Simon Munnery: Hats Off To The 101ers, And Other Material, Soho Theatre, London


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The Independent Culture

“The arch of limited triumph” says the mild-mannered Simon Munnery in the direction of a concertinaed piece of metal on stage.

The purpose of said construction was initially to aid his six minute rock opera about airships, but, at the end of the show, it becomes a metaphor used by the veteran absurdist to describe his own efforts.

Sixty minutes of scrapbook comedy (this show encompasses poetry, song, character monologues and stand up) pass surprisingly quickly, however, given they are moored only by Munnery's quiet charm, a quality that often belies the strength of some of his material.

Resembling an absent-minded version of a younger Woody Allen or a geekier version of Michael Caine's Harry Palmer character, Munnery, as ever, waivers between the direct and the obtuse. One minute he will throw a dictionary at his targets ("Bloody immigrants, they come over here...” he begins, imitating a Daily Mail reader, before countering: “yes, that's what it means”) the next he is wearing a top hat from which soap bubbles emanate, mimicking the thought police it turns out.

While nothing about Munnery screams action man he mentally leaps all over the place, from material inspired by a mix of Monty Python and Spike Milligan to poetry reminiscent of John Cooper Clarke (“Got to run just to stand still/don't even think about being ill” runs a line from his ode to London).

Usually better behind a mask, as his days as Alan Parker, Urban Warrior and as The League Against Tedium will attest, there's a naivete to Munnery's character-free stand up. It falters tonight in routines about Bruce Springsteen and car horns but that's not before a charming yarn is told about how he and his brother discovered swearing in their youth.

Tonight's character work, meanwhile, comes in the form of a handful of monologues one of which depicts a drug-addled Sherlock Holmes while another, packed with nifty wordplay, portrays a sexually repressed academic lecturing about bras. “What's attractive about breasts?” his pervy professor asks, “is it because there are two of them and that represents good value?”

Given that we are watching someone awkward, perhaps even slightly reluctant, riffing whimsically on the awkwardness of others it's almost remarkable how Munnery ever avoids being a shambles. He's demonstrated this ability more effectively in previous shows but he is still, here, beguiling in a most ramshackle way.

Tours until 23rd March