Matthew Hayhurst: Retirement Show | Comedian looks back on his 126-year comedy career
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Matthew Hayhurst: Retirement Show

Comedian looks back on his 126-year comedy career

Save some convoluted premise setting the events in purgatory, this is a chronological run-through of the fictional – and very unlikely-sounding – 126-year comedy career of Matthew Hayhurst.

He purportedly started as a Cockney stage-sweeper on the London stage – as Kate Berlant did in her very different show that came to Soho Theatre last year – and from these beginnings in the Victorian music halls passed Zelig-like though the ensuing decades of comedy history.

He’s a character dumb enough not to realise the aspiring painter he met in the 1920s would turn out to be Adolf Hitler or that he was playing in a cacophonous jazz outfit with John F Kennedy in the 1960s. However, that’s largely the extent of his brushes with the famous.

Instead, his career is mapped out through the ages, from making anti-German wartime propaganda ditties, through the double entendres of Carry On-style films, Lenny Bruce-adjacent beatnik, Thatcher-rant alternative comedy, gunge-filled 1990s gameshows, and finally arriving at a late-career reinvention as a TikTok star.

They are all fairly simple parodies, with the jokes spread thin and with little angle beyond calling the 1970s sexist  or having the 1980s comedians put politics above entertainment. 

This Retirement Show is a poor second to the dense, snarky and stylish romps through entertainment history that Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse previously created – even if it’s surely unfair to compare two comics icons with decades of experience and all the machinery of TV production to a fringe show in a pub theatre. 

But there’s little feeling of what Hayhurst wants to do with the stage he’s got, other than much about on it, and the show isn’t funny enough for that not to matter. Certainly, his persona is never anything but superficial, being whatever he current sketch demands rather than a character you’d invest in.

Hayhurst is not without good lines – often throwaway tags or pointed descriptions that surprise when you least expect – but too few to sustain just over an hour. The title of the topical comedy format he allegedly piloted with Lenny Henry is wittily inventive, while he summed up the scandals of the 1970s in a pithy phrase. But they are notable partly because they are relatively rare.

On the credit side, Hayhurst is a gregarious performer it’s easy to warm to, not taking any of his nonsense too seriously. I’d wager his love of the novelty comedy song is not as ironic as he pretends it to be, revelling in his cringey ‘what’s up homies?’-style 1990s rap or the catchphrase-driven electopop number Beef Dinner On The Beach.

But turning a likeable persona into a viable show is a tricky prospect, and one this young comedian has not yet mastered.

• Matthew Hayhurst: Retirement Show is on at the Drayton Arms Theatre in South Kensington, London, at 7.30pm tonight.

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Review date: 22 Jan 2024
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Drayton Arms Theatre

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