John Robertson: A Nifty History of Evil | Review by Jay Richardson
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John Robertson: A Nifty History of Evil

Review by Jay Richardson

Seemingly possessed by the evil figures he evokes, bombastic John Robertson doesn't deliver his monstrous account so much as pin you down and force it into you. The Marquis De Sade would surely approve.

Wild-eyed, in a devilish burgundy suit and with rigidly spiked hair, the Australian opens, somewhat incongruously, with Richard Curtis, widely regarded as one of the nicest men in entertainment.

Of course, there's a twist, because Robertson is nothing if not theatrical. Though ultimately he can't sustain the full-throated bellow he adopts for the first 10 minutes, he keeps his technician on his toes, blackout after blackout corresponding to historical snapshots of infamy, delivered as if in slideshow.

Re-materialising into the room each time like a leering, malignant apparition, supplying his own 'whooshing' sound effect, there's justification in his animation, as he initially concerns himself with the myths of early human civilisation.

Money, although a factor, is less the root of all evil for Robertson as religion. His father was a priest and it explains a lot, even if only noted in passing. Christianity, Buddhism and Norse mythology are all cartoonishly caricatured, with the crazy dogma he deliberately misinterprets scarcely distinct from some of the actual, absurd logic underpinning so much established faith.

Rarely will he undersell a routine. His modern parable of a rural American sacrificing his son because his other son stole a biscuit truly labours the point about Christianity's inflexibility. He's capable of subtlety however and taps into feminism while poking fun at the book of Genesis, neatly, almost subliminally, likening Adam's creation of Eve to an urban myth about a famous pop star's predilection for self-love.

Of much greater interest to him is Lilith, held in Jewish folklore as Adam's first wife. Robertson has considerable sympathy for this she-devil. And indeed, with her child-murdering brand of feminism, she's much more fascinating than the pale, 'naturist' inhabitants of the Garden of Eden. Even so, he traces a convincing throughline from Eve to the woman-hating advertising of today.

De Sade, Rasputin and Tsar Nicholas II notwithstanding, he eschews the obvious, banal luminaries of evil, Hitler, Stalin, Mao etc, preferring his exemplars to have a rampant libido. There's clear admiration in his account of the urbane Urbain Grandier, sexualised priest of France. But I wanted him to develop the links to Russell Brand more, drawing out the comparisons beyond their surface obviousness.

Unfortunately, his Rasputin conclusion doesn't do justice to the legend. There's a confusing imagined conversation with a newspaper editor about massacres of the Australian Aborigines and a gratuitous bit on Operation Yewtree that simply leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Moreover, once you attune to the rhythm of his gags and non-sequiturs, you soon realise there's often no actual joke at all, just a weird image, shouted with commitment. And with barely a pause for laughter breaks, so much child murder and debauchery gets a bit oppressive in the afternoon.

Still, with his passion and crazed glint in his eye, there's also something of the dangerously charismatic, criminal preacher about Robertson too. And perhaps not all of it is self-consciously stagey.

Review date: 1 Aug 2014
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson
Reviewed at: Stand 3 and 4

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