The title suggests that social class will be the driving theme throughout Ed Byrnes latest show which he debuted at the Assembly Rooms at last years Edinburgh Fringe and later brought to Londons Riverside Studios and he does indeed open by pondering his place on the class scale before opening the question to the audience
Interestingly and amusingly it seems that ‘working class’ is the only class label people will happily admit to in public, while all the middle class people in the theatre sit on their hands and inspect their shoes when asked to identify themselves.
Yet instead of mining this rich seam further, Byrne actually spends very little time discussing class issues directly (though, perhaps inevitably, he makes a lot of indirect reference to class), instead the theme that reoccurs most often is that of the perfect comeback. Byrne confesses to obsessing over the ideal put down, the witty rejoinder that you only ever think up days or weeks after the argument in which you could have used it has taken place. This sparks several amusing routines and while Byrnes observations are rarely revelatory, they never fail to raise a laugh of recognition.
Hes at his best when picking away at the plot holes in Back to the Future or self-deprecatingly assessing his current career status as a former Perrier nominee and a next big thing who never quite was (it didnt help that his last West End run debuted on September 10th 2001). Hes still well known enough to be occasionally recognised in the street, if only for people to then inform him theyre not quite sure who he is, and for him to be confused with other contestants of Mock the Week.
He seems fairly content with this state of affairs, perhaps because hes now happily married. His lengthy spiel about his wedding and the various expenses incurred, which becomes a building rant about the insidiousness of the wedding industry, while accurate, will probably resonate most with the recently or just-about-to-be married. There is however something endearing about the affectionate manner in which he describes his now wifes swearing and snoring and the wonderfully inappropriate way she responded to his proposal of marriage.
Byrne is a performer of considerable charm and ability – and the near-orgasmic response of a group of women in the audience to near on everything he said suggests his geekish demeanour, flights of erudition and James May hair-cut clearly appeal on other levels too – but beneath the surface, there’s a degree of real spikiness and bite. A digression about the pointlessness of WAGs walks something of a fine line between justified anger and bemusement and something more aggressive; while his account of a showdown with an abusive drunk heckler also teeters over into territory that’s ever so slightly uncomfortable.
The Vaudeville is one of the West Ends smaller theatres and as such Byrne doesnt seem swamped standing out there alone with his pint on the stage, but the two-and-a-bit hours-with-an-interval set imposed by the West End template is possibly a bit much, even for a performer of his skill and affability.