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Elis James: Do You Remember The First Time

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Corry Shaw

Elis James is normally a master of whipping a crowd into a frenzy and getting huge laughs from even the smallest of audiences, but in a room hot enough to melt metal (possibly why my seat was broken) he had to work damn hard to keep this strangely unresponsive sell-out crowd energised.

The material is not the issue. James takes us on a journey of his 'first times' with some nicely-written little tales of growing up in Wales, moving to London as an adult and some of the stops along the way. The show focuses around a figure who has appeared fleetingly throughout James's entire life – and whom he now seems to be a little obsessed with. When he was seven years old he met ITV sports presenter Jim Rosenthal and this unlikely (and largely one-sided) relationship has developed from chance meetings to a heckling from the broadcaster which made the national press. And how odd that James is followed in the Pleasance Attic by Rosenthal’s son Tom – with yet another show involving the commentator.

James is a joy to listen to, not just because of his lilting Welsh accent but because of the passion and timing in the way he weaves his narrative. He paces the hour well with longer stories about his youth interspersed with friendly banter with the audience. He does break out of his flow quite early, though. The heat is getting to him and it's clear from the subdued crowd that they are feeling uncomfortable too. But rather than complain or lambast the venue, James breaks away off script to ensure that everyone has some water and even offers up his technician to fetch drinks for anyone who needs them. This is not rock n roll shock comedy. This is comedy that’s like a warm cuddle from your Nan.

James knows how far he can go too, referencing some ruder jokes he could make but never actually saying them out loud. He is right to stick to his gentle and nonthreatening persona as even these slight references raise a couple of gasps from his audience. He's just too sweet and likeable to be dark. Even a section about his stoner friend singing carols to raise money for his drug habit seems innocent with the phrase 'naughty smoking' and a singalong rendition of Wham's Last Christmas.

The issue that James may have is that the running thread of his chance meetings with Rosenthal are the strongest sections something he clearly recognises as the climax of the hour is focused around this, and the expensive projection screen is purely on stage to show the Daily Mail story involving the pair.

There are huge laughs and genuine interest from the crowd each time James returns to the story and because it is clear that it will be a topic we return to it is difficult to concentrate on what comes between, rapt as we are in the drama of Rosenthal. A point even further exaggerated when James loses concentration and skips ahead in his tale, only to realise that he's missed a section and has to backtrack.

This is a solid hour of stand-up, performed by a very accomplished young act but it is marred by the sheer heat in the venue and the effect it has on James's concentration. With some climate control, perhaps James could deliver the four-star show that this should be.

Review date: 11 Aug 2011
Reviewed by: Corry Shaw

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