Kim Noble Will Die, Soho Theatre, London


A look at the light side of suicide

Despite the presence of the comedians Daniel Kitson and Jeremy Hardy, Kim Noble's audience had the look of a crowd more familiar with the winners of the Turner Prize than, say, the British or Edinburgh Comedy Awards. Certainly, they seemed to know what to expect from a man who both on his own and as one half of a Perrier Best Newcomer award-winning act – Noble & Silver – has mixed comedy with performance art for over a decade.

The measure of this "enlightened" audience was that no one walked out from a show that features sustained images of self-mutilation, masturbation and gratuitous manipulation of the public. All this is done in the name of Noble's study of his own suicidal depression. Since he is now at the end of the show's second run in a year, and the date of an advertised suicide attempt has passed, Noble's problems have presumably abated and given way to a dutiful sense of showbusiness.

Nevertheless, the nihilistic pranks he demonstrates on film in the show – doctoring books by Paul McKenna and Des Lynam; re-packaging a Floella Benjamin ready meal so that it refers to the placings she and Noble achieved in the London Marathon; and, most disturbingly, infecting a feminine hygiene product with his own semen – straddle an uncomfortable line between desperation and showmanship and ultimately veer towards melancholic narcissism.

Many – obviously not all – of these pranks have an inherent humour, for example, Noble's decision to retell the film March of the Penguins as the shortest possible animated short and then put the new version on the shelf at a DVD rental shop. Amusing too are comments on the success of some of his contemporaries (which has added insult to injury for the troubled Noble), including Mathew Horne and Catherine Tate.

"Catherine Tate appeared on stage with him. Now she's doing Hollywood. Am I bovvered? Yes, I fucking am." So goes Noble's mother's assessment – his mother, here, being an image projected on to a bucket that sits on the head of an audience member who has been lured onstage.

However, while Noble's "suicide note" – which he performs wearing the legs of a torn Superman costume and a bald cap, and with his face caked in white make-up – vacillates between easy laughs and blunt imagery, my mind wavers between moderately amused and irritated, especially by one of the final sequences. This features numerous shots of Noble climaxing and also throwing clutches of £5 notes at people waiting in the foyer of a Citizens Advice Bureau. The residual feeling is that the joke is on us – it is a knob gag too far, emphasising a "charitable" gesture that is perhaps the only truly offensive thing about this admittedly lurid show.

The idea that some of the show is just for its performer is reinforced by the closing sequence, in which Noble cradles a puppet while singing Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child of Mine" and is elevated above the stage by a winch. The puppet is supposed to represent Noble's most recent girlfriend but in fact the story, which Noble recently revealed, is that the puppet signifies a child miscarried by that partner. He does mention this child earlier in the show but given a sexual scene shown between him and the puppet and the direct link Noble makes between the puppet and his last love, any other symbolism is obscured. Given the sex scene, this is perhaps just as well, unless Noble is deliberately trying to dig at deeper, darker material. One assumes not but what is sure is that Noble is all about going too far, seemingly without regard for himself or others.

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