"Nothing ruins comedy like arenas," sings Tim Minchin in his opening number.
Except, this isn't just comedy – this is a show of witty stand-up, warm storytelling, tender tearjerkers, righteous ire and rock-star pretensions that, some dodgy sound issues aside, more than lives up to its arena billing.
Minchin's charisma and talent have never been in question and in this opulent venue 4,500 or so people see those superstar qualities mushroom. That opening line is the first of many gigantic knowing winks given to the audience to let them know that despite his hiring of the Royal Albert Hall and a 55-piece orchestra to bolster his cheeky and intelligent comedy numbers, he is still the same old Tim. He knows this is a potentially hubristic exercise, but such ambition led him to turn Roald Dahl's Matilda into a musical and that has critical acclaim in the bag and a West End run to come in the autumn. The guy is on a roll.
There is a triumphant air to the gig, which mixes new and old. The irony is that the subtler songs and the between-song monologues work best. What a time to find out that less is more. The showstoppers – "Tumour", the "Let Me Entertain You"-esque "Dark Side" and rock odyssey "Cheese" – don't feel like showstoppers, as Minchin's densely packed witticisms are drowned beneath reverb and orchestra. The more the players strive, the more you have to strain. You can't quite kick back and enjoy the ride, until a little moderation is adopted.
The show survives this. The second-half opener, "Prejudice", which relies on surprise for the joke to work, stands up to repeated listens and is wonderfully, lightly orchestrated. It is followed by the highlight of the show, a delicate "Lullaby" that reveals the darkest thoughts of a parent towards an unruly child. The poignant "White Wine in the Sun" and "Not Perfect", close on a non-comic, gratifying note.
Minchin continues to push outwards and continues to pull it off. Later this year he will return to the Albert Hall, as the first comedian to participate in the Proms. It is a smart move for all involved. Arenas suit him rather well.