Frank Skinner and Friends, Noel Coward Theatre, London


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The Independent Culture

Nobody should have been surprised by the news that the 55-year old comedian Frank Skinner is to become a father, after all, he’s never lost the glint in his eye. Grey-haired he may be, and perhaps a little bit more stately at times, the veteran joker can still nurture an audience.

Perhaps the only pity about another cabaret showcase (he hosted the Credit Crunch Cabaret at The Lyric in 2009) is that we can’t see Skinner uninterrupted. Tonight his charges included Elis James, Simon Brodkin as Lee Nelson, Phil Nichol and Beardyman. All of these acts have their merits but, while many of them had higher energy levels than their host, it was Skinner’s material that endured.

Working his audience with such engaging banter as “you, sir, look as if you have four or five football hooligan offences”, Skinner slowly warmed up to his opening routines. He noted that his partner (agent, Cath Mason) is younger than him “so I don’t like to hold hands, it looks like I am being helped.” Later he told us he was going to be doing Channel 4’s The Million Pound Drop “with the boss of RBS.”

With the barbed references came plenty of puns and some trademark smut. It was not all plain sailing for Skinner, however. After the break he admitted to an audience volunteer called Kirsty (a hilarious cross between Chantelle Houghton and Stacey Solomon), that she had retrospectively upstaged him: “I would have killed for that cheer in the first half!”

Perhaps the loudest cheer of the night came for the beatbox skills of final act Beardyman whose soundscapes are impressive, even if his in between patter is hollow. If there was something quietly neurotic about Beardyman the neurosis is turned up to eleven by stalwart comic Phil Nichol who painted grotesque pictures of urban living such as gurning Londoners who need to drink to relax their faces.

Simon Brodkin’s facial expression as chav character Lee Nelson also owes something to the grotesque. Nelson is reminiscent of Harry Enfield’s Loadsamoney or Al Murray’s Pub Landlord, in other words some snappy lines (“Old people, blink if you can hear me!” is one of his openers) but a boorishness that makes the character feel irony-free and two-dimensional.

Elis James’ charm was quiet by comparison to even Frank Skinner but he glided along pleasingly enough with some slight stories, conscientiously embroidered and some knockabout observations about the Welsh language, explaining, for example, that the word for vegetarian translates as “meat refuser”.