sun 07/03/2021

The South Bank Show: Tim Minchin, Sky Arts 1 | reviews, news & interviews

The South Bank Show: Tim Minchin, Sky Arts 1

The South Bank Show: Tim Minchin, Sky Arts 1

Early career tribute to the multi-talented Australian sheds light on his roots

Tim Minchin, back home, down under: much to shout about, though normally he doesn't?

The new South Bank Show has glided into its second season with a seemingly effortless profile of multi-hyphenate Tim Minchin. In case we’ve forgotten what exactly we admire him for these days so varied has been his decade-long career been, through satire, rock, musical comedy, stage performance, to co-creator of the RSC transfer-spectacular Matilda that's now storming Broadway then this was a good reminder.

The new South Bank Show has glided into its second season with a seemingly effortless profile of multi-hyphenate Tim Minchin. In case we’ve forgotten what exactly we admire him for these days so varied has been his decade-long career been, through satire, rock, musical comedy, stage performance, to co-creator of the RSC transfer-spectacular Matilda that's now storming Broadway then this was a good reminder.

Self-deprecation may be one of his fortes (not that he doesn’t excel at deprecating others), but Minchin proved a thoughtful guide to his achievements to date, in that beguilingly serious way that teases audiences along: no sign whether he kept his shoes on here, but that hair (ginger? strawberry blond? it's even been called “catweazel”) looked slightly more in place than usual, and he was wearing glasses rather than eyeliner.

Archie Powell’s film sped by, so that Minchin’s sign-off to Melvyn Bragg that it had all been a “huge pleasure” practically stole up on us (the pleasure certainly seemed mutual: the presenter is back with weightier stuff next week, with David Hare). The surroundings for these face-to-face encounters (Bragg and Minchin, pictured above right) may seem anonymously formal, but this programme was liberally tinged with the light and sun of Minchin's homeland, as he reprised his Perth and Melbourne beginnings – the prelude to the remarkable ascent, or “rocket-assisted take-off” as Bragg called it, that’s been his career path since he hit the 2005 Edinburgh festival.

There was elder brother Dan, who provided an encouraging fraternal shove into the music world, and a series of family bands apparently competing for the absurdity of their monikers – from Cyclone Jones to the (relatively serious, lower case intentional) timmy the dog, with one sample lyric heard here, “I never had sex inside a church”. Few may have known it until now, but Minchin’s first stage role seems to have been as Mary in the nativity play at Christ Church grammar school, Perth’s finest, which he attended from 1982. The priest there, the insightful Frank Sheehan remembered here how he was always convinced that Minchin was “going to do something amazing”; Sheehan also came up here with the wonderful phrase, “expanding the vision”, which does as well as words can to describe what Minchin’s been doing ever since.

Around the same time, Minchin's first bash at writing came with songs for a production of Love’s Labours Lost by the school-affiliated Midnite Youth Theatre, which initiated the recurring family gag, “Do they know you can’t write music?”. There was an open-air Jesus Christ Superstar in Perth, forerunner to the arena production of that show in which Minchin’s more recently been playing Judas Iscariot (back in Perth, he only turned up in time to get Pilate, though that came with understudying Jesus and Judas, too).

Mitchin’s world changed beyond recognition when he was spotted at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2005, and became just that – international. The Edinburgh bookings turned into a whole package that virtually remade his life: from hardly being able to afford the petrol for the next gig, he was asking his wife to give up her job and head to Europe. You might be forgiven for thinking, the way he tells it, that everything since has been like the unfolding of some divine plan, aided by good fortune at every turn. Barely a word about the sheer hard work involved, let alone a nod at anything so suspiciously high-arty as talent.

What of the future? We heard “When I Grow Up” from Matilda here more than once, hinting somehow that Minchin himself isn’t sure whether he’s done that yet. Minchin’s only 37, and there was a sense that, if the South Bank Show came back in another 37 years, he might feel there would be something substantial to talk about. Until then we can just go on enjoying one of the brightest entertainers around.

Few may have known it until now, but Minchin’s first stage role seems to have been as Mary in the nativity play at Christ Church grammar school, Perth’s finest

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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