Audience With Arthur Smith

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

These days, Arthur Smith is something of an elder statesman of British comedy. In fact, it’s hard to imagine that there must have been a time when he wasn’t. So well-honed is his world-weary wisdom and half-bored delivery, you can’t really see him as ever having been an eager young buck.

Now entering into his ‘anecdotage’, and enjoying renewed fame on the back of his Grumpy Old Men whinges on TV, he has the status to be able to indulge in these gentle, loosely-conceived Audience With… sessions of gentle reminiscence.

Why go to the bother of constructing a new, taut show when you can charge £12 to casually ponder about life and chuck in a few old gags? Especially when ‘why bother’ is the maxim that pervades your entire act.

Smith, of course, has plenty of old jokes to draw upon, some his own and some pulled from the pub culture in which he immersed himself for so long. In fact, he’s one of the few comics who writes jokes that still sound like pub gags.

Not that age has withered the hoariest of their lines; in fact they’ve become like catchphrases more loved because of their overuse. In fact, you’d probably be disappointed if he didn’t introduce himself as Daphne Fairfax for the benefit of anyone from Streatham DSS office.

So Smith launches into fragments of old material and tales from his years in the business: his falling-out with Englebert Humperdinck or the time he had lunch with ‘Mad’ Frankie Frasier, of encountering Bill Clinton at the Hay literary festival. Some of the stories are even-second hand, with anecdotes involving Tommy Cooper and Eric Sykes that are from the annals are showbiz folklore.

He invites questions from the audience, reads a bit of his rather good poetry, gets grumpy about a few things on request – all punctuated with his deadpan gags. It’s not a show for the critics, it’s a show for his mainly middle-aged fans, who are more than happy to share these moments. And there are enough of them, too, to sell out Leicester’s Little Theatre – a venue which, despite its name, is more medium-sized.

With not too much thought expended into how the evening will pan out, the show inevitably flags now and again, but then, with the resigned acceptance we’ve come to expect, he warned us that it would – inviting the audience at the start of the show to leave their phones on so they can text their mates during any lulls.

It all makes for a rather warm evening – for despite his grumpy repute, Smith always comes across as a decent, good-humoured chap you’d be happy sharing a pint with, knowing he’d always be ready with a gag when the conversation flagged. And the Audience With is exactly that – but in theatrical form.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

Leicester Comedy Fesitval

February 13, 2007

Review date: 1 Jan 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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