sat 08/08/2020

Lenny Henry, Watford Colosseum review - enjoyable evening with genial host | reviews, news & interviews

Lenny Henry, Watford Colosseum review - enjoyable evening with genial host

Lenny Henry, Watford Colosseum review - enjoyable evening with genial host

Sir Lenny takes his autobiography on tour

Lenny Henry's new show is based on his recently published autobiographyJack Lawson McDonald

It’s a long time since Lenny Henry performed live comedy, and a lot has happened in that interval. He has reinvented himself as a serious actor on stage and screen, become a spokesman for the black British experience, was knighted in 2015 and is now a national treasure. Oh, he has also written the first volume of his autobiography, which has just been published.

So it was good to welcome him back with An Evening With Lenny Henry: Who Am I, Again?, even if it is an unashamed exercise in shifting more copies of his book of the same title, which covers the years 1958-1980 – or “birth to Tiswas”, as he points out. It's a show of two halves: in the first Henry reminisces about his childhood in Dudley and his career, which started with his appearance (at the age of 16) on the television talent show New Faces. In the second, he is in discussion with his friend, the broadcaster and author Jon Canter.

There’s much to enjoy in the first half, where Henry tells anecdotes, joshes with the audience and reads sections from his book, complete with impressions of people mentioned and photographs projected on the large screen on stage. He even sings and dances a bit in an energetic performance as he strides across the stage.

Henry’s late mother, Winnie, looms large: she emigrated from Jamaica in 1957 and impressed on her children the need to “h’integrate”, and was a pivotal figure in his life. Her approach to parenting, however, was that a beating should never be far away. We also hear of his escapades with his mates, how he nearly burnt the family home down, how he met his biological father, and of his early experiences of racism.

The second half, in which Canter punts some soft questions that are just set-ups for Henry to tell more anecdotes, doesn’t match the energy of the first. It covers Henry’s more recent achievements, where he helped found Comic Relief and went back into education (he now has a PhD). The comic talks about his pride at what Comic Relief has done (although does not address recent criticisms of how it operates) and  tells a cracking story about how he found his Shakespeare mojo with director Barrie Rutter. But anybody expecting Canter to delve into what makes Henry tick will be disappointed.

Henry is a nice enough bloke to spend an evening with, and cavilling about such an obviously decent man feels like I’m drowning puppies. His fans will love this show, but less committed audience members may not be so enthralled.

  • Lenny Henry is touring until 29 November

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