Reviews: Comedy Eddie Izzard Shaftesbury Theatre, London

Eddie Izzard has now acquired the status of comedy untouchable. What other dispenser of stand-up, a low-brow art form if ever there was one, sends the big-hitter critics from the heavies scurrying for their pens. I don't recall Jack Tinker ever clamouring to review Billy Connolly. But then what other comedian can fill a West End theatre for months on end?

These days Izzard puts as much thought into his wardrobe as his script. In fact, the development of his dress sense exactly mirrors the progress of his comedy. Years ago he would stumble on in whatever he happened to be wearing - slack blue jeans, beige polyester shirt with tail hanging out, floppy, misshapen hair, definitely not underweight - and pretty much just say whatever came into his head; in short he looked a mess and his material was a shambles, albeit killingly funny.

Now he wears stunning orange Jean-Paul Gaultier numbers, black PVC trousers, patent leather boots, a strawberry blond Nolan Sister bob and half a ton of slap. Dresswise, he is rigorously themed up - the giant poster at the end of Shaftesbury Avenue, on which he looks like Julian Clary's chubby cousin, reflects exactly his apparel on the front of the theatre programme, which in turn reflects his on-stage get-up. Similarly his routines are far slicker and tighter than ever before; virtually eradicated are the oohs and the uuhs, the hesitations and deviations, replaced instead by a supreme confidence bordering on arrogance.

Recent dramatic turns in Edward II and Mamet's The Cryptogram have given him a sense of theatricality, so that his stage walk has now become more of a swagger. His performance and material - the familiar surreal animal yarns, and a new obsession with the sounds and meaning of language - are as engagingly dynamic as ever, but the highlight comes when, with a sweep of his arm, a button flies off his Gaultier jacket. So cocksure is he that, with a needle and thread donated from the front row, he spent the next 10 minutes manfully struggling to sew the button back on, while juggling perilously with a running commentary on comic energy. Seamless, you might say.

Inevitably, the button lost the struggle, for Izzard is a man bent on world domination - he who would be emperor of the universe, a shrewd Napoleonic manipulator behind the cheeky facade. If they speak so much as a smattering of English (or French for that matter), he'll conquer them - he's just completed a tour of the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland for God's sake.The Izzard empire is expanding at an ever faster rate. Soon enough you'll see him on the big screen alongside Bob Hoskins and Gerard Depardieu in Christopher Hampton's The Secret Agent. He's got a plot, and he's not about to lose it. And if you ever get to heaven, you may just find that God wears Gaultier.

n Booking: 0171-379 5399 to 16 December (not Mondays)

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