All rise for the queen of innuendo

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Why anyone would choose to sit in the front row during an evening with Julian Clary is beyond James Rampton. Still, taking a poke at the punters is what the comedian does best, and he left the audience feeling all warm inside.

Scripts, who needs 'em? Julian Clary is a rare example of a comedian who works better when he throws away his pre-planned material and just goes with the flow. All he needs is the springboard of, say, a badly dressed person in the audience - and on Thursday he was spoilt for choice - and he's away.

As he publicly phoned up the unsuspecting builder husband of a woman in the audience and asked him, "Any particular erections you're responsible for?", you felt Clary had turned punter piss-taking into an artform. Not only does he manage to humiliate those in the theatre, but also their nearest and dearest who have stayed at home.

Dressed in fetching white jodhpurs held up by spangly red braces, the comedian likes nothing better than getting up close and personal with his fans. From the moment he made a grand entrance bursting out of a man- sized peapod, he revelled in poking fun at the audience. Coming down from the stage (which had apparently been done out with props remaindered from both Bill and Ben and Teletubbies) and wandering along the front row of the stalls - surely only card-carrying masochists choose to sit there - he had the killer instincts of a shark who'd missed breakfast.

Casually lunging at someone he termed "a Myra Hindley lookalike", he alighted for a feeding frenzy on a woman on a bad hair day. "How long ago did your perm go horribly wrong?" he enquired, baring his teeth, "Very brave of you to come out." "Is your hair naturally wavy?" he snapped at another innocent victim. "Nature can be so cruel." He went on to hand out nibbles among the audience, until he claimed he could tolerate no more. "Could you just take the tray and pass it along? I've seen enough cheap clothing for one night," he sighed. He gets away with it because he's naturally so likeable. Audiences feel like they're being savaged by an old friend, which somehow makes it all right.

Later, in a neat coup de theatre, he sent out his assistant, Helga, with a walkie-talkie to lasso passers-by. She returned with six suited "spatial information consultants" - no, I don't know what they do, either - hoiked out of a booze-up in an adjoining pub. In a complete gift for Clary, one of them told him his name was Neil - "not just now" came back the instantaneous reply. One of the group was then made to sit behind a set of medical screens - shades of Carry on Doctor - with a pair of rubber gloves, a tub of Utterly Butterly, a jam jar and a photo of Jeffrey Archer and ordered to produce a sperm donation. And you thought appearing on Beadle's About was embarrassing.

Clary's scripted set-pieces lacked the same bite. The whole shtick about having a baby became rather laboured, and the critic who dubbed him "very brave" to sing in public was right. Even the camp swaying in time of two giant sunflowers either side of him could not rescue his rendition of "Bachelor Boy".

But as he closed the show, handcuffed to a hapless graphic designer from Kew who was robed in a silver-lame, feather-trimmed cape, bouncing on a trampoline singing "Baby Love" in a shower of glitter, Clary was back to what he does best.

Move over, Dame Edna; there's a new queen of ritual humiliation in town.

Julian Clary's `Special Delivery' continues at the Vaudeville Theatre, London WC2 (0171-836 9987) to 3 Jan.