John Shuttleworth: A Man With No More Rolls

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

Baffled by the title? A Man With No More Rolls, explains John Shuttleworth, is down to a printer’s error. It should read ‘A Man With No Morals’.

Yes, that’s the sort of pained wordplay on which Graham Fellows has sustained his mild-mannered creation over an incredible 24-year career. The benign but hapless singer-songwriter has again broken out of South Yorkshire’s community halls and hospice circuit for another national tour, offering the usual trivial grumbles and joyfully amateurish middle-of-the-road pop ditties, accompanied by his faithful portable Yamaha.

He’s a late middle-aged man in his own gentle world. He knows what he likes, and likes what he knows. He fears hummus because it ‘looks a bit dirty’, is perturbed by the blinds his wife Mary – a primary-school dinnerlady – installs in the kitchen and gets sleepless nights if he opens two tubs of spread at the same time: ‘Two margarines on the go/It’s a nightmare scenario’ he sings, reprising an old hit.

It’s a fine balancing act to be a boring character without being boring, and there are moments in this show when Shuttleworth risks upsetting that; though it only takes a beautifully mundane turn of phrase or charming malapropism to get back on track – and there are plenty of them. ‘Pompadom’ has to be a favourite you’ll want to adopt, though I’m less convinced about ‘Peter’s bread’ for pitta bread, however often he uses it.

The comedy of this finely honed character lies in the detail, with plenty of small delights for the attentive, such as the disgruntled ‘ooof’ his wife Mary makes, parroting Shuttleworth’s own ‘catch-noise’, or the language he uses in his song lyrics, which makes strange poetry out of the most unpoetic phrases.

Although his amateurish is largely a delight, it can sometimes appear as if Shuttleworth’s awkwardness is a thin disguise for a lack of preparation, meaning Fellows can get away with half-written songs, unrehearsed lighting effects and a few moments of dead time as we wait for the projector to warm up…

This is for a short animated film about Oliver Cromwell’s head – stuck on a pole above Westminster Hall then touted around as a relic for centuries. This quirkily informative interlude is something of a departure for Shuttleworth, whose concerns are usually more domestic; such as the saga involving his wife, agent Ken Worthington, and a misplaced broadsword, played out over a series of phone calls from the stage reminiscent of his multilayered Radio 4 shows.

Some of the newer material is still a little unsure, though the unfinished Magic Carpet song is full of promise and Smells Like White Spirit is an inspired parody. How’s Your Nan? makes the most of another bit of torturous punnery over elderly relatives and Indian food, but stretches the gag.

But he’s always got a huge back catalogue of cult hits to fall back on, many of which are given another crowdpleasing airing here: the cheerily catchy Austin Ambassador Y Reg, the poignant Pigeons In Flight and I Can’t Go Back To Savoury Now, the cheeky Eggs And Gammon. Fans will know and love all of these, and a spirit of irresistible fun spreads through the theatre as he trots through most of these classics in the encore. The Totley Rise Rest Home’s loss is comedy’s gain.

Review date: 1 Dec 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Ambassadors Theatre

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