Arts: Comedy: A slice of life at the carvery

JOHN SHUTTLEWORTH BLOOMSBURY THEATRE LONDON
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The Independent Culture
A NEW song by John Shuttleworth, Sheffield's finest 56-year-old resident organist, is a contradictory experience. Mourning the passing of the cardboard tray from Bounty bars, "Mars of Slough" was as banal and narrow-minded a world view as the show's theme tune, "Life is Like a Salad Bar (You Only Get One Visit)", a typical bit of Shuttleworth philosophy. But listen a little harder and you'll hear the raptures to which this warped romantic is driven by the smallest detail:

The tray made a super book mark

Or a particularly sturdy

shopping list.

It's the quantum theory of character comedy. I'm Alan Partridge succeeded because it was able to expand the King of Chat's tan-upholstered universe. Shuttleworth's talent, on the other hand, is for the detail within the detail: his day job isn't just working at the local drop-in centre, he tells us, it's supervising the ping-pong.

The same wondrously pedantic logic governs the current show, Ken's Karvery. It's been the brainwave of Ken, John's manager, not just to cater for the punters but to lay on the classiest culinary experience he could think of, a carvery. In this respect, Graham Fellows's creation is still a dish best tasted live. Shuttleworth's world first leaked on to Radio 4 in the early Nineties. Though he's still more comfortable there than on television, the last series, Radio Sheffield ("serving the Sheffield Region and a little bit further even...") sounded cluttered. Live, Ken and Shuttleworth's wife, Mary, remain as voices off, leaving just John, his leather coat, his snazzy red turtle-neck and, of course, his beloved Yamaha.

It's an affecting sight. In his own way, Shuttleworth craves passion, deploying the more exotic settings on his Yamaha, - the rumba, a bit of techno - with abandon. "Save The Whale" ("there are lots of other fish upon which to dine") may be mild but it's heartfelt. Similarly, the thwarted ambition of his Mary, a dinner lady, may sound petty, but he doesn't see it that way: "She was on mixed veg, always wanted to be on swede. But it never happened."

Shuttleworth's tentative yearnings for something out of the ordinary are funnier still when seen in person. He's only recently been converted to the joys of shower gel, he enthuses, and hasn't yet got over the wide- spread availability of Bombay Mix. However, it's only when you see the startled grimace that accompanies his more florid keyboard work-outs that Shuttleworth's inner fires truly reveal themselves.

And what does Ken think? Well, he's a little peeved. Shuttleworth's entitled to one free meal under his contract and he's just devoured the carvery.

Mike Higgins

To Sat (booking: 0171-388 8822), then touring

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