Bill Bailey: Dandelion Mind, Wyndham's Theatre, London
Comedian's show fails to fully flower
Monday 15 November 2010
It's curious that the title of the latest show from comedy's most famous musical hobbit is taken from a ditty that swipes at female balladeers, or "whimsical Katies" as Bill Bailey calls them.
The line runs "dandelion mind, one [puff sound] and it's gone", and while such floaty ethereality suits the outwardly bewildered and ramshackle persona of Bailey (that belies the sharpness of his edge), the lyric anticipates how the show's short bursts of joy somehow get lost in an amorphous structure. Given that the theme of Dandelion Mind is doubt, a little amorphousness is appropriate, but it means that four-star gags are trapped in a three-star show.
In his opening routine, Bailey pits religion (mainly in the form of the Pope) against "aggressive secularism" to attempt to find out if Britain is indeed a grey and godless country, thereby opening some room for the aforementioned doubt. The England football team, "overpaid, illiterate tosspots", he decides, are not going to help with the national pros and cons list since they play like a bunch of "warehouse men who have been given conflicting instructions." Meanwhile, the government isn't looking so fleet of foot either, and Bailey likens the Lib Dems to "hamsters clinging on to the ears of a posh Tory warthog". Chalk up yet another gag at the expense of perhaps one of the most analogised administrations ever.
If Bailey is a doom merchant he is a convivial one with a practised ease about him that, to some extent, allows for the fragmented nature of his show. However, some of his refrains are choked off abruptly. The contrast made between an uncertain world and the certainty of advertising ("L'Oreal Face Marmalade: because you need it"), for example, is so fleeting and throwaway as to be frustrating. When Bailey gets his teeth into something, you want him to ruminate more. His attack on John Lydon for selling out and doing butter adverts is a great example of some well-aimed ire: "Anarchy in the UK/Coming to a tea room one day!" he growls in the direction of a man who he says was once an idol.
Perhaps Bailey can argue that he embodies the spirit of punk more than Lydon now; certainly there are elements of this show that are punk, in that they are chaotic and random. Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", performed in the style of Kraftwerk, won't be the most striking juxtaposition in Bailey's back catalogue – and it feels out of synch with the material that goes before and after.
Although there is a sense that things could hang together more, Bailey regularly has his audience hooting with laughter; in fact one lady shrieked so much at one point that she put the comedian off his stride. There are undeniably moments of comic invention of the highest order, and yet I feel I am not as moved as I should be. It's one of Bailey's own jokes that best describes the detachment and paradox I feel tonight; mocking Twitterspeak, he unveils the acronym "Roflysst": "rolling on the floor laughing yet somehow still typing."
To 8 January (www.billbailey.co.uk)
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