The Horne Section, Criterion Theatre, London
Wednesday 19 October 2011
The chocolate-box charm of the Criterion Theatre seems a good fit for the sweet allure of the Horne Section and their latest season of jazz-comedy fusion. Furthermore, the lightbulbs that adorn the proscenium arch give the group's set the requisite cabaret vibe. It's a vibe that stand-up Alex Horne propagates with the show's opening number, "Roll Up", that playfully warns "no matter what you think of us you won't be reimbursed."
After introducing the band, that includes musical virtuoso Joe Stilgoe, Horne reveals "the wheel of wonder" that will be used to randomly generate various elements in the show. The first of these whimsical forays has two punters playing a version of Connect 4 using the rest of audience. One lady is charged with finding four people on a row who have been to France. It's all harmless fun, but the comedic payoff is slight.
Award-winning comedy-poet Tim Key is the first of tonight's guests. Well-used to setting his brief compositions to music, Key runs through some of his accomplished back catalogue including: "I counted to 100 and said 'I'm coming' but it was a trick and she had left me." Later Key tries to orchestrate some kind of jam with the band, with Horne improvising lyrics and Key then doing a poem over that, but it seems he has too many toys to play with to get anywhere.
Somewhat more polished is the Horne Section's boyband pastiche "If We Ever Get Any Groupies" and guests Oompah Brass are equally tight with their versions of pop songs including Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al" and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", for which a goodly number of the audience provide the words.
Tonight's headliner is a dapper Peter Serafinowicz. Louche, aloof, and ever-so-slightly smug, the cameo star of TV comedies including Spaced and Black Books uses a jazz soundscape to morph into a kind of Lenny Bruce-does-puns act. The material certainly has a historic feel to it: "I'd like to open a burger chain for senior citizens and call it Old McDonald's."
Despite the corny nature of some of the "jazz jokes" (the man with one nostril who can "only smell in mono" or the morphing of donkey sanctuary into "donctuary") and the stretching of the conceit, Serafinowicz brings a persona very much in keeping with the show's spirit.
Not seen live that often, Serafinowicz signs off with his renowned Paul McCartney impression and a specially truncated version of "Let It Be" to avoid public liability problems, he says. So, "LIB" it is.
The shorthand for the Horne Section as a whole? PEO: pleasant evening out.
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