fri 07/10/2022

Stratagem With Alan Partridge, touring review - he's back as a lifestyle guru | reviews, news & interviews

Stratagem With Alan Partridge, touring review - he's back as a lifestyle guru

Stratagem With Alan Partridge, touring review - he's back as a lifestyle guru

Steve Coogan's creation doesn't quite hit the spot

Alan Partridge is the gaffe-prone broadcaster who is now branching outTrevor Leighton

After the latest disaster in Alan Partridge’s rollercoaster career, what would be the logical next move? To be a lifestyle guru, obviously. Partridge's creator Steve Coogan dipped into the idea back in 2008's Alan Partridge and Other Less Successful Characters and now, co-writing with Neil Gibbons and Rob Gibbons, Partridge is imagined as the purveyor of a lifestyle programme called Stratagem – where you turn STRAT into A GEM.

No, me neither, but it’s as mad as anything else that the gaffe-prone broadcaster has come up with.

The first half feels somewhat laboured, as if Coogan and his co-writers thought of the jokes first and then built a show around them, with mixed results. It’s presented as an entertainment show with songs, as Partridge and his seven dancers – “Ensemble assemble,” he commands them – run through a rap medley inspired by Hamilton. Has Partridge learned from his broadcasting disasters and the #MeTo movement his alter ego has traversed so wittily in Channel 4’s Chivalry? Sort of. “Yo, bitch,” Partridge sings at one point, and then quickly adds: “Said in an ironic way.”

Other elements, such as a time-travel segment in which Partridge meets both his childhood and 105-year-old selves, just seem a little bizarre, rather than adding to the fun. If the purpose is to prove how wrongheaded Partridge's approach to the task in hand is, it works – but not in a good way.

But among the skits are some bang-on lines and Coogan snark, as celebrities including Eamonn Holmes, Kirstie Allsopp and Nick Clegg get a kicking with just a throwaway line. Or in Holmes’s case, several lines.

If the high-concept first half doesn’t hit the spot, in the second half things start to gel. It’s not just that the pace picks up but the gags come more frequently and land more surely. And – vital to the Alan Partridge experience – the cringe factor kicks in too, and he performs an act of atonement (the first A in Stratagem, of course), where Partridge interacts on screen with Martin Brennan, the Irish rebel singer we last saw on the excellent This Time with Alan Partridge, and to whom he wishes to apologise for the car-crash TV that ensued.

Felicity Montagu as his long-suffering PA Lynn, as ever, adds value, even if they meet only on Zoom, while Emma Sidi gives great support as a Stratagem alumna and a mouthy member of the audience. But there's not enough interaction with people who make Partridge squirm; he's at his best/worst when confronted by his own limitations, when his lack of self-awareness means he just keeps digging and we keep laughing.

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