Rhod Gilbert: Knocking On Heaven's Door
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2006
Getting into heaven can be funny as hell! The Welsh Wonder and 2005 Perrier Newcomer Nominee returns following last year's 100% sell-out hit.
Hasn't he changed? Most people, having garnered a best newcomer nomination at the Fringe would come back with more of the same, maybe sharper, maybe tighter, but essentially the same style.
Not so Rhod Gilbert. He has evolved so much in the past 12 months that he's now almost a completely different act from the engaging storyteller who last year span us such a whimsical, complex yarn about the unfortunate goings-on in the Welsh village of Llanbobl during his childhood.
This year, the theatrical fourth wall has not just been breached, but brutally kicked down, to create a fluid, dynamic, conversational stand-up show as dependent on the energy of the audience as Gilbert's quick wit.
Luckily, though, the one thing that still remains is the most important one: his distinctive sense of humour. Rooted in miserable indignity at the lacklustre hand life has supposedly dealt him, from the rain-drenched streets of Wales to performing in a Portakabin ill-equipped to cope with the dramatic special effects he wanted, Gilbert's persona is a fine mix of grumpy, impotent anger and eloquent charm.
He has good reason to be moody, mind, at least in the premise of the show. After all he has, like his audience, just died. He is now killing time in God's waiting room (not Eastbourne, as the old gag would have it) until he finds out whether his application for permanent residence in the kingdom of heaven has been approved.
There's red tape to be completed, a sort of celestial landing card that asks whether your life was good enough for your soul to be saved. Were you kind to the environment? Have you done good deeds? Have you looked after your body?
It's a good MacGuffin on which he can hang some entertaining anecdotes and stand-up material, everything from his embarrassment at being sent on an errand to Anne Summers to a ruthless pillory heaven's door policy, as described in the Bible: dwarves, the short-sighted, women who have worn trousers, single people and anyone who's ever eaten a prawn cracker all barred.
What makes the show, however, is Gilbert's impeccable interaction with the audience. He's forever asking questions, and feigning outraged astonishment at the often bizarre views and information that comes back at him. He has a tendency to attract loonies to his conversation, thanks to some very subtle tricks to lure them out, and reaction drives the show forward effortlessly and seamlessly.
Knocking On Heaven's Door indicates that while Gilbert might have lost some of the delicate surrealism that made his name, what he's gained is the sort of impressive audience-wrangling skills and powerful delivery that will catapult him into the next division, alongside the Jason Byrnes of the circuit. Today a Portakabin, tomorrow the world
Date of review: Aug 2006