Photo by Linzy
Musical comedy can be a very hit and miss genre. When it is good, it can be very good indeed. But when it is poor, it can seem interminable. It is also one of the oldest types of comedy, but one which seems to get re-invented for each new generation. A staple of the music hall, performers like Arthur Askey and George Formby are now fondly remembered relics whose acts would do nothing to amuse a modern audience.
Flanders and Swann are the link between that era and modern comedy, taking their songs often to surreal and subversive places and setting a template followed by the likes of Hinge and Bracket, Kit and the Widow and even today by Topping and Butch. But today’s musical comedians more often look to Victoria Wood, who combined musical virtuosity with lyrics that perfectly captured the monotony and mundanity of working-class life.
Wood is a good point of comparison for Tim Minchin. Like her, his songs have their roots in everyday experience. But whereas she often created a character as the focus of her songs, Minchin’s are very much more a personal examination of himself. But what really makes him stand out from the crowd is that he is equally adept when it comes to stand-up and physical comedy as he is when sat behind his piano.
Whether consciously or not, in his goth persona, the wild uncontrollable hair, heavily accentuated eyes and the slightly manic grin that frequently splits his face, he has co-opted the characteristics of the clown. And so, when he takes to the stage to perform an opening number in mime, performing the actions of all of the various members of a rock band with perfect precision, it appeals to what, for most of us, was our very earliest appreciation of humour.
Minchin has come a long way in a short time, and this solo tour appears to be a bit of a retrospective of what has come so far, featuring mostly songs from his previous Dark Side and So Rock shows. Many, like Rock and Roll Nerd or Inflatable You are clever, complex and side-splittingly funny. Others, such as Canvas Bag and Peace Anthem for Palestine are simply silly and fun, while Some People Have It Worse Than Me pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable in a risky and interesting way.
In between, he links the songs with self-deprecating monologues performed in a nervy and highly-strung tone that show that this man doesn’t need to hide behind his musicianship, he is naturally very funny.
It has to be said that the Queen’s Hall, a converted church more usually used as a classical music venue, is probably not the best location for a comedy show. But Minchin is not a conventional comedy performer, and he manages to fill the room with his bright personality and his obvious sense of glee at being able to do what he loves doing before a paying audience. The fact that, despite not exactly being a household name, he is able to sell out venues of this size on a solo tour bodes well for his future. Hopefully it won’t be long before an all-new show comes along, and when it does, I’m going to be in the queue for tickets.