Eddie Izzard: Wunderbar | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham
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Eddie Izzard: Wunderbar

Note: This review is from 2019

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

Eddie Izzard says Wunderbar will be his swansong tour before delving into the murky waters of politics. So with typical ambition, all he wants to do is come up with a grand universal theory to explain everything from the Big Bang to what happened last Tuesday. 

This broadly means recognising that we are each the product of all that has gone before – across aeons via evolution, across centuries from ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’, across decades from what we inherit and learn from our families.

Top of his thinking is to consider what makes humans so special. ‘Talking and imagination’ is the sensible conclusion Izzard comes to… but not before having some fun with the idea.

This overarching notion opens the door for him to have some fun with anthropomorphism: from imagining dinosaur discussion groups; what an excitable dog is saying when it yaps a ‘stranger danger’ warning; and reenacting toast-eating marmosets pondering a post-apocalyptic landscape. Plus, why are humans the only species with a bat-based vigilante hero?

Most of these one-man sketches are just silly – but with the same inalienable internal logic that has made some of Izzard’s most defining routines endure so strongly. Satisfyingly, there’s also sometimes an unlikely point to be made: when he shows tigers praying before the hunt (they later end up sounding like Tommy Cooper, oddly) it’s to demonstrate how God is purely a human invention, ridiculous in any other context.

Fact and fiction swirl together over the wide-ranging dissertation. When the comedian describes how William The Conqueror exploded, it sounds like a Tudor take on the Mr Creosote sketch from his comedy heroes, Monty Python. But a quick consultation with Professor Google confirms it as historical truth. However, you’d be right to be sceptical, given how much energy he expends trying to convince us that his daft bullshit is true.

Although many of his set pieces are potential classics, Izzard does get a little lost a couple of times: a routine about board games is over-egged, as, aptly, is a minor obsession with cake-baking. Segues sometime flounder, too – even making allowance for his trademark delivery that at least seems half-remembered, half-improvised. 

But these feel like early kinks during what’s only his third UK outing of a show he developed in French and German before forming it into an English language whole, typical of a man who likes playing life on the difficult setting. Any misstep is ultimately immaterial in a show that has such an ambitious scope – and mostly delivers on it.

His future political career is occasionally touched upon, normally eliciting a supportive round of applause for good intentions. Needless to say, he’s opposed to the ‘Brex-hate’ and ‘Trump-hate’ spread by politicians who take the simplistic route of spreading fear, rather than the harder path of building positivity. 

But as he’s done throughout his career, this is mostly contained in the preamble. He advisedly keeps the explicit political messages out of the bulk of his stand-up, hoping his talk of human achievement and connectivity beneath the surreal freewheeling will do the job more subtly. 

There’s something of a departure from his usual shtick in the second half where he temporarily parks the flights of fancy that spring from his grand philosophising to reflect on some more personal real-life stories. He takes us through his multiple marathons; the hazards of swimming in the jellyfish-infested sea; and the few formative years he spent growing up in Northern Ireland. The combination of a curious mind and stoic determination – which he’ll need in politics – is evident. 

Wunderbar genuinely swoops from the sublime to the ridiculous. How many comics will namecheck a specific gene as well as mime a suspicious seagull? And apropos of little, he’ll offer a hilarious hybrid of Afrikaans and Brummie to try to capture JRR Tolkein’s accent, which goes down especially well here in Birmingham. Yet there’s an almost invisible thread tying it all together. 

Dressed in full-on girl mode – thigh-length plaid skirt, high-heel boots and a cracking pair of tits (from Ikea, he tells us) – Izzard is on strong form. 

If he does make good on his promise to head for Westminster, he’ll be quitting near the top of his game, not in hubristic decline.

And once he’s fully embroiled in political machinations, the recordings of this show will remind us of why that will be comedy’s loss.

Eddie Izzard tours Wunderbar across the UK and Ireland until mid-November. Dates.

Review date: 19 Sep 2019
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Birmingham Alexandra Theatre

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