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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Bill Bailey "Part Troll"
by Brian Clover

I am English and as such I crave disappointment.
--- Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey
(Photo: Tony Briggs)
Stand-up comic Bill Bailey is an amiable bloke. He could be Father Christmas's naughty nephew, his eyes twinkling the audience into submission before he even says a word. With his mad professor hair and constantly surprised pop-eyes, like some genial old Rocker who's always down the pub telling yarns about the good old days, he slyly invites you to laugh at him. Indeed, his opening material mocks his own appearance: he is a bonsai Meat Loaf, a mediaeval roadie, the third orc from the back without make-up in Lord of the Rings. (A beard leitmotiv crops up throughout the show: the Taliban removed them because the 'chin is the window of the soul'. Bill has a little beard and plainly loves it.)

But don't be fooled: homely Bill is also very very sharp and will suddenly skewer you with an expertly timed, elegantly turned phrase or aphorism. His one-man show displays an agile mind that finds inspiration by hopping all over the world, if not the universe. While his voice is always his own, the show is an eclectic anthology of stand-up comedy styles and subjects. He does observational, absurd, politically committed, anti-jokes, parody, cynicism and laconic wit. Without clunking he changes gear from Seinfeld to Stephen Fry and back again, resurrecting hoary old West Country accent jokes and updating Victor Borge's musical spoofs along the way.

Apart from himself, he deals with the perils of swimming with dolphins, especially the military-trained variety; the useful wriggle-room permitted by animistic Hinduism; a cannabis campaigner trying to get organised; whether the receptionists and caterers at the Axis of Evil are themselves evil; what the Siberian spider does to the Samaritan squirrel; how technology threatens the knock-knock joke, and how a pinball machine version of The Remains of the Day might work.

But, as befits a man whose namesake is a classic jazz song, his act is punctuated throughout with music: a song about abstaining from pornography, wicked parodies of Avril Lavigne and grunge snuff-rock, and even wickeder send-ups of U2 and Portishead. The best song, he claims not unreasonably, are the ones you sing to cheer yourself up in a disaster, adding that only Sting would be vain enough to sing his own in these circs. His version of Lionel Richie's Three Times a Lady is a revelation (it's in German) while his Michael Bolton tribute comes complete with a glitter ball.

Bill Bailey has more work than you can shake a stick at. Maybe that's how he gets it: he shakes that stick harder than the rest of us. He regularly appears on British TV as a pop quiz panellist, acts in the cult sitcom Black Books (though his role there is perhaps too much that of a British Kramer) and has a flourishing stand-up career. He was one of the stars in the very successful Edinburgh Festival Production of Twelve Angry Men. He hasn't done films yet, though he tells us he would have made a great Gimli the Dwarf in Lord of the Rings and hopes to be Dr Who in the revived TV series.

And yet, he doesn't seem entirely at his ease, even in the gilded intimacy of the Wyndham's. It's too early for him: "A seven o'clock start!" he complains. "That's just so the critics can get their copy in". Everyone boos and he reminds us that the world would have been a different place if critics had been kinder to Hitler's art efforts. Before he can remind us, an audience member yells that Hitler was a vegetarian and Bill seems thrown: "There goes that section," he confesses, then declares himself a post-modern vegetarian: "I'll eat meat ironically".

Bill Bailey is much better late at night and in smaller venues and I suspect that he has selected his material carefully to broaden his appeal, not that he has compromised himself. The evening is very funny (the audience is in fits from the start) and this is managed without any smut but with the occasional display of a profoundly committed humanism. Bill will probably work himself into the Wyndham's but even if he doesn't, people will love him for it anyway. They even let him get away with saying "existential" twice. I've seen audiences pelt lesser comics with copies of Being and Nothingness for doing that. But Bill can do it: he's got that kind of personality.

Bill Bailey "Part Troll"
Written by Bill Bailey

Starring: Bill Bailey
Lighting Design: Brian Pearce
Sound Designer: Thames Audio Ltd
Running time: Two hours with one interval
Box Office: 0870 060 6633
Booking to 25th October 2003
Reviewed by Brian Clover based on 13th October 2003 Performance at the Wyndham's Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London WC2 (Tube Station: Leicester Square)
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