IF EVER a stand-up comedian divided opinion, then Stewart Lee is that man.

Opinion is heft right down the middle, as suggested by two contrasting quotes Lee puts on his website – “One of the top three or four living stand-ups” (Time Out) versus “The worst stand-up I have ever seen” (Graham Simmons, Chortle).

I would guess that Lee is not unhappy about such divisions for much of his comedy is mined from relentlessly mocking popular culture and dissecting the supreme pointlessness of fame in circular rants seemingly spun from nothing. In this, he is in a sense the anti-Michael Macintyre, for he has no wish to please, unlike the supremely successful MM, one of Lee’s targets and a man perfectly shaped for popularity.

Lee, conversely, is awkwardly shaped: an intelligent, relentless comedian who uses aggression and tension as comedy tools, and does not necessarily make matters easy for his audience.

A packed Theatre Royal was treated to a master-class of edgy comedy, with special attention given to Caffe Nero loyalty cards, Top Gear (and in particular Lee’s loathing for Richard Hammond, brilliantly put) and, in a madly extended sequence, an advert for cider made from pears, which saw Lee leave the stage and run up to the dress circle, while still ranting.

A Steve Earle song was dropped into the satire blender, too; all very rewarding, in a vaguely unsettling sense.

Simon Munnery, who did the opening slot, was less tense and amused greatly with his meandering tales.