Review – Al Murray, Barrel of Fun, Derngate, Northampton, 13th October 2011

Barrel of FunA packed house at the Derngate to see Al Murray, the Pub Landlord, in action. I predicted the bars would be ten deep and I was right. Fortunately we got there early enough to get the rounds in, and hopefully no one noticed that I broke the drinking rules and that white wines are not necessarily just for the lady.

It’s not hard to see why he’s so popular. His ability to remember details about the audience members with whom he interacts is extraordinary. And talk about thinking on your feet – his brain must be racing nineteen to the dozen to enable him to react so quickly and inventively to anything the audience throws at him.

The first half seems to have barely any prepared material. He comes out on stage, spills some beer, hits an instant rapport and talks to almost everyone in the first few rows. Those he admires (a proper job, a British name, a pretty girl) get respect and gentle joshing. Those he doesn’t, get ridiculed hilariously. It’s all really funny – even if you’re one of the people he picks on (I think!)

What you don’t realise is that he’s gathering material for the second half. He weaves everything into a story about how, not only is God Save the Queen the Very Best National Anthem Ever, but also how God personally intervenes every time the Queen is in trouble. It’s a brilliant comic sequence, and I guess will be completely different every show.

Al MurrayIn addition to this you have a very funny audience interaction sequence regarding Pippa Middleton’s arse; a great revelation about the Ancient Anglo-Saxon Gods of Luck, Disbelief, Guilt, etc; and his mission to help an audience in need. Cue Henry, aged 13 and 364 days. Poor Henry. Henry was one of the young chaps virtually abused on stage in the Popcorn routine by Jason Byrne a couple of weeks ago. Anyway he was back for more punishment; he obviously has a sign above his head that reads “Comedians please pick on me”. Al Murray got him up on stage to give him a demonstration of how to attract women, which involved pretending to be a shark and scouring the auditorium for fanciable females. He’s such a good sport.

Unlike most other stand-ups, who tend to reveal their innermost self in their material, Al Murray has his Pub Landlord persona that he can both use to express himself and also hide behind. Staunchly British ad absurdam, no foreign reference goes unmocked. Additionally, most other comics will talk about sex a lot, and usually let you into the “most private” secrets of their bedrooms. Al Murray, on the other hand, has a rather schoolboy attitude to sex, mainly consisting of lusting after the ladies with a few “Corrr”’s. He never speaks of a partner, and apart from the fact that he has a pub, you’ve no idea about what he does offstage. It actually makes quite a refreshing change.

If I have one criticism – and I do – it’s with the Questions and Answers session at the end. The act basically ends on a high note, at the end of a very funny routine which I won’t spoil; he leaves the stage, you think it’s all over, and then he comes back for another 20 minutes of Q&A. Whilst there were some funny questions, which gave rise to some funny answers, it somehow sapped the energy of what had gone before, and I felt like it was a slight let-down. I wonder if there is a way of integrating it more into the structure of the show. But this is a minor quibble on what is otherwise a really funny night with a gifted and brilliantly spontaneous communicator. Highly recommended.

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