Lenny Henry: From Cradle to Rave, New Theatre, Oxford
Tuesday 08 February 2011
Lenny Henry, who re-entered the comedy world when he appeared on Live at the Apollo last autumn, is bona fide heritage material. The 52-year-old entertainer's latest show looks at his history through his passion for music. Family, first loves and fame are all set against a musical backdrop, from reggae rent parties at his parents' house in Dudley (where relatives gave him white rum that was "63 per cent alcohol, 37 per cent hospital") to the musical compromises made in marriage (to ex-wife Dawn French, though she is never explicitly mentioned), where Sade is the only common ground.
The first 45 minutes take Henry through puberty, where he dwells on his desperation to imitate Marvin Gaye and "get it on" before he comes up against the equally powerful urge to perform, discovered after doing an Elvis impersonation at a club. The second half speaks of the marital wet blanket that gets thrown over clubbing, but also of the suffocation of his own desires to sing, even if his character Theophilus P. Wildebeest ("I believe in the women's movement/I hate it when they just lie there" he croons by way of a reprise) did earn him a spot on a Kate Bush record.
Every comedian, Henry admits, wants to be a lead singer, though few of them could claim to have had their ambition choked off by Trevor Horn, as it transpires his was. This rejection, candidly re-told, doesn't stop Henry demonstrating why he, well, didn't get the Horn, by belting out songs mentioned in the show for a karaoke encore.
This inevitable indulgence can't drown out the gentle amiable charm of what has gone before, however, and while Cradle to Rave may not rock your world, it will at least lead you a merry dance.
Touring to 15th May ( www.lennyhenry.com)
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
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