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The Brandreth Papers

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Julia Chamberlain

Gyles Brandreth’s son Benet is totally a chip off the old block, the Brandreth voice is so instantly recognisable in this impressive bit of storytelling.

This show  is difficult to comment on, it is so erudite and  more a dramatic monologue than comedy. It’s as dense as a Christmas cake and combines Thucydides, a panoply of Greeks, Shakespearian references, Goethe, Shirley Bassey and a boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again storyline.  

The idea is that a debonair man about town, a global troubleshooter on speed dial to world leaders, is telling us of his life as high-achieving Cambridge alumnus, of ginormous intellect, talent and  suavity, who pursues his acting dream to Hollywood, after the collapse of his romance.  In fact, you could see this as a knight’s quest where he has to learn humility and selflessness to win back the affections of his lady, while fighting the dragons  of self-interest, arrogance and  insincerity.  The royal family are bit part players in this modern romance.

With his tongue firmly in his cheek, Brandreth does make you run to keep up with his terms of reference. He’s a skilful raconteur, but there is so much crammed in here that it is exhausting and he gives out a sheet of humorous footnotes (his flyer) at the end so you can catch up.   I don’t know whether to feel grateful or patronised.

Some of the time I felt this would read better than it plays (thinking of some of Woody Allen’s self consciously learned references in his prose pieces), but Brandreth is a charismatic Act-or, playing a bit of a pompous twit.  He’s incredibly watchable, and if nothing else this is a feat of memory and enunciation that leaves  more shambolic, casual comedians in the dust as far as meticulous preparation and writing goes. There is no point in this show where you think he could be winging it.  However, feeling intellectually  inferior and overawed after an hour is not  a particularly comfortable experience.  

The story of a one man’s over-privileged trip through Cambridge, Hollywood, the art world and the royal yacht, whilst learning about true love and redemption, would make a marvellous, ‘James Bond as panto’ piece, except John Dowie did it a couple of decades ago.  However, pantomimes come back year on year and Brandreth, even if he is more than up to the pressure, could add a couple of cast members  to at least let the audience feel less overwhelmed.  

Like Stephen Fry and Jonathan Miller before him, Brandreth is too clever by three-quarters; but maybe, like them, he has the potential to be the acceptable face of towering wit and intellect.  

This is intense storytelling, self consciously brilliant comedy for the mind rather than the heart and guts.  You admire him and the performance rather than actually being moved to laughter, but it is impressive.

Review date: 12 Aug 2011
Reviewed by: Julia Chamberlain

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