Mark Watson: 50 Years Before Death And The Awful P
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2005
Watson, probably the most-discussed new comic of recent times, anticipates decline and death's icy grip.
The clever premise of Mark Watson’s Edinburgh debut is that he’s going to live out the rest of his life over the course of 50 minutes; ‘aging’ by a year for every 60 seconds that go by.
It is, however, impractical to maintain. By his own scale it takes him about eight years just to say ‘hello’ and to explain the simple but inspired concept. Not that he’s slow – the very opposite, in fact, as he’s an animated, manically breathless fast-talker – just that he’s prone to digression, his mind leaping around like a flea on a hotplate.
While these traits may throw a spanner in the works of his big idea, they’re what makes him such an impressive comedian. The pace and energy is so relentless that it drags you along on a tide of enthusiasm, with undercurrents of humour and keen observation to vary the ride. That he reacts so naturally and quick-wittedly with the audience only adds to the sensation of being swept along in the spontaneity of the moment.
In fact, so absorbed are you in the brainstorming flow that you keep forgetting that it’s designed to lead to punchlines - so when they do come, which they do with efficient regularity, they hit you with a thwack. The freewheeling style and brilliant, sharply-written gags combine seamlessly for maximum impact in this coruscating, blistering diatribe.
While Watson has the raw, nervy energy of Lee Evans, he combines it with the droll, intolerant attitude of Jack Dee. Although professedly easy-going, you feel the stage is an outlet for all those gripes he could never get off his chest in real life.
And, under the conceit of the show, as he enters middle age he allows himself free rein to be grumpy about the most minor of irritations. Even one option on a sub-menu on his mobile phone can lead to a passionate two-minute rant.
He deftly leaps in and out of the ‘year for every minute’ concept, suggesting a lot more thought has gone into the show than the loose style suggests. There are a couple of moments where the pace flags slightly, or the gags don’t quite reach the high bar he sets himself, but these are minor gripes. As is the fact that the ‘is he or isn’t he?’ denouement is slightly too fluffed to be the revelatory ‘deathbed’ moment it could be.
In any case, such comments are rendered almost redundant by Watson’s own running commentary, as he neurotically obsesses about how the show’s going. He’s even invented a signal for selected audience members to indicate lines that are funny, but not quite worth a laugh, in which they tap a drinks can to indicate their approval.
It’s a good job he hasn’t adopted that device to entirely replace laughter – in which case large swathes of this confident, hilarious show would sound like the West End version of Stomp, so emphatically – and deservedly – well is it received. This is truly impressive stuff.