Arts: Comedy: Too many jokes, Mr Charles

CRAIG CHARLES WOODVILLE HALLS THEATRE GRAVESEND
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The Independent Culture
CRAIG CHARLES came on to a darkened stage repeatedly firing a gun. Soon afterwards, apropos of very little, he dropped his trousers to reveal stockings and suspenders and conducted a conversation with the contents of his underpants. Later on in the show, he performed "keepy uppy" with a football while pondering such mysteries of the universe as: "Why don't people who believe in reincarnation leave all their money to themselves?"

This is a man who seriously craves attention. But you can have too much of a good thing, and after a while, such compulsive showmanship leaves you dazed and confused. Charles' jokes arrive at a rate so fast and furious they tend to collide with one another. In the rare moments where he is not hyperactively gag-telling, he is either posing for photographs or cadging cigarettes from the audience.

For all that, Charles is an undoubtedly charismatic performer, who enjoys a strong rapport with his audience. As it was nine o'clock on a Thursday evening, he berated them for not staying at home to watch him in Red Dwarf. "What are you doing here? I hope you've set your videos." This was greeted with cheers of assent. "I bet half of you get home and find you've taped The Nine O'Clock News."

When he allows them space to breathe, his one-liners can also resonate. He recalled seeing graffiti on a pub condom-machine which read: "for refund, insert baby." Demonstrating that nothing in his life is off-limits as potential stand-up material, he even included a brave section about his spell in jail on remand. He told us, for instance, that he was perplexed by an old lag's tip that he should sort out troublemakers with a battery in his sock. "I couldn't walk, let alone run away. Crap advice."

He is full of surprises. Much of Charles's act consists of unprintably sick gags - he reckoned audience-members would be turning to each other and tut-tutting, "he's much ruder than he is on the telly". But these are interspersed with chats about racism and incongruously moving poetry. At one point, he pulled a woman onto the edge of the stage to regale her with a love poem with the refrain: "I'd like to shipwreck my soul in your eyes." Never keen to let a serious mood prevail for too long, he hastily added: "the title of that poem is `It Always Gets Me Laid'." Charles is a motormouth performer. All he really needs to do is slow down.

James Rampton

Craig Charles plays St Andrews University tomorrow and the tour continues until 5 April

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