Tim Key: The Slut in the Hut

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

Tim Key likes to encourage an atmosphere of semi-shambolic amateurism, from the way he takes to the stage still tying his tie to the random snippets of mood music underpinning, but rarely complementing, his poems and stand-up.

The lo-fi approach is welcoming, setting him up as a warm, endearing and non-threatening performer, and leading to some nicely underplayed laughs. But over an hour, he overeggs this lack of sheen, to the detriment of the comedy.

It’s frustrating, because this former Cambridge Footlighter knows how to draw out an absurdist joke. His early poem/routine about the parachutist forgetting his canopy is absolutely marvellous, like a human, extended version of the Gary Larson Far Side cartoons.

But it’s also one of the few times in this show that he lets an idea unfold unimpeded. At almost every other turn he sabotages his own momentum: interrupting poems to over-analyse every line or meandering aimlessly in his monologues.

There needs to be some structure or ambiance to sustain a 60-minute show, of course. Or ‘Poem, poem, poem? I don’t think so!,’in the mock indignant words of Key. So he invents a deliberately pointless structure, and fosters a mood of uncertainty in his own ability.

Sometimes this works very well, and usually when he’s not drawing overt attention to it. A case in point is the way he can never use the simple ‘said’ in his verse, preferring a range of emotionally charged synonyms, however inappropriately. A sly running gag he lets us all in on, surreptitiously.

But when he plays up to the rambling image, the result can become near-excruciating, such as his cack-handed Christmas play, introduced just when the show is starting to run out of steam anyway, that gets too bogged down in its deliberate low quality to raise the laughs. At least the plays what Ern wrote had a sense of fun…

In the end, the number of times he can hold his hands up and admit ‘That really doesn’t work… ’ are limited, and eventually the show grinds into an attritional attack on our patience.

It’s a disappointment that it didn’t turn out quite how it could. Key has bagloads of charm, a truly delightful turn of phrase and a keen eye for the absurd, and there are plenty of original and subtly witty moments in this often enjoyable hour. But there’s also too much dry waffling.

The audience reviews from Key’s Edinburgh run are completely divided: five stars or none, with virtually no middle ground. Truth is there are a good smattering of both five-star and no-star moments in the same show. Such wild inconsistency could be the undoing of him, just as much as the sublime moments could be the making of him. Fingers crossed for option B.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Arts Theatre Cellar, London, December 2007

Review date: 1 Dec 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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