First Night: Suburbia rocks in a genteel way

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Festival Of Fun

Richmond Theatre


ANYTHING WITH an exclamation mark in the title is to be regarded with the deepest suspicion. But the opening night of "The Festival of Fun!" at Richmond Theatre yesterday proved a lot better than its title. This was largely thanks to the inspired musical comedian Bill Bailey.

Stand-up and music are often a desperately unfunny combination but Bailey manages the rare trick of being musical and amusing at the same time.

Who else would have dreamt up the idea of a politicised Abba singing heartfelt songs about the Nazi occupation of Finland? Or the harpsichord accompaniment to a medieval porn flick?

Bailey was well aware that the reserved Richmond audience needed a bit of coaxing out of its shell. When his question - "Are you ready to rock?" - was met with polite silence, he sighed: "Not quite there yet, are we? No,you're ready for a bit of light dinner jazz, aren't you?" The evening did not, however, start in such fine style. Opener Steve Best ran through a sub Lee Evans act which involved lots of none-too-dazzling slapstick and a regrettable routine about granny breaking wind.

Jeff Green's choice of material was hardly earth-shattering - how many times have you heard a sequence about the difficulties drunk blokes have finding their front-door keys? But he has an undeniable charm and a neat way with a one-liner.

But by the close the previously genteel audience had been roused into a cheering, stomping rabble."You rocked it up in the end, Richmond," Bailey said as he soaked up the applause. "In a mildly leafy, suburban sort of way."