Alan Francis Expands

Note: This review is from 2013

Review by Steve Bennett

This is stand-up as unfussy as it comes, a self-confessed curmudgeonly middle-aged man bemoaning what the world has become thanks to the march of technology. What was so wrong with books that we need Kindles? Or with padlocks that we need the automated toilet doors on trains? Even genuinely useful advances such as email and mobile phones, he feels we’ve squandered, abused by the spammers and the pornography seekers.

Yes, some of this ventures into territory which might be considered hack – his take on the 72 virgins supposedly awaiting suicide bombers has been knocking around comedy since September 2001 – but at least eight times out of ten he transcends the familiar in this extended routine that packs in the gags, and occasionally shows flashes of pure brilliance.

Take, for example, his tale about being a fey Guardian reader caught in a rough Cockney pub brawl fizzles with precise detail that introduces a real feel for the experience. His magnificent oratorial skills are a fillip, too, magnifying all the the drama and his emotions so that a run-in with a bus driver suddenly has all the gravitas of a Shakespearean epic.

Although he lives in London’s East End now, Francis was born in Edinburgh, and his evocations of the dreariness of a Church Of Scotland sermon and its dirge-like organ music will strike a chord. His burr also means that on the shaggy-dog tales – such as him imagining a wine critic turned down-and-out - there’s more than a touch of Ronnie Corbett about him.

His passions are properly flared when he talks politics. He starts in the era of George Bush and Gordon Brown with observations that are astute, but inevitably feel a little dated, though he brings it up to date with his palpable hatred for David Cameron and George Osbourne. The old socialist is no fan of Ed Miliband, either, but makes a disgustingly apt analogy as to why one is preferable to the other that you can’t scrub from your memory.

After all this negativity, it’s something of a surprise to hear Francis end with a rousing bit of positive oratory. All is not lost, he says, for the Occupy movement proved that youngsters can actively protest for a world they want to and – in some cases at least – have horizons beyond the mobile phone screen. This climax feels almost artificially tagged-on, but my word, is it effective.

But the main message of the day is that the underrated Francis a strong observational comic, more so than many of the younger, thinner, prettier stand-ups who do get the TV breaks. But if he’s bitter.... well that only fuels the comedy.

Review date: 11 Feb 2013
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Leicester Kayal

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