It’s a loud and rowdy Saturday night at Monkey Barrel. Eye of the Tiger blasts through the room and the sold-out audience is pumped beyond belief for Tom Ward’s Anthem. It’s a brilliant atmosphere and the most excited I’ve seen an audience in any of the shows I’ve seen so far. An excellent rollercoaster of a show would follow.
Packed with first-rate gags, impressions and absurdist humour
Ward walks on stage in a blue windbreaker jacket and fabulously silly hair. My mind instantly compared him to Wendolene Ramsbottom from A Close Shave, although Ward likes to think of himself as looking like ‘James Blunt on glue’. As he begins the set with an absurd and hilarious song about house shares, it’s clear that some louder members of the audience want to be more involved. Ward calmly quiets them down and continues on. However, who would have known that the mention of Tunbridge Wells would provoke another reaction from them. The rest of the audience is firmly behind Ward, and these hecklers’ attempts to derail the show are swiftly halted in some of the most professional few moments I’ve seen from a stand-up comedian in a long time. They leave the venue and Ward receives a well-deserved round of applause.
Ward’s ability to combine observational comedy with music is what makes him stand out from the crowd. It’s relatable, clever and, most of all, very funny. There are some great routines about adverts using friendly jingles to promote immoral agendas that go down very well in the room. His talents as a voiceover artist work brilliantly here and give his impressions a real edge. It’s his routine on the ‘Victimhood Olympics’ that impresses me most though – he and a girl he met at a party trying to one-up each other in terms of how much they’ve suffered through their life. The routine is structured perfectly and uses Ward’s full skillset of incorporating sound effects, impressions and fiercely funny observations. It’s a magnificent few minutes of material.
Throughout the hour, the audience has grown close to Ward as a performer (Ward’s hiccup with the hecklers at the beginning was actually beneficial to that audience connection, I believe). As the show moves to a close, it becomes increasingly wackier, to the point where the audience, including myself, is just enjoying this strange ride. However, we have faith in Ward to guide us through to the finish. A final piece of audience interaction gets off to a slightly rocky start, but finds its way towards its conclusion. A scarily accurate acapella version of Cher’s Believe seems a little shoehorned in, but was an enjoyable end to the show.
Tom Ward proves many things in this hour: he’s a consummate professional, he has the ability to structure jokes and execute them effortlessly, and he has confidence in his identity. During the audience disruption, he remained in control of the situation and the room as a whole. There was no slip in his persona as a stage performer, to the point where, if I was told that the disruption was part of the show, I would have believed it. Overall, Anthem is packed with first-rate gags, impressions and absurdist humour. I couldn’t have spent my last Saturday of the Fringe in a better place.