Tim Minchin: Ready For This? on tour

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

Until his appearance on Jonathan Ross’s show on Friday, Tim Minchin didn’t have much in the way of mainstream exposure. How, then, did he defy the laws of marketing and sell out almost 10,000 seats over three nights at the Hammersmith Apollo?

The short answer is by putting on a bloody good show, bringing rock’s overblown tongue-in-cheek histrionics to his virtuoso musical accomplishment. Barefoot, with skinny jeans and shock of mad-scientist hair, he certainly looks the part, while smoke, dramatic lighting and pyrotechnics – both literal and in his performance – add to the sense of occasion. The man is, undoubtedly, a charismatic showman, as the near-unanimous standing ovation he earned attests.

But while he’s a master of populist presentation, he has made fewer concessions in his sometimes forthright material. Who would have thought you could fill theatres with musings on the causation-correlation logical fallacy and a nine-and-a-half-minute jazz-backed beat poems in praise of reason? It shows you can make anything funny if you do it with enough style.

Debunking the irrational is a strong thread in this elegantly subversive and mischievously playful show, being recorded tonight for DVD. That poem, recounting an awkward dinner-party encounter with hippy chick called Storm, contains the most succinct, unarguable rejoinder to ‘alternative medicine’ that you will find anywhere; where elsewhere he snipes at creationists and Christians, proudly wearing his atheism on his sleeve. Even the love song to his wife, If I Didn’t Have You, takes all the mystique out of romance, wittily, subversively undermining it with logic.

He is, in short, a nerd. But probably the coolest nerd you’ll meet. He’s disarmingly self-effacing about the gap between the confidence he gets from the music compared to the enthusiastic, but rather more shy, persona that he adopts when he’s not behind the grand piano. He plays on this skilfully, able to get a laugh from a slightly too-choreographed flick of the hair, or failing to muster the enthusiasm for an obligatory rock-and-roll ‘Yeah!’

There are strong elements of Victoria Wood in his musical style, and Bill Bailey in his personal one, mixed with a generous portion of Tom Lehrer. But Minchin has created his own niche. The songs are more than strong enough to stand up on their own, so it’s a bonus when lines make you laugh out loud, which they frequently do.

Highlights are his beautifully bitter musical repost to an earlier bad review; the perennial classic parody of popstars turning into self-aggrandising eco-preachers, Canvas Bag and Bears Don’t Dig On Dancing, which becomes an hilarious song-and-dance spectacle. Other songs such as Dark Side are more about mood than chuckles, while the joke in the anti-religious Good Book doesn’t quite come off, despite its fine message.

But occasional moments in either stand-up and his song when the wit isn’t as sharp as the ambition are irrelevant. This plays by musical theatre rules, where the aim is to create a vibrant show with catchy tunes and warm wit. For that, top marks.

Minchin shows his range – and his emotional pull – with the encore number, White Wine In The Sun, a remarkably touching Christmas ballad for atheists, which contains not a sniff of a gag. He could so obviously direct his considerable talents in many directions – let’s be thankful comedy is the one he’s chosen.

Review date: 26 Oct 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Eventim Apollo

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