Craig Hill's Got The Ballroom (Soho Theatre)

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

Madonna pumps out of the loudspeakers as a shaven-headed man in a black leather kilt crawls provocatively around on all fours. No, it’s not the floor show at G.A.Y. but the opening moments of Craig Hill’s stand-up show.

Hill has always embraced the camp cabaret ethos, as happy – if not happier - belting out classic diva showstopper as he is doling out the witheringly acerbic putdowns.

His act is all about creating a flamboyant, gorgeous mood, amplifying the energy of a like-minded, up-for-it audience. Only problem is, on a grey Tuesday World Cup night, the half-empty Soho Theatre has all the energy of a spent battery. There’s very little to work with here.

Hill goes through the motions regardless, but in these circumstances, it isn’t wholly convincing – even, it seems, to himself. You can see the cracks even more when he cheekily compares a line of girls in the back row to the cast of Desperate Housewives – when there’s not a line of girls anywhere in the entire house. It looks dreadfully contrived.

Even when he brings a victim onstage for some one-on-one insults – a set piece where you feel the gregarious Hill should be right at home – the segment runs out of steam when his stooge offers little but his reticence to comment upon.

Without the buzz his extravagant personality thrives upon, the failings in the material – never his strong suit in the first place – lie very exposed. He’s still, for instance, doing gags about how pilots always have posh voices… and what would it be like if you heard rough Glaswegians doing the in-flight announcements. In other hot news, hands-free phones make it hard to spot genuinely mad people and Camilla, apparently, looks like a horse.

The only thing he really seems to have a genuine opinion on is plastic pop stars of a couple of years back: slagging off Girls Aloud, Atomic Kitten, Ronan Keating and Enrique Iglesias not for any major sins, but because they provide perfect fodder for his shallow, if spiky bitching.

Throughout his show, Hill says things that aren’t funny with the total conviction that they are hilarious. Doing an impression of Tina Turner’s legs-akimbo dancing style (bang-up-to-date-as-ever) he shrills: ‘Talk about Nutbush City Limits!’ Now that sentence doesn’t actually mean anything, but it gets some laughs, possibly simply because it contains the word ‘bush’. It’s as if the exaggerated stress of the sentence is supposed to be enough to trigger a reflex reaction. In a more boisterous room, maybe it does, but it garners just isolated titters tonight.

Hill comes alive when he gets the chance to show off his impressive singing voice, belting out convincing snatches of Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland and Shirley Bassey. No prizes for guessing from that list about who his target constituency is. And truth be told, Hill makes a better cabaret singer than he does a comic.

All this isn’t to say he doesn’t have his moments. There are a few memorably acidic put-downs, and his charisma, though depleted, hasn’t quite deserted him and we still see flickers of fallen-angel charm. But this show – which he first performed at last year’s Fringe when he really was playing in the Assembly Rooms Ballroom – is feeling more than a little tired by now.

Steve Bennett

June 14, 2006

Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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