Tim Minchin And His Orchestra

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

‘Nothing ruins comedy like arenas,’ sings Tim Minchin with usual self-reference. ‘But your enjoyment isn’t as important as my self-esteem.’

But if you’re going to play big spaces, this is the way to do it; with a 55-piece orchestra and a juggernaut full of showmanship, making this a big show in every sense.

He’s not the first comic to bring on the musical big guns, of course. Both Bill Bailey and Barry Humphries tried it last year to mixed and dismal effect respectively. But what Minchin’s done, most sensibly, is not involve the Heritage Orchestra in any comic business, but just let them do what they do best; adding power and scale to his already potent and grandiose numbers. The effect is irresistible.

So classic songs such as Prejudice, Not PerfectAnd If I Didn’t Have You are given fairly straightforward orchestral arrangements, but he also gets to push the classical maestros outside their normal comfort zone, having them take a brief pop at disco, or backing up the funky boogie-woogie of his semi-brooding, semi-jaunty showstopper Dark Side. And what finer use for collective centuries of musical training than to insult the Pope over child abuse cover-ups in a catchy yet gloriously foul-mouthed rag.

The song Context is a typically daring ditty, in which our barefoot balladeer says the unsayable, causing palpable discomfort around the room as fans wonder just where he is going with lyrics that appear to be horrifically racist. He pushes beyond irony, and beyond the point you’re still certain everything is going to be all right. But don’t worry, it is.

But that tension is nothing as to when he starts talking about idiotic Christian fundamentalist Terry Jones – the pastor who threatened to burn Korans on 9/11 and who’s now in the news again thanks to publicity-seeking English bigots. Minchin, who makes no secret of his atheist standing, talks convincingly about why any book should be sacred – and produces a copy of the Koran. You could probably hear the sound of 6,000 or so buttocks clenching even if the orchestra was playing at full volume.

In Rock And Roll Nerd, and in some of his banter, Minchin protests that as a largely untroubled middle-class comedian he has no real edge – but routines such as this prove he can make the audience feel genuinely uncomfortable. Because he does it with intellectual rigour rather than provoking reflex repulsion with sick jokes about disabled children makes it more challenging, not less. Elsewhere, he makes further uncomfortable jokes about his irritation at his four-year-old, or about Western comforts compared to many in the world, which nonetheless manage to be funny.

Religious faith takes a fresh battering in another new song about the power of prayer -– but liberal sacred cows are given a musical skewering too, in a marvellously iconoclastic song combating the notion that there’s any clear-cut distinction between good and evil. There’s even more depth to his tender ballad Beauty, which doesn’t even attempt humour – but lest you think Minchin gets crushed under his own seriousness, there’s a long, funky and utterly silly new number in praise of cheese.

It’s on big production numbers like this that the orchestra really brings proceedings to exciting life. But some songs are just as emotive without them – as an encore he sings his touching and beautiful Christmas song White Wine In The Sun with only his piano, and the audience rise to their feet.

One lyric of this goes ‘it’s sentimental I know, but I just really like it’ – and that’s the hidden joy of Minchin’s show; he’s not afraid of sincerity, even at the risk of sounding schmaltzy. But the combination of his honesty and his commanding powers as an entertainer means that elephant trap is a avoiding in what is a superlative night out. And in an arena, too – who would have thought it?

Review date: 14 Dec 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Brighton Centre

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