Ross Noble: Things in the West End

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

To call Things a consistent, easily definable show would be to grossly misunderstand how Ross Noble works. Other than the set – a giant inflatable four-headed chimera – this West End run bears little resemblance to the tour that first went out on the road this spring.

However, that is not the result of gradual evolution over the months. The flighty Geordie is known for improvising vast swathes of his act from night to night depending on what, or more likely, who, sparks his fertile imagination. It gives each performance a special feel, knowing that the material is quite unrepeatable outside this specific moment in space and time.

Not that unscripted spontaneity is used to excuse feeble gags, however, as Noble turns over as many good ideas in one night as most comics do in a year. Tonight, most of his mind-spews are sparked by modest Mika in the front row, coyly hiding her mouth behind a veil of chiffon every time she’s spoken to. It sets in motion a rich train of thought about ‘convertible Muslims’, more silly than contentious, though Noble has some fun with the slight frisson mere mention of a burkha invokes. E

Further exploration reveals his temporary muse is – comedy gods be praised – a dog psychologist, which sparks a very quick-witted one-liner. But Noble avoids the temptation to dwell on the topic too long after extracting the initial laughs. Whether that’s out of concern for focussing too much on a reluctant punter is open for debate; his brain leaps around like a peripatetic flea with restless leg syndrome, and it’s unlikely he can focus on anything for too long. And, besides, there are more laughs to be had with her companion, and his job with the Fair Trade movement.

Noble’s attention deficiency means you can’t expect closure on all of his routines. Although he often recalls where he was before some detour takes him woefully off-topic, he equally as likely won’t, and will march on with restless enthusiasm for the next new thing.

So we’re whisked wildly around topics from Star Wars’s Boba Fett to Wilson, Keppel and Betty; from Dragon’s Den’s Duncan Ballantyne, to Mr Potato Head. He has the attention span of the YouTube generation, and a childish urge to fool around in word and deed, simply because it’s funny, free of the responsibility of consequences. Traits that hamper him in the real world are an asset for devil-may-care comedy.

The few set pieces he does deliver include imagining Jesus with flat-pack furniture, which remains lightly funny despite laying on the blatant surrealism a bit thick, and a witty tale of his ill-fated attempts to propose in Epping forest, contrasting his klutzy efforts with the suaveness with which one punter achieved the same deed. It’s a rare, but welcome, bit of personal comedy in a show which otherwise treats major incidents, such as losing everything he owned in the Australian bush fires or the birth of his first daughter, Elf, as purely incidental.

Everything is delivered with a youthful energy verging on fanaticism, even if watching him pace around, forever tracing an imaginary square on the stage floor, can be dizzying.

One thing that does, thankfully, appear to have been dropped is the convention of fans leaving gifts on the stage during he interval, which invariable led to an indulgent second-half which excluded those who didn’t get the in-jokes. Here, Noble is undiluted.

Even those who might think they don’t like the sort of flights of fancy in which Noble specialises should find something amusing here. And i any case, it’s often the sudden realisation of how ridiculous he’s being that raises the chuckles more than those imaginings themselves.

Whether this West End run actually brings him more fans remains to be seen, but it’ll certainly reinforce his reputation for gleeful, freewheeling silliness.

Review date: 22 Sep 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Apollo Theatre

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