Greenwich Comedy Festival: Tim Minchin etc

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

There are few better ways to get a party started than with Tim Minchin, so what perfect choice to kick off the third Greenwich Comedy Festival, another week of top-drawer comics in the glorious and historic Old Royal Naval College.

There were, however, a few teething problems with the 1,800-seater marquee. The gig was half an hour late starting, Minchin's radio mic gave up the ghost midway through his first song, and some lighting cable came untethered and fell (harmlessly) on to the audience. Such drama.

Luckily compere Dan Atkinson guided us nimbly through such palavers. He has something of a chaotic demeanour himself, but is surprisingly, and reassuringly, controlled with it. In a similarly contradictory manner, he's quirkily idiosyncratic, but easily to relate to – at least if you’re not a primary school teacher, an occupation he has tremendous fun baiting. A couple of his left-field lines are near the knuckle, but always delivered with a cheeky glint that makes them instantly forgivable.

Festival bookers didn’t look too far from Atkinson on the A-Z list of comedians for opening act Dan Antopolski, who was visibly put on the back foot by the size of the audience, and admitted as much. Still, being in awe of the crowd rather suits his man-child persona: awkward, hesitant and clad in awful knitwear. His set was faltering, not quite building momentum, even though his impressively agile wordplay drew sold laughs – even if you also grimace through some of the more torturous examples. His quiet, eager-to-please charm goes a long way, too.

After the first interval, sublime anti-poet Tim Key delivered an all-too short set of his finest work, applying decidedly un-poetic language to mundane situations, and creating fragments of hilarious beauty because of it. His ‘harrowing’ war verse, with its blindsiding punchline deserves special mention, but his unique style of writing and delivery, part-naturalistic, part-affected, was as richly rewarding as ever.

Holly Walsh got a good reception, too, playing up her South East London connection as a resident of nearby Peckham, rough but battling valiantly to gentrify. Her nuggets of personal observations are of variable quality, with the best conjuring up moments of strange embarrassment, but she delivers with such enthusiasm and emphasis as to win the crowd over. She even gets laughs out of two very similar payoffs about pregnancy testing kits, even though, in theory, the routines should have been much further apart.

After a second interval, the man everyone came to see, Tim Minchin, with some greatest hits including Rock And Roll Nerd, Prejudice and the awesome Pope Song – although muted call-and-response sections seemed to suggest this crowd weren’t entirely au fait with the barefooted Australian’s back catalogue.

There were, too, a couple of more recent numbers, including the unflinchingly honest, if creepily unpalatable, lullaby to his daughter; plus daring Cont which pushed to the limit the audience’s confidence in his motives, before the silly reveal.

Impressive musicality aside, Minchin’s chief skill is the depths to which he will drag the audience down some apparently serious path, delivering with such apparently earnest, heartfelt emotion that natural cynicism is demolished, before he release the comedy pay-off to now devastating effect.

His stand-up matches the skill of the songs, too, with some A-grade material about ‘guilty pleasures’ or a trip to the barber’s, while his army of nerd followers are not neglected with some cheekily geeky discussion about the statistical measure known as the p-value.

This was a rare back-to-basics gig for Minchin – if you can call any set which involves a grand piano ‘basic’. But away from the arenas and full orchestra back-up, he delivered as funny, thoughtful and barnstormingly powerful performance as ever. It was an impressive start to an impressive festival.

Review date: 6 Sep 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Old Royal Naval College

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