Few would disagree that our world is in dire need of fixing. Even Mark Dolan — whose indomitable good cheer is signalled by an ever-present impish grin — has been rather bowled over by 2016, he says, a year in which Bowie and Prince have been snatched away from us; in which Donald Trump is seen as a straight-talking saviour by a baffling number of people; and not one of our homegrown politicians is as sexy as that damn delicious Justin Trudeau. Things are looking bleak.
A natural raconteur, reminiscent of a mischievous, slightly geeky teacher indulging his class in some less-than-respectable life advice.
In desperate times, it is often the unlikeliest of heroes who emerge to help make life that little bit more liveable. On cue, Dolan is on hand to offer a selection of ‘#lifehacks’ to help you get through your day with a little more flair. The idea of life hacks provides a loose kind of overarching structure to the show, but Dolan’s material is treads more familiar ground than the title might suggest, closely following the well-worn tracks of conventional standup: the usual suspects of politics, celebrities, and terrorism all rear their heads, along with the travails of being a father and husband.
Though not groundbreaking, the material is solid enough — so far, so standard. But the set is fairly well polished, and Dolan gets an awfully long way on his charm alone. He was perfectly at ease on stage, a natural raconteur, reminiscent of a mischievous, slightly geeky teacher indulging his class in some less-than-respectable life advice. In keeping with this scholastic spirit, an old school flip chart supplies cutely analogue support for the hashtagged tips Dolan dispenses.
Some audience members might recognise Dolan from his time hosting Channel 4’s Balls of Steel. It seems appropriate, then, that the highlights of his standup came when he had the courage to proverbially flash a little of his alloyed privates and add some edge to his performance. His crowd work — Dolan often took time to skilfully rib punters — was often a lot more courageous, and a lot more enjoyable, than his scripted material.
Most of the set, though, plays it too safe. The sharpness of Dolan’s wit, glimpsed at full strength only intermittently, seemed restrained by the fairly unadventurous material he was exploring — even though he explored it with warmth, precision, and easygoing charm. As likeable as he is, that alone can’t elevate this set to greatness.