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Review: Paul Merton, Out Of My Head, Grand Opera House, York
HAVE you noticed how the new generation of hyperactive comedians moves from one side of the stage to the other quickly and remorsely throughout a show?
Paul Merton has. He prefers to be quick of thought, wit and changes of tack, and in 2012 the Have I Got News For You team captain has got “new” for you.
Well, sort of new. Merton has gone back to stand-up for “the first time this century”, but not stand-up as you would see it on Hyena Lounge nights at City Screen.
Merton’s show last Friday at a full Grand Opera House did not stand or fall solely on stand-up.
Instead it was an autobiographical revue, a “brief history of the bizarre workings of my bonce”, workings that had been stultified by nun Sister Galista knocking down his powers of imaginative at schoool.
Indirectly this had led to his later brush with mental-health issues at Maudsley psychiatric hospital, brought on by a reaction to anti-malaria tablets.
Merton brought with him his Comedy Store Players improvising chums, Lee Simpson, Suki Webster and pianist Richard Vranch, and together they served up (hit and miss) sketches, songs, improv word games, and modern takes on music-hall routines, plus that favourite of Berwick Kaler’s pantomimes, the formation-flying animals in ultraviolet light.
As with Merton’s love of silent-movie comedy turns in his Silent Clowns show in 2009, this time he harked back to Max Miller and ventriloquism, in the cheeky puppet form of Little Paul, who, like Merton and co, wore a buttoned grey suit.
When the puppet moved seemingly of its own volition, with Merton off stage, it was a splendid trick on the eye to match the UV lighting scenes.
Rather than Merton going back and forth, it was the show’s styles of content that did so. Not all of it worked, especially his re-creation of an early memory of a smutty audio-cassette and his and Webster’s over-long Prince Charles and Camilla routine.
However, topical political digs, and a swift elbow to Top Gear worked a treat, as did the surrealism of Merton’s brain emerging out of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s stove-pipe hat in a show that ultimately was an impassioned plea for imagination to be allowed to fly to the moon.
Oh for today’s homogenous, twitchy, T-shirted comedy mob to express such infinite variety.