Robbie Williams, Royal Albert Hall, London

Ten years on, he only wins when he's swinging
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The Independent Culture

Ten years of performing have given the 27-year-old Robbie Williams veteran status. He's lived, he's lost, he's laughed and cried through the standard celebrity traumas. Such hardening experience now gives him the authority to revisit the songs of his first musical loves: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr and Nat King Cole.

Thankfully, last night's fully orchestrated lavish production was undercut with the self-deprecation that is Williams's redeeming calling card. Indeed, his sense of humour seems wed to a finely honed business sense. After conquering the summer stadium circuit, he has spent the past few months recording an album, Swing When You're Winning, with Sinatra's former accompanists in Los Angeles.

The black-tie, £200-a-ticket, one-off show last night was filmed for TV broadcast in November and will be in the shops on DVD alongside the album in time for Christmas.

Rupert Everett, the first of several guests, set the tone with his irreverent introduction. "Here he is, the most paranoid man in showbusiness, straight from a very expensive rehab centre.''

Williams made his entrance sliding down a pole in the well-practised Norman Wisdom nerd style. But soon he was into deluxe cabaret pastiche mode. "We're here to pay tribute to some of the coolest men who ever lived,'' he explained, as Danny from Hear'Say was added to the gallery of rat-pack legend on the back projection.

The lavish nature of the one-off event, complete with theatrical set pieces, dancing girls and walk-on parts from Jane Horrocks and the American comedian Jon Lovitz, could not disguise the essential emptiness of Williams's unspectacular interpretations.

But there was fun to be had in his outrageous ad-libs and banter. "The Lady is a Tramp" was dedicated to his last three girlfriends. He did a passable hang-dog heartbroken drunk on "One For My Baby" and claimed affinity with the hard-drinking womanising tap-dancer celebrated in "Mister Bojangles".

By the end of the show, Everett was asking the audience if, regardless of their sexual persuasion, they would like to become particularly intimate with Williams. Naturally the crowd roared back its affirmation. The Robbie pantomime has evidently some way to run yet.

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