Eddie Izzard: Force Majeure Reloaded | Review by Steve Bennett

Eddie Izzard: Force Majeure Reloaded

Review by Steve Bennett

Travel broadens the mind, so they say, but Eddie Izzard’s centuries-spanning breadth of subject matter was already impressive, even before speeding his Force Majeure tour through 28 countries.

Now landing back in Britain for a West End run, the Reloaded version has picked up a few extra elements following its multilingual tour. A segment describing Martin Luther struggling to nail his treatise to the cathedral door now has some German-language surrealism, while the French have given him a double-pun about dolphins and a new favourite swear word, as he revels in the versatile potency of ‘putain’.

There have been other nips and tucks, too; although the flip-side of such a long tour is that some of his trademark digressions can seem a little over-practised, indulgent even. But still, applying his sharp, tangential mind to the epic scope of historic material yields rewarding, playful images galore.

His sprawling, sprightly skip through British and European history envisages Charles I with a dog on his head, Bad King John not reading the small print of the Magna Carta and invading Romans trying to give aqueducts the hard sell. Much of this is positively Pythonesque – his recreation of the murder of Julius Caesar especially –  and that’s a compliment, as this avowed long-term fan of the Flying Circus troupe pays homage, while creating some new classic material.

There’s something of an agenda here, with side-swipes at right-wingers and the absurdity of religion from human sacrifice, via Greek and Roman multi-theism to modern-day God’s attitude to disasters, ‘laissez fire to say the least’. Linguistics is another theme he’s passionate about, enjoying both the simplicity and quirks of the English language – as if that wasn’t apparent from his every vivid description – and now seeing it as a sort of ‘open source software’ we’ve handed over to the world.

Izzard says he wants to learn from humanity’s mistakes, but the politics is generally an aside. He might be angling for a London mayorship or Commons seat in the future, but emulating an ancient Roman chicken clucking out his expertise in military strategy is not a traditional election pitch. Like any good politico, though, he flatters his audience as fellow broad-minded liberals and autodidacts – and there aren’t many arena-capable comics who drop terms like that into their routines.

If history repeats itself, so too can a comedian, and here he reprises the Death Star canteen, itself ‘reloaded’ as showdown between God and Vader.

While much is made of Izzard’s florid, surreal language, we shouldn’t underestimate the physicality he brings to his flight-of-fantasy sketches. That reaches a peak in his reinterpretation of dressage; so while he’s certainly not the only comedian to have been inspired by the inherent oddness of the sport (especially given this would have been written around the time of the 2012 Olympics), his miming is what wrings out the laughs. It’s a section that outstays its welcome, though, and not the only one as Izzard over-plays his hand of deliberately over-extending routines.

The second half, in which this appears, is generally a different kettle of fish from the historical first section. After some diversion about what it takes to be a ghost, Izzard takes a rare turn into the autobiographical, describing with sarcasm the reaction to him coming out as a transvestite, and describing his furtive shoplifting raids on the make-up aisles of his local supermarket to indulge his urgings.

He talks, too, about his obsession with the SAS – his self-proclaimed ‘action transvestite’ tag clearly has deep roots – and even reveals his stepmother was a wartime Morse Code operator for the service. It’s an endearing side to Izzard not seen in his stand-up before… though doesn’t Special Forces Stepmom sound like the next straight-to-streaming Adam Sandler flick?

After an amusing fantasy about moles striking gold, Izzard delves into a long Lord Of The Rings parody, for which you probably have to be something of a Tolkein fan to appreciate (I’m not). This epic, complex callback forms his finale, but it seems over-engineered, even a little self-satisfied; without the driving purpose of his better stuff. It doesn’t really feel like a climax to on which to leave, but that he does, a slight anticlimax after two hours - plus interval – of off-the-wall invention.

Review date: 22 Jan 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Palace Theatre

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