Al Murray: Barrel Of Fun

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

When Al Murray first donned his burgundy blazer in 1994, he could have had no idea that the Pub Landlord character would be going strong 16 years later, with half a dozen DVDs, three series of an ITV chat show and 37 sitcom episodes among the career highlights.

But it probably gets no easier. How to keep the caricature fresh for those who have watched his progress, without affecting the elements made him such a success? And how to maintain a sense of occasion for each new batch of tour dates.

In this Barrel Of Fun show, which was being recorded in London for DVD, Murray’s tinkered a little with the winning formula – but still couldn’t reach the highs of the pig-headed Guv at his intoxicating best.

Compared to his unsubtle gig at the O2 Arena last year, he toned down the rabble-rousing for the more intimate confines of the Hammersmith Apollo, though still persuaded the audience to join in gleefully with a few new choice phrases, like an overbearing playgroup leader. And though there were a few obligatory jibes at the French and the Germans, his biggest bugbear this year is the far-from-contentious squirrel. Hell, Murray even stood up for one much-ridiculed minority – the gingers, turning the old gags on their copper heads. It’s political correctness gone mad, I tell you…

This arose in the first chunk of the show, which comprises his superbly sharp banter with the audience, with their ‘beautiful British names’. This often involves portraying them as lazy and feckless workers, merely massaging the uniquely self-deprecating element of the national psyche, while youngsters are teased about their inability to get served at the bar.

As for the bulk of his set, he typically doles out his misguided opinions, constructing elaborate arguments to make his warped case. It means the pace can be slow… taking a good ten minutes of emphatic bluster, constant repetition and forceful audience interaction to construct his perfect chat-up line. It’s all done in a spirit of fun, but when the result is something of a damp squib, it seems a palaver to get there.

It’s similar with his rant about the ex-Nazi Pope, which is pretty standard comedy fare, however much we play along with his ‘bonkers mental’ catchphrase. Talking of standard fare, he also tackles the oldest one in the book: the difference between men and women – though he absolutely nails it with his hilarious description of the genders’ differing emotional landscapes. And you can sense the release when he encourages the men in the room to voice a complaint they’ll all have had about their partners, but daren’t ever have said aloud. ‘This is edgy stuff,’ Murray teases… and it kind of is.

Although the show is built around big set pieces, the convoluted arguments don’t work so well for Murray as the briefer, knowing asides. He may spend ages berating the squirrels, using a sporting audience patsy to make his silly point, but the comedy is sharper when he dismisses cows with one apparently throwaway line.

The Pub Landlord is a beautiful British institution. But like so many beautiful British institutions, he perhaps isn’t quite what he once was; even though he quite clearly has his moments, and a lightning-fast mind with the audience badinage.

  • Al Murray: Barrel Of Fun is released on DVD on November 22. Click here to preorder from Amazon

Review date: 11 Oct 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Eventim Apollo

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