Comedy: Do it, do it, Mr Nice Guy
Ardal O'Hanlon Her Majesty's, London
Tuesday 03 December 1996
O'Hanlon majors not on the ranting certainties of the foaming-at-the- mouth political satirist, but on the wide-eyed bewilderment of a man permanently at two with the world. At one point he said: "I feel I'm a dancer trapped in the body of a tree." Like his celebrated sitcom creation, the holy fool Father Dougal in Channel 4's Father Ted, O'Hanlon wears the expression of a dog surprised by its own farts.
Not that he pandered to fans who had come in the hope of a greatest-hits compilation from the most famous Dougal this side of The Magic Roundabout. He dismissed audience pleas for him to sing Father Ted's deathless Eurovision Song Contest Entry, "My Little Horse", with a peremptory, and very un- Dougal-like "feck off".
Rather, what O'Hanlon builds on stage is a construction of confused charm; it adds up to a likeable, un-macho admission that we're all defeated by most things most of the time. Audiences warm to this - so much so that he has become a rather unlikely sex symbol, the sort of vulnerable, little boy lost that women want to "protect". Seen through his eyes, the world is a baffling place that rarely lives up to expectations. "There's a saying where I come from," he revealed. "If you expect a kick in the balls and get a slap in the face, then that's a victory."
Even the setting of Her Majesty's Theatre on Sunday enhanced the sense of comic incongruity. The simplicity of one man and his mike talking about All Bran was framed by a grandiose proscenium arch bedecked with golden demi-gods writhing in pursuit of some heroic quest. "This is a bit big for my purposes," he admitted, gazing in awe at the far side of the expansive stage. "I won't be going over there at all. The people who booked me here were expecting Riverdance."
Appealingly unthreatening, he managed to seem polite even when talking about dogs' rectums. He was given to little asides a propos of nothing - "you're probably wondering by now how many insects you'd find if you lifted up Ayer's Rock" - and could self-deprecate for Ireland. His face, he recalled, was always red with embarrassment when he was growing up: "Homeless people used to warm their hands on my head."
Martin Clunes was spotted in the audience, but an Ardal O'Hanlon show was never going to be a case of Men Behaving Badly. More like Men Behaving Nicely.
Ardal O'Hanlon is at Her Majesty's Theatre, London, SW1 (0171 494 5050) on Sunday
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