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Adam Hills, Soho Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Adam Hills, Soho Theatre

Adam Hills, Soho Theatre

Genial Aussie comic goes off piste and straight down a blind alley

It’s an interesting concept that Adam Hills has come up with for his latest show, Mess Around. The ever-smiling and hugely likeable Australian - a longtime sellout hit at the Edinburgh Fringe but who has yet to make a broader breakthrough like his peers - is a past master of audience interaction, so why not ditch the material and make that the show?

“Less a show and more of a chat,” he calls it, and I’m sure that when this approach works, on those nights when he mines a seam of comedy gold among his fans, that it can be huge fun. But on the first night of his 10-show run at Soho and despite having a front row stuffed with goodies - a genial Aussie engineer, a ginger Jesus lookalike, and a height-mismatched couple - when he zeroes in on someone whose story doesn’t ultimately deliver the goods, here a young woman from Essex, he’s stuffed.

Hills opens by telling us that he recently did some gigs in Los Angeles where his audiences were full of movers and shakers, but where he realised that ordinary people are far more interesting than celebrities. It’s hardly a deep insight, and it’s a slight premise that he doesn’t back up by recounting any interactions with those audiences.

Twenty minutes into his chat with the Essex woman, and we are caught in a teeth-grindingly dull exercise, with Hills trying unsuccessfully to type out a sexy message (with suggestions from the audience on its content) to her boyfriend. Fortunately, despite being greatly embarrassed, she turns out to be very sporting and types the message herself, but it has taken some persuasion - indeed the poor woman had run on stage to get her phone back when Hills grabbed it from her and started reading out the loved-up texts between her and her boyfriend. I’ve seen comics punched for less, but then said boyfriend was safely away at university in Derby. There’s a fine line between having an innocent laugh and bullying and, as lovely as he undoubtedly is, I think Hills went too far here.

Predictably it all fizzles out; the audience’s suggestions are a bit rubbish and the text is as sexy as a pair of soiled pants. And, fine man that he is, the Derby student doesn’t respond to the text, by which time Hills is tweeting pictures of the Jesus bloke, prompting a few exasperated mutters of “Get on with it” from some of the audience. They have, after all, paid £15 for the privilege of providing much of the show’s material and have every right to feel aggrieved as well as bored.

He does have some stories, Hills tells us, and indeed tells a few, namely about getting married and becoming a father in the past year, and some very funny anecdotes about appearing on the Royal Variety Show and meeting Lady Gaga and the Queen on the same day - instantly disproving his theory about celebrities being boring. But these feel shoehorned in after the lengthy journey down the “sexy” text blind alley, which he should have ended much, much sooner.

Mess About is, depending on which way you look at it, either a lazy concept or a high-risk strategy, but both need a back-up plan of solid material to run with if the audience turn out to be dullards or unwilling to play along. I’ve seen Hills going gloriously off piste with audiences before and this was a rare misfire for a very accomplished comic.

  • Adam Hills is at Soho Theatre, London W1 until 23 October

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Having seen Adam Hills before in Edinburgh I'm not surprised about this review. Rather than prepare a decent gig (in comparison to the excellent Russell Kane) he seems content to give his audience "improvised" off-the-cuff material which basically means he relies on a bit of charm to excuse the lack of jokes. I think its time he writes a show and stops insulting his audience in more ways than one.

And I've seen Adam Hills do absolutely glorious aching-laughing-muscles improvisation shows. It works more often than it doesn't because he's quick and clever and positive. Re Russell Kane: you're right, his Edinburgh show was well constructed but after he'd won the award for some reason he bombed totally. At a "best of" gig Russell was so bad he was shouted off the stage, ashen, at the end of the month.

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