Given the mixed reception of earlier dates on this tour, with criticism focusing on slapdash writing and half-baked performances, it is a relief that by the time Steve Coogan lands in London he has steadied the ship, delivering an altogether slicker production.
The show, entitled Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge and Other Less Successful Characters, flags badly when presenting those lesser billed characters. Much of the enjoyment, in particular for Pauline Calf and her "I've had him" refrain, is underlined by old affection rather than any new jokes. A lot of the material feels rather tired. In particular the songs are poor, while knowingly risqué jokes about suicide bombers, Muslims and paedophiles fall flat.
The emergence of Paul Calf, Coogan's foul-mouthed Mancunian drunk, raises spirits considerably. He delivers some funny lines, with Ross Kemp, Stephen Hawking and Calf's bewilderment at the demonising of smokers providing good fodder.
The show's second half is devoted to Alan Partridge and it is obvious that this is what the audience has been waiting for. The new sketches that Coogan places Partridge in aren't in themselves particularly strong, but it is a measure of the brilliance of this comic creation that he remains extremely funny.
The first sketch sees Partridge become a motivational speaker. While this is perhaps a natural progression, it's also a well-worn comic target. A sketch with Partridge performing in a play he has written about Thomas More is quite aimless. Yet Alan just being Alan is still funny. You do wonder, though, how long Coogan can keep returning to him. At one point Partridge goes on an extended riff bellowing his catchphrase "aha" maniacally over and over – perhaps this is a veiled expression of the comedian's feelings about the character?
The show ends on a higher note, with, surprisingly, a song. In it Coogan steps away from his characters to sing about "himself", addressing tabloid
revelations about his private life. In a manner that is the hallmark of the best Alan Partridge material, the song wrings humour from smugness and embarrassment, tackling potentially awkward elements of his personal and public personas, and despite Coogan's much referenced shortcomings, the chorus jauntily concludes with a Monty Python-like shrug of the shoulders. Nobody's perfect.
The song contains some of the funnier lines of the evening and suggests that there may still be fresh life in this comic performer. He just needs to put the old characters to bed and concentrate on a new one: Steve Coogan.
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