Boothby Graffoe, Old Red Lion, London
Wednesday 05 January 2005
I wonder if naming your stage persona after a small Lincolnshire market town has been something of a curse for James Rogers, alias Boothby Graffoe. Despite his admirable work-rate on the circuit - and in particular in Edinburgh, where since 2000 he has had a show running every year, and sometimes two - this imposing clown has not quite put himself on the map. Certainly, he has not yet earned city status.
Nevertheless, Graffoe enters this year fresh from a number of high-profile ventures in 2004. In the spring, he took part in the British and Irish comedy invasion of New York, along with Eddie Izzard and Dylan Moran, and in the autumn, he appeared as a contestant on Channel 4's Kings of Comedy. Though he did not win, his dramatic, alcohol-fuelled departure from the contest prompted glowing plaudits from his fellow contestants, including the old-timers Stan Boardman and Mick Miller, and the newcomer Ava Vidal.
The Old Red Lion may not afford the kudos of a West End run but it is a suitably cosy venue for Graffoe's cute and clever comedy. Something of a cat-lover (there is a cat motif on the wall behind him and one on his posters), Graffoe often embarks on conversations with his feline friends and, in this performance, there's also an appearance from a Welsh sheep shunned by the flock because he can talk. Not all is cuddly in his comedy menagerie, as "Kittens in a Bag" - a song about his father drowning his pets - proved. Likewise, another song, "Baseball-playing Spider", shows that Graffoe, like the cartoonist Gary Larson, can illustrate the surreal and sinister side of an imaginary animal kingdom.
There's no question that Graffoe has bite; indeed, we are left with the ditty "Dead in the Woods", about Dr David Kelly's "murder", as a stark reminder of his edge. Meanwhile, Graffoe's face, dexterous and loopy as Tommy Cooper's or Spike Milligan's, sometimes betrays an edginess. One minute, he is beaming to explain how the Australian accent was born of the sun; the next, he looks anxious and morose.
At times, the proceedings lack focus: the animal conversations tail off; a yarn about badgers, foxes and mice wearing household implements seems rather indulgent. But as a jack of most trades - musical comedy, surrealism, improvisation and meat-and-bread one-liners - there is always something round the corner.
The presence of three 10-year-old children on the front row at this show provides some bright and breezy moments. Mishearing one who says that she got an art easel for Christmas, Graffoe scoots off into a world where the art weasel helps children with their paintings. It's joyous stuff, and when it turns out that the children have pets with dubious names made for comedy, all hell is let loose in the animal house.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant