Al Murray has played his burgundy jacket-wearing, pint-sloshing English pub landlord character for over 20 years. The character is proud of Queen and Country, and something of a know-it-all. On this visit to Australia – or as he calls it, “Britain 2.0, the country we want to be” – he’s viewing our achievements with a mixture of paternal pride and condescension. Although The (British) Empire Strikes Back has some skilful ingredients, some may find Murray’s brew not as sessionable at they had hoped for.
I’ve enjoyed some of Murray’s proudly patriotic spots on some English television shows in the recent past. He’s had some good tales to tell, introducing me to “meat sweats” and using events from the Second World War to prove that God is British. Given a whole hour in his MICF show, Murray traverses a range of pertinent political topics – such as how burqa wearers in Australia can find acceptance – with his very direct and particular slant on “common sense”.
Whilst many visiting comics will make some superficial observations on Australia, Murray shows that he’s taken a more thorough approach to researching his destination. Some of these sequences, such as a recounting of Australian governments and their failings back to the end of WWII show an impressive recall. Unfortunately, these diatribes often didn’t deliver much in terms of a comedy payoff. I often felt that Murray needed an editor to focus his writing.
Perhaps the problem is that whilst a blowhard can amuse one for a little while, a long enough harangue feels like it’s more for the speaker than the listener. This contrasted unfavourably with Rich Hall’s show at MICF 2016. Hall had many complaints or criticisms, yet variations in style prevented the show from becoming as stale as last month’s peanuts.
Well before the end of Murray’s show, my guest and I found the act’s novelty had worn off, and we were more than keen for someone to call “Time gentlemen please”. Some tasteless jokes didn’t help my enjoyment, for example, one using the death of Reeva Steenkamp to make comment on South Africa.
However, the large audience – containing a diversity of English accents – didn’t seem to share my concerns and found plenty to laugh at or applaud. There is no doubt that Murray has some rare skills as a performer. Easily the most impressive thing about the show was Murray’s ability to recall the names and occupations of a dozen or so audience members and refer back to that regularly as he made jokes at their expense.
Some people like to sample a range of beers; others stick to what they know. For me, Al Murray’s character comedy work in The (British) Empire Strikes Back was like experiencing a super sour beer; having had the experience I’m happy to move on to something else.
Al Murray – The Pub Landlord: The (British) Empire Strikes Back
The Forum Theatre downstairs, Corner Flinders and Russell Streets, Melbourne
Performance: Friday 25 March 2016 – 9.45pm
Season continues to 3 April 2016
For more information, visit: www.comedyfestival.com.au for details.
Image: Al Murray (supplied)
Review: Jason Whyte