Bill Bailey: Larks In Transit in the West End | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Wyndhams Theatre, London
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Bill Bailey: Larks In Transit in the West End

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Wyndhams Theatre, London

Bill Bailey must surely warrant national treasure status by now. For the comedian represents the best of us: eccentric, curious, sardonic, creatively and passively-aggressively rebellious, and patriotic about Britain’s peculiar eccentricities without being in the slightest bit nationalistic. 

Indeed his celebration, or affectionate mocking, of other country’s traits is a small part of Larks In Transit as he shares some of his globe-trotting stories, which tend to start with phrases such as: ‘So I was making this documentary about otters….’ 

He certainly has the air of a old-time patrician schoolmaster as he puffs on his empty pipe and demanding of the audience: ‘You, boy, where do we get the name Thursday from?’

The lessons continue as he muses on England’s defeat by the Vikings at the 991 Battle of Maldon, how Aristophanes originated an insult, or the use of birdsong in modern rap music. No wonder he’s in demand on QI.

He’s at ease in his eclectic, arcane universe, as well as with his own place in the world, forever being cast as the ‘bewildered farmer’ in movies. Bailey may confess to becoming increasingly intemperate  in his middle age, but anger is not really in him, just occasional disappointed exasperation.

That certainly extends to Brexit, which he likens to Britain’s drifting away from the Continent on a ‘semi-inflated lilo of self-determination’, just one of several delightfully esoteric turns of phrase brought into play. Describing the way online news consumption reduces everything to ‘a thin humous we dip into with the stale pitta bread of self-loathing’ is a particular joy.

And on the subject of Europe, Bailey shows that anything Eddie Izzard can do, he can do too (maybe apart from the marathon-running), and delivers a chunk of the show in hilarious cod German. 

There are a few well-used premises across the West End, which has evolved since we saw in on tour in February, from how inappropriate the West Country accent is to any serious job, to the odd conversations that phrasebooks seem to think are everyday. But the examples Bailey uses are perfectly judged in their peculiarities.

Of course comedy’s most versatile musical virtuoso also offers his usual mash-ups and re-imaginings of familiar, from Old Macdonald in the style of Tom Waits, via Theresa May’s utterances underpinning a 1990s-style dancefloor banger, to familiar songs played in a minor key – making the Star Spangled Banner sound suspiciously Soviet – or vice-versa.

Audiences would, I’m sure, be happy to hear him noodling away on his eclectic instruments for hours, with his set-up now including the likes of an iPhone and a handpan, which looks like an upside-down barbecue, as well as old favourites such as the Theremin and Bible-guitar.

And that’s the essence of Bailey’s appeal, a mix of downplayed eccentricities and whimsical observations we can all wallow in, with flashes of great musical showmanship to ratchet the performance up a notch. Two hours of great company, pure and simple.

Bill Bailey is at the Wyndhams Theatre until January 5, then resumes his UK tour in May. Dates and tickets.

Review date: 7 Dec 2018
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Wyndham's Theatre

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