BBC Proms: Tim Minchin, Kit and the Widow, Beardyman, BBC Concert Orchestra | Classical music reviews, news & interviews
BBC Proms: Tim Minchin, Kit and the Widow, Beardyman, BBC Concert Orchestra
The inaugural Comedy Prom is a triumph in a time of great need
It has been, we can safely agree, a truly terrible week. Art, culture, call it what you will, is unequal to the task of diagnosing a nation’s ills, let alone curing them. But on a night such as the inaugural Comedy Prom, it comes equipped with healing balm. This evening was maybe not perfect. There were wrinkles, little bits here and there that didn’t quite work. But the Saturday night that the BBC Proms gave over to the business of laughter could not have been more opportune. This is going to sound hokey, but comedy on this occasion brought its audience close to a state of grace. For which homage must principally be paid to the strange genius of Tim Minchin.
Minchin seemed to grumble in his opening address about the restrictions placed upon him by the powers that be: no swearing, no preaching about Jesus, which strips out half his act, and above all no jokes about riots. A glove-puppet fox from the BBC Three show Mongrels did gleefully allude to feral creatures in London who, for once, weren’t foxes. But that was more or less it re mindless thugs. Angrier and more topically inclined stand-ups would have felt gelded by such an edict. In fact it conferred a unity of tone and purpose on a show which, like an old-fashioned variety bill, had a little bit of everything: traditional cabaret, orchestral comedy, puppeteering, beatboxing and, bafflingly for Radio 3 listeners, mime.
As the lights went down the tone was set by Minchin, caught hiding in the audience under a grey wig and glasses and complaining, in the guise of a horrified classical critic, that the Proms have gone to the dogs since the days “when gay meant something good”. “Hosted by an immigrant!” he sang. “Is nothing sacred any more?” Not with said Australian host fondling Sir Henry Wood’s head or, at one point, bashing out some crazy chords on the famous organ - just because he could.
This is a hunch, but most of the audience won’t have come burdened with preconceptions about the Proms that needed deconstructing. When later on “the world’s leading Wagnerian soprano” Susan Bullock pluckily emerged from the groundlings during Kit and the Widow’s set, she was not greeted by the applause she’d trigger on a regular Prom night. No one had a clue who she was. (She did a lovely comic turn with her chest voice. Normal service resumes when she sings “Land of Hope and Glory” at the Last Night.) Anyway, the Wagnerian slot had already been claimed by Sue Perkins (pictured above), who in the opening number popped up in the gallery behind the stage as a helmeted Valkyrie howling, unless one is very much mistaken, the non-Brünnhildean word “penis”.
So the night proceeded. As each act came on, there was a running joke about the oxymoron embedded in the idea of a Comedy Prom. Doc Brown (pictured below) guessed that a traditional rap would be too challenging for the Hall, so devoted his short act to another great British institution, Sir David Attenborough. Beardyman entered in a Mozartian frockcoat spouting posh Simon Callow vowels; no sooner had he started beatboxing than he thought better of it. But the most sustained riff on concert impropriety came when pianist Danny Driver and conductor Andrew Litton, two serious musicians revealing a splendid gift for comedy, parried and thrusted mismatching bits of Grieg, Gershwin and Rachmaninov in Reizenstein’s hilarious Concerto for Piano Against Orchestra. A lot of cheeks were aching after that.
Kit and the Widow sang from quite another page of the comic songbook, making merciless fun of Lord Lloyd Webber’s light fingers and, just to be even-handed, rounding on the melody-free hyperactively rhyming Sondheim too. “People who like Sondheim,” sang Kit Hesketh-Hervey, “always keep their buttocks clenched.” And that was just the opening line.
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