I thought I’d book to see Harry Hill because we normally enjoy TV Burp, and his voiceovers on You’ve Been Framed are usually pretty good. This is his first stand-up for six or so years, so it was more out of curiosity than anything else that we booked. A packed audience at the Derngate obviously did the same, with all ages from 8 to 80 and beyond represented. The lady to my right hooted with laughter all the way through the show, the man to Mrs Chrisparkle’s left similarly guffawed intensely throughout, so Harry Hill was definitely doing something right.
However, at the interval, Mrs C turned to me and said, “I thought he would be more…” and she couldn’t quite find the word. “Witty?” I ventured. The penny dropped – we settled on witty. Harry Hill’s humour is extraordinarily physical and surreal; a surrealism that I had never fully comprehended from his TV appearances. I quite appreciate surrealism – I love that lobster telephone sculpture thing of Dali, for example. Mrs C isn’t so keen. But we would have both enjoyed this show more if he had featured more word play and traditional comic routines, and less cavorting and silly noises. If you’re into cavorting and silly noises, you’re going to love Sausage Time. I guess we’re just a bit more cerebral.
One thing’s for sure: Mr Hill puts an inordinate amount of effort into this show. He is all guns blazing, full steam ahead, from the very start to the very finish, and the creativity and imagination behind it is admirable. He has some joke threads – offering ice-creams to the front row, reflecting on famous people’s surnames, skipping round the stage like a dog (not that dogs skip) that sometimes work, and sometimes fall short. It made me realise that in some respects he is a modern day Max Wall, putting his surprisingly flexible body through some amusingly contorted paces. Don’t get me wrong, there were some great moments throughout the evening – for example, he did an act where he translates a well known song chosen from the audience into Tongan. That made me laugh a lot, despite its innate silliness. He did some routines where he traced the careless behaviour of members of the public on the street to some catastrophic outcome in a hospital or similar – very clever and very funny. There’s a brilliant little routine about Dignitas – no, really. There was a nice – and highly surreal – transition from a slapstick cavorting scene into a Shakespeare scene. And of course, the evening ends with the sausage, which in its own totally bizarre way, was very funny and quite mesmerising. I shall say no more.
It was a bit unfortunate that the people he picked on in the front row to participate in a little fun-and-gamery were not really up for it. They both worked in Care in the Community, about which Mr Hill decided he couldn’t make fun, they looked very staid and uncomfortable at being on stage and being asked to do silly things (which they largely didn’t do) and what could have been a very funny sequence ended up being a bit embarrassing. It should have sent us into the interval on a high but Mrs C rightly felt it was a damp squib.
The surrealism picks up in the second half, with the arrival of a man (I recognised him as Dave Thompson) who attacks Harry on the mattress, and returns every so often in a kind of satin one-piece swimsuit; another man I didn’t recognise in a leotard crooning to the audience, and the band changing from being “The Caterers” to “The Harrys” – in other words, dressed like Mr Hill. Add to that three puppets and a paddling pool in which Mr Hill gets very wet – I’m sure you get the picture. There was a brief Q & A session at the end, the prospect of which always makes my heart sink, but in fact it was quite funny because there were just two or three questions, and it developed into a scripted finale which wrapped it up nicely.
So if surrealism and slapstick is your thing, you’ll love this. Plenty of the audience did. If excessive silly noises get on your nerves, well you might find it a little trying at times. On reflection, we were probably not sufficiently on his wavelength fully to appreciate his act. However, I certainly did appreciate the ingenuity and effort behind the show and I did, on the whole, enjoy it. If you think you’re a perfect match for this kind of humour, you’ll have a ball. It’s touring to the end of March and then goes to the Hammersmith Apollo. No need to take your own sausage.