Elgar Comedy in the Royal Albert Hall

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

The Royal Albert Hall is, without a doubt, one of Britain’s most magnificent venues, instilling a sense of occasion into anyone who walks though its elegant doors.

But as a comedy venue, its studio, the Elgar Room, is more problematic. It’s functional, rather than inmate, and although sterling attempts have been to make the best of what could be mistaken for a conference room in an upmarket hotel, its formal tables and menus offering £220-a-bottle Dom Perignon engenders a passive atmosphere among an audience which seems largely drawn from the venue’s mailing list of concert and theatre-goers.

The lack of MC depletes the ambience, too. At the end, we’re simply told it’s over and the lights come on with a disorientating anticlimax – and at the start, first act Sean McLoughlin tries some of his own compering but can make nothing of value from his ‘What’s your name? What’s your job?’ expeditions. This therefore seems like a futile time-filler, achieving opposite of their desired effect.

He seems acutely sensitive to the strange air in the room, but his constant self-conscious references to it do nothing to help anyone relax. The best he could do is present his material and hope for the best, but instead he reflects his frustrations back at the audience, which only makes them more uptight.

When McLoughlin gets into his routines, things are more promising. He has some bleakly descriptive passages about his grinding poverty, a picture of misery that’s reinforced with stories of his failures with women that are more heartfelt than the usual ‘I’m so awkward’ complains of so many comedians.

His best material comes at a slight angle to the world – which is exactly as he delivers it, his tall, whippet-thin frame bending awkwardly on stage, as if he’s wearing his downtrodden angst like a heavy overcoat. With that, his downbeat worldview is alluring, but self-sabotaged by the apparently contradictory combination of neediness and insouciance that make him difficult to connect with.

Pat Cahill, in contrast, ignored the difficult environment and simply ploughed through his inventive material regardless of response. He’s widening his repertoire and delivered a mix of old and new tonight, with many routines built on the cornerstone of jaunty, if preposterous, rhymes such as his pre-gig pep talk to himself, the extension of the ‘beer then wine is fine’ drinking advice and more.

Some routines could do with tightening, such as his story about a rivalry with a bloke called Gary and his children’s show that prepares youngsters for the miseries of the real world – but they still contain a fair proportion of stupid yet downbeat lines.

Finally, sketch duo Totally Tom, whose fixation with the upper-middle classes is surely perfect for this swanky corner of expensive Kensington. They have energy and bags of performance flair, but some of the their characters are samey – their Made In Chelsea-style Sloane girls and the Hitler Youth sound remarkably similar… but maybe that’s the satire.

Otherwise they employ the usual mocking of the clichéd ‘this is *such* a random party’ talk that these old Etonians – who we should maybe call ‘Totes’ Tom – are no doubt very familiar. But occasional flashes of invention suggest they are capable of putting their confidence and grace into something more distinctive… even if as two well-spoken white boys that’s always going to be a challenge.

The pair ended on a rather downbeat note, however, with a creepy sketch about the human misery behind strip clubs, which seemed too close to home to be funny. And as the awkwardness hung in the air, the lights were snapped on, and that’s the abrupt end of an altogether strange night.

Review date: 24 May 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Royal Albert Hall

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