Johnny Vegas: And Another Thing..., Manchester International Festival: Pavilion Theatre
There were a couple of noisy walk-outs in the second half of this new Johnny Vegas offering. They could just have been clumsy people anxious not to miss their last bus. Or they might have been from a TV shopping channel, or Leeds, two of the objects of Vegas's gratuitous insults.
He had vowed not to send up TV shopping channels in the show that mixes theatre and live TV, broadcasting part of the action live on Ideal World every night. Instead, he promised a play about how people function under pressure when their personal lives are coming apart at the seams. But the target of vapid consumerism was too enticing.
There are some fine comic performances. Kevin Eldon, who also directs, is the much put-upon but almost all-seeing floor manager. In the studio warm-up he is so quickfire it's difficult to spot where he breathes.
Emma Fryer steals the show as Vegas's wide-eyed ditzy brunette co-presenter, Lindsay, who is just about to overtake the blokeish star presenter, Bryan, by getting a solo spot selling figure-flattering ladies' underwear. But her perfect make-up and deadpan manner hide an engaging vulnerability. She prides herself on "a touch of self-deprecation but not enough to suggest low self-esteem" but is a deeply weird agoraphobic who lives in her dressing room.
The live TV link-up is more than a gimmick. It adds hugely to the adrenalin as the two presenters row furiously as the floor manager counts down to cameras going live and the short-delay TV monitors flicker on. It gives real edge to the will-he/won't-he after Bryan announces he will propose to Lindsay on air. But once the link-up is over the show soars into surreal sketch stratosphere where wild rhapsodic humour allows the audience to wilfully suspend its disbelief at the barmy ending. This is the fertile imagination of a comic who understands that fecund is not a four-letter word.
The piece does not have the depth and intimacy of Interiors, his 2007 show here, in which Vegas again played a mad, sad thin man struggling to get out of a jovial bursting frame, inviting an audience of just 30 into a suburban semi as he tried to sell the house to them. But it is very funny and the best non-children's show of the festival so far.
To 17 July (0161 876 2198)
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