Bill Bailey: Limboland | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Vaudeville Theatre, London

Bill Bailey: Limboland

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Vaudeville Theatre, London

When a death metal version of Candle In The Wind is followed by the line: ‘Now I love birdwatching…’ you know you can only be in a Bill Bailey show.

Rightly celebrated for his musicianship, the comedian tells us during Limboland that he always preferred playing in a minor key – and that seems apt given his wider outlook on life, recognisable but slightly off-kilter. Whimsical, but with a point – which he may make while sucking on a prop pipe for some fake gravitas

This show, just starting a West End residency after a nationwide tour, even starts political, the veteran lefty a little disappointed in Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of fight against the ‘Eton-scarred dissembling chancers’ of the Tories, the middle ground now barren save for a handful of lost Lib Dems.

His tone is one of resigned disappointment in the process, more than being a firebrand. Passion is reserved for the exquisitely expressive language he uses to get the point across rather than any real anger. After all, he professes a love of Britain’s mild-mannered low-expectation national psyche, summed up in that ubiquitous exchange: ‘How are you?’ / ‘Not too bad…’

Bailey deconstructs this idea brilliantly, building to a beautifully constructed list of the sublime and the ridiculous – one of several tour-de-force set pieces that make the show zing.

Other stand-outs are a couple of first-hand tales: an evocative telling of an accident-prone dog-sledding trip to the Arctic Circle proving a great mix of storytelling and slapstick; and a tongue-tied encounter with Paul McCartney where all the poetic eloquence that defines his best stand-up routines deserted him and he’s left a blethering fool.

He contrasts the emotive force of Macca’s performance at the O2 Arena with another gig he more reluctantly attended, One Direction’s. His response is a venal disappointed, which might be expected. However, it’s not for them being a vacuous tween-appeal boy band, but for the lack of effort they put into their performance ‘bumbling about’ rather than demonstrating any sort of showmanship.

No one could accuse Bailey of such a thing. Event though he’s far from showy he brings an affable flair to his one-man variety act – even down to a cowbell-playing speciality turn. The stage, as always, is littered with the stock of a medium-sized music store, from a theremin to a guitar made out of a Bible… not for Gospel music but for a perfect spoof of a bleak, aggressive Country and Western number.

We get the unlikely mash-ups we’ve come to love, in this case a dance version of the iPhone ringtone or Happy Birthday as if played in a nihilistic 1930s Berlin cabaret; while Bailey can make a song funny just by sticking his tongue out, at just the right angle.

On opening night his attempts at a Moby masterclass falter when his sampling kit malfunctions – which might seem like a fatal blow but just helps the cheerful, go-with-the-flow mood Bailey engenders. An impressively quick Irish reel gets him out of the tight spot and the audience whooping with delight.

He has the right tone for every occasion, as well as the mot juste every time. When he starts talking of the moments in a relationship when a woman asks a man: ‘What are you thinking about?’, you might know roughy where he’s going, but won’t predict quite how precisely he nails it. And a brief routine in which he imagines pop stars losing their dignity gets the imagery just right so it stays with you.

If Limboland has a theme – and it doesn’t, really – it’s about those rare, fleeting moments where you find happiness. But in the two hours Bailey’s on stage those moments aren’t too rare. He’s a comic at the top of his game, apparently effortless in generating so much joy. Tickets to this run should be in any comedy fan’s letter to Santa.

Review date: 11 Dec 2015
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Vaudeville Theatre

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