There’s a very fine line between watching an actual, heart-in-mouth onstage breakdown and one that’s convincingly feigned. Lloyd Griffith’s lack of commitment to his role of insecure, unappreciated singleton places him so far from this line that it’s difficult to work out where we are and why at the climax of a theoretically decent set.
His singing is excellent, his stage presence virtually faultless.
Its premise, when we finally get to it, is actually rather neat: Grimsby man Griffith was asked to turn on his hometown’s Christmas lights last year, but found on further inspection that he was the eighth to be asked, in a line-up of local heroes including Strictly Come Dancing’s Kevin Clifton and a regional weather presenter. For the remainder of the hour he sets out to prove that he’s more talented than all of them by setting himself a series of increasingly desperate challenges.
Now pretty much on board with what’s happening, we run through the celebrity names in reverse order, with Griffith outdoing each of them at their various talents. I can tell you he can impersonate objects; he knows everything there is to know about English cathedrals; as a professional countertenor, he can teach you to sing. And boy, can he drink.
I’m just not sure much of it really qualifies as comedy. There are plenty of areas in which Griffith excels – he’s a garrulous, talented entertainer with a natural ease onstage and a confidence that crackles despite the intermittent, self-pitying admissions about his love life. His singing is excellent, his stage presence virtually faultless.
But that isn’t quite enough to make this hour stand out. One very funny story about an expectation-defying London cabbie shines bright, but in doing so exposes a lack of peers: on other occasions his lengthy anecdotes, readily received by his attentive audience, end in wince-inducing puns.
And there’s a wider problem here, too. The frequent interruptions necessitated by his show’s format relegate his comedy routine to the backseat. It often feels more like compere material to supplement the one-man talent show, several of whose elements, though impressive, just aren’t very funny.
Regularly amusing moments come from the participatory segments of the set, which bring some unity to the countdown exercise, but are cruelly reliant on one audience member; if you’re a man of slight build and a timid disposition, you’ll probably want to avoid sitting near the front.
Great Grimsby’s Big Turn On is by no means an inherently flawed show. In this form, it ends up being hamstrung not so much by its conceit as by its various conflicting goals. What Griffith has come up with is a disjointed but perfectly amiable variety show; occasionally, though, with his persona and his set-craft he appears to be aiming at something rather more leftfield and challenging. There are a few, but too few callbacks. There are tentative displays of inner torment, but their payoff is undermined by their insincerity. There are distinct flickers of comedic ambition here, and Griffith really ought to be stoking them.