Liam Williams: Capitalism | Review by Steve Bennett
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Liam Williams: Capitalism

Review by Steve Bennett

Not wanting to needlessly add to the substantial self-loathing that Liam Williams unloads on stage, but plenty of the criticisms he has of his own ‘stand-up pathos’ show are acutely valid. He can find it hard to translate his insightful, nihilistic thoughts into laughs: the delivery is low-energy nearly to the point of catatonia and the raw emotional self-immolation is uncomfortable to watch.

He’s pushing at the boundaries of comedy, which means encroaching into areas that are ‘not comedy’… even though it’s always compelling and intriguing precisely where he takes this show.

Williams, who confesses to always having been a serious kid, gives voice to his inner critic, making him a separate persona on stage… kind of an Oxbridge Terry Alderton, although the alter-ego is described here as more like Tyler Durden from Fight Club, a parallel that also encompasses the supposedly anti-capitalist theme of the show.

The eloquent, densely-written script prods around the area between his student leftie idealism and the practicalities of doing anything worthwhile about it. He’s a typical bourgeois twentysomething, full of lazy outrage, but complicit in the problem. Not for him protests and Occupation camps – but he has got a joke about the Haribo slogan. A noncommittal Guardian browser, he’ll quote great thinkers, but never bother to actually read them.

Among many inconvenient truths covered are how we all drown out the ‘consequences of our collective comfort’. Sport or pop culture is usually the answer, but Williams finds the empty exhortations of his namesake Pharrell too superficial. Acknowledging that all art is solipsistic, he ends up turning his intense scrutiny on to himself, his crippling angst, and his attempts to work through his considerable issues through such ill-fated ideas as meditation. It’s thought-provoking stuff, but while he talks savvily about endorphins, for long passages he doesn't do all that much to aid their release.

He tells us he always wanted to be a writer more than a performer and that shines through a rich script which can use a phrase like ‘existential network diagnostics’ as a punchline. But also in a performance that’s difficult to watch, and not always intentionally. A rich irony pervades some of the ideas, but the tone is overwhelmingly bleak, which the smattering of gags, exquisite and revelatory as they are, cannot overcome. There is, however, often a laughter of release at the merest glimmer of light at the end of some of his darkly honest monologues.

Other routines are beautiful and funny in their own right; but the tone generally is of an ambitious, show, reaching wide and deep, that fascinates more than amuses.

Review date: 18 Aug 2014
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Pleasance Courtyard

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