Dylan Moran: Monster II

Note: This review is from 2004

Review by Steve Bennett

London's Palace Theatre is an intimidating venue for any comic to fill. As the erstwhile home of Les Miz, only the most famous, bold or foolhardy would attempt to fill its 1,400 seats for one night, let alone a week.

But such is the success of Black Books, that this is how Dylan Moran chooses to make his West End debut. The Channel 4 sitcom may be a cult hit rather than a mainstream ratings-grabber, but the fans it has are certainly dedicated enough to spend this balmy Monday night in a darkened theatre rather than a summery beer garden.

For Moran, the same choice would be a no-brainer. His whole uppity persona is based on the theory that life's just a series of trials conspiring to keep him from sitting moodily in the womb-like security of the pub.

A lethargic Irishman wanting nothing more that to stew in his own alcohol-induced misery, this character instead finds himself stirred into aggressive, embittered and futile rants against the stupidity of just about everything. For a slacker, he can call on a lot of passion – even if it's all completely misdirected.

Although his recent triumph in Shaun Of The Dead proved Moran's range extends wider, this stand-up persona is indistinguishable from his TV creation; a personality he's honed and nurtured over more than a decade on the stand-up circuit until it is the perfect embodiment of indignant frustration it is today.

It suits him better, now, with age. In his thirties, with even his own body starting to let him down, his world-weariness now comes from a certain experience, not just attitude.

The structure of the show seems fittingly shambolic. Five minutes in, he catches himself and backtracks: 'Oh, hello, and everything by the way', and at the end, he stops almost dead as he realises his 90 minutes are up. But what 90 minutes they were: a relentless tirade, bristling with misanthropy, packed with brilliant wit and almost melodic in its poetic language.

Moran's a man who doesn't deal so much in punchlines as punchparagraphs, laden with imaginative metaphors conjuring up brilliantly vivid images from nowhere. Anne Widdecombe, for example, is ridiculed not for her looks, but for her voice being like 'a stegosaurus with its arse on fire'. And there are dozens more where that came from...

Not that he professes to having any interest in politics; his routine that nominally starts about the military and Iraqi regime change, for example, contrives to culminate in the priceless line: 'I'd felate a Smurf'. But even despite his political agnosticism, Moran's caricature of Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi is quite one of the funniest and most astute satires you'll see.

His strength, though, is in simply spitting complaints about how useless everything it. He can tackle the most trivial or hackneyed of subjects – air travel, or the difference between men and women, for example – and deliver with such style, conviction and originality that you'd never notice.

Lethargy may be a key word for his attitude, but Moran can be hugely animated when needs be, peacocking across the stage to ape a skinhead or dancing maniacally, like a depressed, middle-aged woman after too much gin. The only distraction to his brilliance is the collection of Moran's amateurish cartoons, projected on the back wall. When the image changes, your attention is inextricably drawn to take in the new one, losing concentration on Moran's otherwise compelling chain of thought for the sake of an unenlightening, self-indulgent doodle.

No, spoken word is Moran's strength, with an almost unrivalled gift for combining a fabulously grumpy, distracted persona with some of the sharpest, most literate comedy around. See it – after all, there will be no more Black Books to enjoy.

Steve Bennett
London
May 2004

Review date: 1 Jan 2004
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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