Thursday, 19 April 2012

Review: Mark Steel's In Town

Mark Steel’s In Town is a rallying call against the commercialisation and homogenisation of Britain’s towns. It is a celebration of regional quirks and local traditions that rejects the corporate desire to build identi-kit urban spaces.

Steel leads a rip-roaring tour of the British Isles – from Penzance to Wigan, from Exeter to Merthyr Tydfil – and reinforces his reputation as one of the finest and most compelling political comedians on the circuit.

The ostensible hook is that each show is tailored to the locality – and this show was about Highgate. Its first half is a tight anthology of various British towns and allows for a looser second period which – although laced with tested material – looks more closely at Highgate’s peculiarities.

Steel adopts a number of classic comedy techniques – such as observational humour, anecdotes and reading amusing quotes from obscure books – but the subject matter and his enthusiasm for history give it a unique twist. There aren’t many stand-ups who do a gag about ordering a Subway sandwich and later segue into a routine on Marx’s theory of alienation.

The ranty delivery and firebrand performance provide real appeal. Steel's passion is infectious and his range of voices and characters is impressive - take-offs of left-wing stalwarts Tony Benn and George Galloway are truly inspired.

Although some of the routines threaten to become hack – such as reflections on growing old and difficulties in finding the television remote – Steel’s expert delivery provides an original twist.

And his unique retelling of history - including the story of George Formby as an anti-apartheid protester - elevates the show to brilliance as he combines obscure detail with funny gags to create a genuinely insightful few hours.

Mark Steel’s In Town
is much more than a polemic against the growth of corporate institutions, it is a meticulously researched and hilarious exploration of the idiosyncrasies and eccentricities of Britain’s towns. Part-comedy and part-lecture, each show is a melting pot of bespoke material, fail-safe routines and unusual factoids. Who needs Wikipedia when you’ve got Mark Steel?

This review originally appeared in the Morning Star. The show tours nationally until September.

1 comment:

Jim Jepps said...

I thought the book was great, as are the shows on radio - never seen one live though, which is a shame

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