An Evening with David Sedaris, Leicester Square Theatre, London

'New Yorker' stories combine cleverness and consolation
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The Independent Culture

There were no dancing girls during An Evening with David Sedaris. Nor was there any strobe lighting. Musical accompaniment did not feature, and back-projected images were entirely absent.

All we got was a friendly-looking man in early middle age, in a shirt and tie but no jacket, reading and chatting to us from a lectern. Simplicity is all with Sedaris, the American humourist whose autobiographical pieces for The New Yorker have won him such a devoted following that, with minimal publicity, he quickly sold out one night at the 400-seat Leicester Square Theatre, and then sold out two more.

Sedaris's appearance followed on from the sell-out talks given last year by another New Yorker star, Malcolm Gladwell, and taken together these two events demonstrated a number of things: the elevated status enjoyed by The New Yorker in an age of declining journalistic standards; the hunger to see cleverness in the flesh; the almost mystical power of the writer-as-seer; and the abiding pleasure of simply being read to.

In Sedaris's case, more is going on still. His sentences are so beautiful, and he balances comedy with pathos so skilfully, that what he offers enters the realm of spiritual consolation. As a gay man he has an outsider's take on the world, but it remains an essentially benign one, and the central concerns of his writing – family and childhood – are ones that everyone can relate to. Think Alan Bennett with an American accent and a younger appeal.

The structure of the evening wasn't quite right. For an hour Sedaris read from manuscripts, which was not far off an audiobook experience only with the writer in the room. This section included a story that looked back to when Sedaris was aged 12 and took some baby sea turtles from a North Carolina beach and unwittingly consigned them to a miserable death by keeping them in a tank in his bedroom. But really the story was about his discovery that he was gay, and his relationship with his father, and it carried such emotional force that one needed a longer break to absorb it before having to concentrate on the next offering. This was the first time Sedaris had performed in this way, and he seemed a little nervous, his voice very light. He read too quickly and there were a few stumbles.

An interval would have been a good idea, but he continued straight into some diary readings and then took questions from the floor. It was all over in an hour and a half. Sedaris's diaries provided the funniest moments of the evening. He and his partner have quit their home in Normandy and moved to London and his tale of being ripped off £2 after a bus broke down and then ripped off another £2 by having to pay an unexpected entry fee to an antiques fair was sublime. The entry concluded with a line that charmed as only Sedaris can: "And then I found a darling cushion cover and England was forgiven."