fri 14/08/2020

Russell Kane, Touring | reviews, news & interviews

Russell Kane, Touring

Russell Kane, Touring

Pleasing prolixity as comic charts being a working-class boy made good

At the Bloomsbury Theatre in London, Kane bounds on with an energy that never flags and a presentational style that requires close attention - the jokes, asides, things that pop into his head, are expressed in pleasing prolixity and come thick and fast, and he’s prone to occasional gabbling as he skips across the stage, which mean that some gags are lost. But what he has to say is always of interest, cleverly written and very, very funny.

As in previous shows (three of them ECA-nominated), Kane again mines a seam of material about growing up as a book-obsessed child in a council house in Enfield, north London, which his Thatcherite parents, a bouncer and a cleaner, bought and, in typical nouveau-riche style, knocked through and added an extension to. Kane uses the house, with its added crenellations and tarmaced drive that marked them as different from their neighbours, as a metaphor for the walls his father, Dave, built around his feelings. He was an emotionally constipated man, “an 18-stone, alpha-male, racist homophobe” who, while loving his son fiercely, was unable to express that love.


Dave was confounded by his son’s love of reading (“He thought a Penguin Classic was a biscuit”), his favoured form of address to him was the infantalising “Boy”, and his racism was trumped only by his homophobia. We can only imagine Dave’s thoughts on hearing that his son wanted to do more reading when he went to university to study English and then went into the arts, which he thought "gay". Despite his pleasingly camp style and appearance, Kane is straight and draws much comedy from this dissonance.

It’s not all about Dave, though; Kane has some very fine material about those who deny climate change, poncy middle-class eating habits (this is a man who hates hummus and all it represents), driving an eco-car and the origin of estuary vowels. Other members of his family, including his comically foul-mouthed and violent nan, make an appearance and Kane has some spot-on (and endearingly self-deprecating) observations about finding the middle classes unbearable while being desperate to join their ranks.

But moments of recognition and poignancy aside - and there are many - I was strangely unmoved. I’m fully aware of how comics use exaggeration for effect and that not all things referred to in Smokescreens and Castles may have happened exactly as described - Kane doesn’t say that his father has been dead for several years, for example, which is surely germane. We have to take Kane’s word for it that Dave really was the ogre he is presented as, and I remain confused as to why his mother, whom Kane clearly adores and who features greatly in this show, isn’t another target of his contempt. What are her politics? What was her view of Dave’s lack of affection for his son? Did she try to change her husband, or was she the long-suffering buffer between the two?

The show, which felt over-edited in Edinburgh, where it had to fit the Fringe’s traditional hour-long slot, could easily be extended beyond its 75 minutes in the touring version, as I suspect there’s a much more complex - and perhaps more moving - story to be told. But those caveats aside, it’s a show of great warmth and humanity, and provides consistent laughs.

Watch Russell Kane at the Melbourne Comedy Festival Gala 2010:

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