Eddie Izzard: Force Majeure

Note: This review is from 2013

Review by Steve Bennett

It’s apt that proud global citizen and proud europhile Eddie Izzard has titled his world tour in French; and even more apposite that it translates as ‘act of God’. For there’s an epic ambition to this show, spanning centuries, civilisations and mythologies – even if the funniest routine is as simple, and as close to home, as taking the mickey out of Olympic dressage.

He’s known for his digressive, disjointed approach, of course, so it might not come as any surprise that the ideas don’t thread neatly into a grand narrative, despite employing recurring surreal motifs as diverse as bananas and a chicken Mark Anthony to offer some illusion of cohesion. Similarly, some of his meandering flights of fantasy don’t quite take hold – and if you don’t buy into the idiosyncratic premises, such routines can feel forced.

But there is a consistent intelligence underpinning the whimsy; his semi-distracted, naturalistically bumbling delivery concealing some significant thinking; while granting him the latitude not to have a line-perfect command of a tightly-written script.

The show opens with a title sequence in the manner of 60s adventure serial, the gentlemanly Izzard appearing like a modern-day John Steed. But the show owes less to the Avengers as it does to Game Of Thrones, given the legendary inspirations.

After some very low-key opening gambits, Izzard gets into the meat of Force Majeure: human sacrifices, the beheading of Charles I and even a little-known fact about Richard The Lionheart provide leaping-off points for historical material; while ancient Greek gods, Lords Of The Ring and The Kraken from Clash Of The Titans lend a mythical edge.

The scope of this truly globe-trotting show (25 nations at last count) perhaps demands a similar scale of topics. There’s no point doing ‘anyone remember Spangles?’ gags in Estonia. There’s a touch, too, of the personal, about his youthful ambitions to join the SAS at the same time he was shoplifting make-up –  but that’s a conversational routine that doesn’t really seem to fit anywhere other than a chat-show sofa, even given the wide-reaching show.

Yet some of the funnier moments are more down-to-earth. The aforementioned dressage routine is an instant, brilliant classic; and even if countless other comics have pointed out how ridiculous the sport is, Izzard proves they needn’t have bothered, with his precise, bizarre imagrey offering the definitive take on the subject. Force Majure, in its current form, might not be Izzard at the very top of his game, but segments within it certainly are. And it’s a game he invented, so he gets to make the rules.

Highlights include him recreating musicals (pretty much all of them) via his Spider In Trouserland composition, trying to tot up the size of the armies in the various Tolkein tribes, or the impracticalities of virgin sacrifices. And there are puns, too, from the old: the Magna Carta being sealed in 1215 ‘just before lunch’ and new; including one which earned both a groan AND an applause break, perhaps the holy grail of wordplay.

He has a jarring habit of throwing in none-to-subtle points about the political right, with self-righteous lines that lack his usual elegance. Perhaps politics is beyond a joke for a comic who’s openly stated he wants to run for London mayor in 2020; but tacking on simple lines bashing right-wingers seem to evoke the laziest days of alternative comedy, when saying ‘Thatcher’ was a free pass to a laugh. And he certainly evokes Godwin’s law of debates, by mentioning Hitler in relation to UKIP-type parties, very quickly.

But there’s a positivity to the politics too, tied in with his global ambitions. He urges us more than once to learn another language, as he so famously has, with some performances how being ‘tout en Francais’. Not that he can’t mock his new second tongue; not least its frustrating insistence that nouns have genders. Perhaps it takes a transvestite to properly point out how arbitrary the male and female label are.

A postscript tries to tie the messy threads of this hour back to his most famous routine of old; and while it’s too messy to fully triumph, it’s inventive, strange and interesting. And that’s a fair reflection of the two hours that preceded it.

Review date: 8 May 2013
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Brighton Centre

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