American Gun Show

Chris Harcum is loud, brash, theatrical and oh so American. But what else can you expect from the American Gun Show? This ‘solo comedy’ is undeniably treading new waters in its bid to bring people face to face with the reality of the gun-toting ‘Ted Nugent syndrome’, while also getting some laughs along the way. Indeed, Harcum doesn’t shy away from the big issues: guns, banks, security, masculinity, fear, love, life, and most importantly, death. Furthermore, they are approached with sensitivity and intelligence. His references were entertaining and diverse: from Batman to Tennessee Williams, Harcum paints quite the picture.

However, the opening premise, that he is an actor playing a comedian, introduced an issue of sincerity. While it is repeatedly insisted to the audience that ‘These events all happened in real life to real people’ – much like the beginning of shows like Dog the Bounty Hunter or Crocodile Dundee – there was something about Harcum’s delivery that was somewhat affected. It is possible that I just wasn’t used to his intensely American style of delivery but I couldn’t help but feel that such a serious and disturbing subject as gun-violence does not need dressing up in a melodramatic mood-lit speech. Indeed, Harcum’s fervent desire to leave not a dry eye in the house was resisted by my innate British stoicism, and ultimately, I somewhat resented the guilt-trip.

However, observations about the ‘not-so United States’ were clever, compelling and on the whole very funny. Moreover, the show tapped into the absurdities of contemporary paranoia very successfully, and Harcum’s energetic hatred for the uncivilised tendencies of the rare but ridiculous New York baddies was both humorous and captivating.

However, these jokes about social mores and cultural crazes were spliced in with some very dark moments indeed. Relevantly, the blurb describes the show as ‘Brecht meets stand-up’; I was ‘alienated’ all right. However, by dissolving the bond of trust with the audience, the yo-yo nature of our reactions meant that the comedy suffered. In addition, the ‘interruptions’ from the stage manager were over-done, unconvincing and only occasionally amusing.

Having said that, it was never the show’s objective to let us off easy, and Harcum did a fierce job of awakening us to the perils of American gun-culture, which is fast seeping into our own across the pond. Even though I prefer a more understated brand of poignancy, that shouldn’t stop you giving this astute and acerbic comedian a go.

Reviews by Emma Banks

Almeida Theatre

Game

★★★★
Battersea Arts Centre

The Rove

★★
National Theatre

A Taste of Honey

★★★

The Light Princess

★★★★

Blurred Lines

★★★★★

Performances

The Blurb

Love/hate America? Brecht meets stand-up in Chris Harcum's confrontation of violence in the land of Ted Nugent Disease. 'Insanely funny' (Backstage). 'Excellent' (Village Voice). 'Sprezzatura oozes' (Culturalcapital.com). 'Really dazzling talent' (NYTheatre.com). 'Unexpectedly poignant' (New York Times).