The polite munching of interval ice cream seems at odds with the live comedy experience and heckling neither sounds nor feels right in such a space.
If anyone could make it work it would be Bill Bailey, if only because his sets tend to involve video projections and musical interludes and have more going on in them than just a man and a microphone.
And yet even Bailey seemed at sea on the Shaftesbury Avenue stage. This may be because this show, Tinselworm, has been around for some time, packing out vast, soulless arenas across the UK; if the man seems to be going through the motions, that’s understandable and there was a definite sense of motions being gone through.
That’s not to say the show wasn’t amusing. It’s just the joke response ratio was something like smile-smile-chuckle-smile-smile; there were no big eye watering, seat shaking moments, nothing to rival the more inspired bits of previous show Part Troll like, for example, his Kraftwerk Hokey Cokey. There were some flashes of left-field brilliance: Kant set to the theme of Match of the Day, a song about a self-harming Starbucks employee entitled Bleed on My Panini; the Dad’s Army theme tune reworked for the 2012 Olympics, but there were also some real lulls. The sections mocking James Blunt and Dick Cheney made the show seem tired and past its use by date.
There was also a disjointed feel to the material that never really resolved itself. Bailey’s comedy is literate and quirky rather than cruel and cutting, peppered with references to philosophers and gentle surrealism, but though he has a likeable stage presence, a bit more passion wouldn’t go amiss. A joke about the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the inappropriately jaunty theme from Friends, a riff about UBS and Nazi gold and a headline-ripped gag referring, indirectly, to the Baby P case (which drew genuine gasps from the crowd) provided glimpses of a more politicised comedian, but these remained just that: glimpses. Otherwise Bailey seemed content to trot out jokes that were either familiar from past shows or just felt that way (he revisits the brilliantly bitter love song from Part Troll in the rather cobbled-together final section).
Towards the end of the two hour show a malfunctioning microphone created a brief feeling of freshness, as he pondered whether the sudden alien buzzing sound might be down to static build up in his hair, but despite Bailey’s considerable amiability and distinctive appearance (insert own unflattering reference to trolls/potatoes/hobbits/roadies here) which goes a long way the material, funny as so much of it was, and, at points even Bailey himself, felt rather worn out.