Al Murray, one of UK comedy’s longest-standing character acts, is classed amongst the biggest names at the inaugural Great Yorkshire Fringe. Boasting a two-hour slot twice a day during his visit, his stamina and energy is to be praised but his material seems to be spread all too thin.
There is no doubt that Murray is a great character to be around and it’s almost impossible to stop yourself wanting to be his mate. His conviviality is really the heart of the show’s appeal.
Affable and boisterous as ever, Murray bounds about the room, pint in hand, meeting his punters. There’s a general ribbing of the audience’s professions, age, background and so on, but nothing that hasn’t been done with more edge and perception by other comedians. It is unfortunate, then, that this comprises a large part of the show and rarely develops beyond playground ribaldry.
Murray often hits on a rich seam of comedy without fully embracing it whilst other, less impressive gags can be wheeled out again and again. There is scant mention of his recent campaign to become MP for South Thanet – the notorious Farage constituency – and there are only a few flashes of close-to-the-knuckle bigotry which Murray has made his mainstay over the past two decades. Daring but brief stabs at Yewtree, Islam and the Royal family as Nazi sympathisers get the crowd’s pulse racing but Murray never really capitalises on them. The proceedings are lifted, however, by Murray’s very talented house band who punctuate the evening with their excellent brass covers of a diverse range of popular songs.
There’s no denying Murray is amusing but the stitching between improvisation, banter and skits is too evident, making for a regular reminder that this show isn’t as freewheeling and unpredictable as you’re initially led to believe. It is also frustrating that the scripted sections often fall much flatter than the non-scripted, leading you to question why there’s the need for a script at all.
Whereas Murray’s strongest material used to mostly tap into the audience’s thoughts which modern political correctness would have you believe is wrong (maybe subconsciously we do all think that wine is for ladies and beer is for men), in this era of Farage, The Daily Mail and meninism we are presented with bigger and more threatening characters than Murray on a daily basis. Murray is a great pub landlord but he is a diluted version of the comically awful people he originally imitated; the bigots have surpassed him and he is no longer a caricature.
There is no doubt that Murray is a great character to be around and it’s almost impossible to stop yourself wanting to be his mate. His conviviality is really the heart of the show’s appeal. This latest outing is two hours of songs, giggles and games but rarely the hearty laughter one might expect to be delivered by such a seasoned performer.
Whilst an enjoyable evening, underscored by chuckles, you can’t help but feel like it’s all been done before. Murray clearly has a sharp intellect with incredible potential and it would be marvellous to see him employ it fully. Until then, let’s hope it isn’t time for last orders just yet.