COMEDY / Raised heckles: Mark Wareham reviews Lenny Henry in Woking

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The Independent Culture
Woking . . . it's a biggie,' mocked Lenny Henry at the start of what he imagined would be yet another safe date on his UK tour, 'Loud'. But Ollie had other ideas. 'Awroit Len,' Ollie shouted as Henry eased into the driving seat at the start of the show. Hardly enough to qualify as a heckle, even, but this seemed to unsettle Henry. 'Would you go up to Marcel Marceau and say 'Oy, mate, you've got something on yer face'?' he asked, shaking his head. It seemed Henry, out of the ring for some time, was having trouble getting into the swing of things.

By the second half, and fortified by the interval bar, Ollie was in full flow. 'Look,' said an exasperated Henry, 'if it was a Jim Davidson show you could join in, but I've rehearsed this shit.' The next interruption proved too much. Henry dried mid-anecdote and stuttered to a halt. 'We've just had a comedy malfunction,' he admitted, before hitting on the novel tactic of rewinding his mental script out loud and then dipping in and out on fast-forward until he recovered his place.

In extremis, Henry had recovered brilliantly and this was often the way throughout a show that veered from the predictable to the inspired. Plain dull was the sequence with West Indian old-timer, Deacus, and never more so than a song set to the Specials' 'A Message to You Rudy' - 'Oldie, it's messy to be oldie'. Henry's reliance on musical content was only ever as good as the lyrics (not very), but when he chose to illustrate a comic theme with music (as opposed to just singing for the hell of it) he got on the right track and started playing to his strengths.

Most impressive was a musical journey through history, from the Nazi roots of techno to the hot loving of soul ('Soul music just wants to massage you and make you pregnant'). Some interludes deserve release - a Welsh rap from Grandmaster Gareth and TWA (Taffies with Attitude), and Public Enemy's 'Humpty Dumpty' (Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall / Who put him there? / It was the Government).

Elsewhere, Henry was too fond of the easy option (he closed with a straight rendition of 'My Guy') when he should have been locking into the kind of solid stand-up he opened the show with - like his account of fatherhood. 'You know sex mags with hot babes on beds? Well, fathers have mags with just the beds. 'Oh God, look at the duvet on that.' '

(Photograph omitted)

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