Harry Hill: Sausage Time

Note: This review is from 2013

Review by Steve Bennett

In the later days of TV Burp, Harry Hill made no secret of how grueling he found wading through the hours of footage needed to generate 24 minutes of material every week. Now free from those binds, his first stand-up tour for six year radiates the irresistible joyful enthusiasm of a child who’s unexpectedly been released from his geography homework to go and play in the snow.

And when such a unique comic talent renews his passion for surreal invention, the result is simply brilliant.

He throws himself into exploits that don’t really become a 48-year-old man, with no sense of embarrassment. But then he’s not really a middle-aged ex-doctor, but a cartoon-like construct, from that distinctive big-collared look to the bold, exaggerated movement, cavorting around the stage as if controlled by the Thunderbirds puppeteers.

From the real world, his broad style overlaps with everything from Bruce Forsyth to Vic & Bob, via Max Wall and old-school character stand-ups such as Jimmy Cricket. He has no reluctance or shame in employing age-old variety techniques, executed with utter commitment, to sell the strange world of his imagination. Suddenly this style seems subversive.

While his stock-in-trade is the preposterous, astute observations and solid jokes underpin all the nonsense, adding an extra depth and ensuring his material appeals to the head as well as the heart. There are gags in here that any more traditional man-and-a-mic stand up would envy, while the madly surreal lies beautifully with the mundane – a wild flight of fancy followed by the promise of a treat of a lunch in the Bhs cafe.

The first half of Sausage Time is as you might expect of him, a manic mash-up of daft jokes, prop gags, puns, physical nonsense and musical stings, delivered with the help of backing duo The Caterers. He’s even brought an old mattress on stage, just to bounce on, all part of spreading the glee by ensuring that, first and foremost, he’s having fun.

Hill’s content is not all flyaway nonsense. This is a family-friendly show which somehow manages to turn heroin abuse and assisted suicide into Knockabout scenes. Muslim fundamentalists become oddballs forever seeking their friend, ‘Alan’. But there can never be any sense of edge for a man who’s party piece is singing a song of the audience’s choosing in the Tongan language. ELO’s Mr Blue Sky sounds particularly splendid in this dialect, we can report.

In the second half, he ratchets up the already insane nonsense another level, with a full-on pantomime of the outrageous. It starts with a sublime piece of subtle silent comedy worthy of Hollywood’s golden era, a gag expressed with a simple glance, before escalating into scenes of madcap intensity that reduce the audience to hysterics. If you don’t think you like such slapstick, it’s probably because you’ve never seen it done as well as this, nor with such admirable commitment to the gag.

Favourite old characters do appear over the evening, but those not already au fait with Hill’s work won’t be left behind. Only his business with his ‘son’ Gary – the ventriloquist’s doll who played Alan Sugar on TV Burp – is a little self-indulgent, but quickly forgiveable.

And as for the finale, it’s an idea of such magnificently stupid excess that it will be remembered long after any erudite one-liner. Sausage Time is a proper all-singing, all-dancing ‘showbusiness’ show; a high-octane extravaganza that parades one spectacle after the next in a way that PT Barnum would be proud of... guaranteeing a cracking night out.

Review date: 10 Feb 2013
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Oxford New Theatre

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