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Frank Skinner and Friends, Noel Coward Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Frank Skinner and Friends, Noel Coward Theatre

Frank Skinner and Friends, Noel Coward Theatre

A welcome return to stand-up for the comic with a cheeky-chappy persona

Frank Skinner has an ease with the audience and a razor-sharp wit

There must be something in the air. Hot on the heels of Alexei Sayle returning to stand-up in the guise of an MC introducing young talent to a wider audience comes Frank Skinner doing the same. In truth, the latter started the trend two years ago with Credit Crunch Cabaret, and now his Frank Skinner and Friends is having a short West End season – in which he mixes mixes some scripted and riffed material with promoting a few lesser-known acts.

But of course we are all, with no disrespect to the other comics, here to see Skinner. His career has had a resurgence of late after some years of being slightly out of kilter with prevailing tastes. After popular success doing various television shows with his former flatmate David Baddiel, he was rarely seen on TV, but then came Frank Skinner's Opinionated last year and a reformatted Room 101, both on BBC and both of which show his ease with an audience and his razor-sharp wit.

Skinner made his name as a blokey comic and some of his more, er, interesting views (or at least reportedly so) on the attractiveness of women over the age of 30 have limited his appeal to anybody with remotely feminist sensibilities. But age - and imminent first-time fatherhood at (in those terms at least) the grand old age of 55 seems to have softened him, although he still has a fondness for a crude gag.

It's not many comics who reference William Blake in the first five minutes on stage – but not many either who can follow that with a gag about fisting, closely followed by an anecdote about having received a blowjob in a cinema while watching The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

His cheeky-chappy persona – Skinner appears on stage in a badly fitting dinner suit and mentions (on the night I saw the show) that his beloved West Bromwich Albion are playing the other side of town – belies an incisive intelligence and political awareness. He was about to appear on Channel 4's The Million Pound Drop, he told us, “with the boss of RBS” and suggested that the recently removed Peace Camp on Parliament Square would have had more popular appeal if “they could have agreed on a font” for their flags and posters.

Skinner is a master of audience interaction, where his natural warmth and willingness to be guyed himself allow him real latitude to take the piss royally while not giving offence (except where he means to). There's a quiz to open the second half of the evening, where two members of the audience are brought on stage, and he was generous enough to allow a performance poet to deliver a (thankfully) short and very funny work.

The acts on the bill were Matt Forde, elsewhere a decent political comic, but here only a gag or two away from dying on stage, the very fine sketch duo Totally Tom (pictured right) and Doc Brown leaving the audience wanting more, much more from his short set of gags about being a dad and living, as a mixed-race man, in multi-ethnic London, some of it, as befits a former star rapper, in rap. He said of his parents' generation that they used to face signs saying, “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs”. “But things have changed,” he deadpanned. “Not so much for the dogs....”

Lee Nelson, Simon Brodkin in the guise of a wideboy drugs-obsessed thicko, meanwhile, regurgitated more of his same stereotype-dependent material. I can take or leave his comedy (mostly leave it) but there was the occasional slyly intelligent gag – he thinks Iran must be a great place because “People get stoned to death.”

This was a mixed bag, but it was great to see Skinner back live. Now if only he can be persuaded to do a full-length show before Skinner junior comes along....

  • Frank Skinner and Friends is at Noel Coward Theatre until 4 February
Skinner is a master of audience interaction, where his natural warmth allows him real latitude to take the piss royally


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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