a while, he wittily reveals the truth behind Sherlock Holmes’s undeserved reputation. In another, Munnery wisely decides to present his plentiful bounty of cutting misogyny through the cipher of an inadequate college lecturer, just to make the irony explicit. However that didn’t stop one woman in the audience taking issue with his withering sexism. But it’s so hilariously wrong – not to mention beautifully written – no one should really confuse the intent.

The best section of the lot, though, is the funniest crucifixion scene since Life Of Brian, played out on that broken puppet tableau, awkwardly held in place by a considerate audience member as Munnery fumbles his lines, despite reading from a script. If that sounds like an utterly shabby performance… well it is, but the chaos, combined with some great lines, make for stupid, carefree fun.

It’s proof that when comedy and anti-comedy collide, they don’t always cancel each other out, but can produce an amplified effect – at least when you add in the influence of Simon Munnery, the God Particle of alternative comedy.

Review date: 13 Jan 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Soho Theatre

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