Tim Key: Single White Slut | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Arcola Tent

Tim Key: Single White Slut

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Arcola Tent

As the audience file into this small top in East London, Tim Key is padding around his stage, containing a bed and and a small drawer unit. He’s dressed in a denim boiler suit and sports a semi-kempt beard and a mischievous glint in his eye. It feels as if we are observers around a psychopath’s cell; Clarice Starlings to his Hannibal Lecter.

In his patter, he superficially seems like the rest of us, but something doesn’t ring true with his laddish banter, like the random guy from the bought ledger department trying to engage with the stag weekend without really having his heart in it. Don’t think he’s awkward, though, his gaucheness is nothing but charming.

However the more time we spend in Key’s company, the more obvious it becomes that he’s actually a sharp operator, who enjoys manipulating our emotions for his own delight –a fact that’s emphasised with his teasing audience interactions, always in control no matter what odd direction they seem to career in.

His bed provides the theme to the show, and primarily his efforts to persuade women to share it with him: Whether it’s seducing a Russian girl in Sochi, before it was so hip, securing a threesome (‘the bad kind’) in India, or even getting intimate with the actress Anne Hathaway in a disconcertingly wistful fantasy sequence set while they were both working on the film One Day. For, as Key – aka Alan Partridge’s Sidekick Simon – keeps reminding us, we are now witnessing a bona fide movie star in an intimate setting.

These are the sort of anecdotes you’d expect a stand-up to have, but Key has moved the art form into intriguing new theatrical dimensions, with a show that’s ever shifting expectations. There’s smatterings of dance, for a start, plus a constant musical underscore; then, of course, come the evocative but tersely brief poems for which he’s become known – although these take a relatively minor supporting role in Single White Slut.

But poetry pervades all the language he uses, even when selecting a word that sounds slightly out-of-place; Key makes sure it’s *exactly* in the wrong place. He’ll liken a romantic encounter to a small detail of snooker; delight in the word ‘festooned’ and know the comic potential of the word ‘Tunnock’s’. This provides a strong note of bathos, as he switches from the sublime to the mundane on a pinhead.

The pace is languid, borderline bumbling, adding a sort of dream-like state to proceedings, apt given the bed motif and the vivid pictures he paints. But even that’s an illusion, as the virtuosic turns of phrase ensure the laughs are packed in so tight, some asides might slip under the noses of even the most astute. But then the wit gets space to breathe, too, thanks to the variiety-type nature of the show.

As a confident work celebrating the socially maladroit, Single White Slut is full of such apparent contradictions, but the result is a joyous, adventurous experience that doesn’t stint on the laughs.

Tim Key: Single White Slut is on at the Arcola Tent, Dalston, until Match 29.

Review date: 16 Mar 2014
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Arcola

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