Alan Partridge: Stratagem | Review of Steve Coogan's new live tour
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Alan Partridge: Stratagem

Review of Steve Coogan's new live tour

The key to Alan Partridge’s longevity – besides Steve Coogan’s incredible immersion in the creation – is that he’s so perfectly gauche in any situation, always falling just short of the self-awareness that would save him from humiliation. Not that he ever quite realises how socially inept he’s being.

His latest venture, Stratagem, is a motivational personal improvement seminar and is pure, unadulterated Partridge. But comedically that’s not quite the asset it might seem.

For if Partridge were to put on such a presentation, it would be clumsily ambitious, a stodgy jumble of strained, over-the-top ideas that don’t fit together, making it sluggish to watch. True to the character, that’s what we have, with the parody sailing so close to the real thing that it stumbles into the same pitfalls. 

The audience really are asked to watch an awkwardly weird time-travelling playlet in Partridge interacts with a future avatar of his 105-year-old self with a can-can dancer’s legs. It might have seemed a good idea in the minds of either Partridge or Coogan and his co-writers Rob and Neil Gibbons. But in reality, it loses much of the audience. And are these dated, sub-Clarkson jokes about Richard Hammond being small the actual gags, or is their weakness supposed to be ironic? 

Partridge is at his most cringingly funny when he has a smarter adversary to clash with, in front of someone he’s trying to impress. When he’s outwitted or brought down by his hubris, he loses face, and possibly more if the jeopardy’s ramped up. 

But Stratagem is his ego project, and he only occasionally interacts with someone else. So when things go wrong, there’s no consequence, he just blasts on with his big-budget show.

It starts impressively strong. Within the first few minutes, we have a misfiring Hamilton-inspired rap as ’Dr’ Alan Gordon Partridge, in his white polo neck (‘what Jesus Christ would wear if he was Steve Jobs’) boasts of his command of the ‘cross-platform media environment’, introduces his awful sponsors and mocks the lack of diversity in his overwhelmingly white, middle-aged audience.

The character’s desperate bids for relevance are aways strong, from his lamentable attempts to be chummy with his young, diverse troupe of back-up dancers, to the underlying suggestion this whole project is a cynical leap on to a mental health bandwagon. 

But this gets lost in a selection of disjointed sketches, with Coogan spending much time interacting with the giant screen, his back to the audience. 

With no great concern for the ‘life coach’ premise, we used the CCTV in Alan’s house to eavesdrop on long-suffering PA Lynn who’s house-sitting. While it’s a delight to see Felicity Montagu, even via screen, this seems a clumsy add-on. More successfully, we visit Martin Brennan, the Irish farmer from This Time, who mercifully cuts short Alan’s dreadful poem of Emerald Isle clichés.

Alan Partridge Stratage with Emma_Sidi

Some moments zing with the choreographed moments adding a suitable sense of arena-scale occasion. The second half opens with a brilliantly ridiculous sight gag, and as expected, in-person interactions work better than the giant Zoom-style conversations. Emma Sidi shines brilliantly as two characters so totally different she’s almost unrecognisable as the same actor: a confident graduate of Stratagem now outshining Partridge and a loud woman pulled out of the audience, above, disrupting his hoped-for slickness. In both cases, Alan’s upstaged, and his pathetic essence comically exposed in a way it’s not when he’s at the centre of an elaborate showpiece.

So while there are scenes of brilliance, overall Stratagem puts the ‘a-ha!’ in ‘a half-baked concept’.

• Stratagem With Alan Partridge is on tour until June 3.  Alan Partridge tour dates

Review date: 29 Apr 2022
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Birmingham Utilita Arena

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