A random spurt of smoke from a dry ice machine precedes Simon Amstell's appearance on the stage of the Reading Hexagon tonight. It's a mistake, of course. The wily charms of the 32 year old are not requiring of a pumped pomp, nor of any other obvious theatrics.
Amstell's showmanship skill, assisted by his occasionally imploring hand gestures, is to draw the audience in to thinking that they are so much better off for watching him than being him. The feeling is that there's no need to be jealous of this funny man's ability, nor pity him as he protests about his sense of disconnection from others, intended as the primary focus of the show.
“I couldn't wait til I was 17 so I could drive away from the fun” the creator and star of 'Grandma's House' says of the early years of this malaise. Fifteen years and a showzbiz career later and Amstell maintains not much has changed. “If you live alone and you don't make plans, you wake up and it just gets darker.”
The slight problem with this show is not that it's star protests too much but that he occasionally proclaims too little. His stories or anecdotes are often slight; a night alone in a hotel room prompts him resort to eating chocolate despite his vegan lifestyle; an aborted attempt to help a friend chat up a girl on a cosmetics counter; and, the weakest routine, a surreal retelling of a trip to Peru.
This would matter more were it not for the quality of Amstell's lines and asides “I believe she knew she was beautiful, and I believe that's all she knew” runs one of many piquant remarks that pepper the show.
The lingering pleasure of Amstell's wordsmithery also helps paper the cracks of Numb's thematic structure. Rather than hone in on the idea of social isolation, the curly mopped comic ranges over his neuroses in a more general way, never settling on something long enough to build on it.
It could be argued that his routine about things that seem anachronistic to him, such as the Royal Family and marriage, somehow echoes the disconnect between him and a wider group (i.e. mainstream society) but it would be somewhat tenuous to do so.
Despite the flaws, Amstell proves to be very good company and therefore counter to many of things he laments about himself in his show.
Tour ends: 9th June