Review: The Boy With Tape On His Face Is Tape Face, Shaw Theatre, NW1

I was listening to a podcast interview earlier this week where comedian Paul Currie told Stuart Goldsmith that he had heard that Sam Wills, aka The Boy With Tape On His Face had a five-year plan for his career. Wills certainly seems to be on schedule. Having won the Edinburgh Comedy Award Panel Prize in 2012, he has recently been a finalist on America’s Got Talent and has just announced a seven-week residency at the Garrick Theatre in London next summer. 

This first of two dates at the Shaw Theatre was something of a dry run for the West End, showcasing a more theatrical format for his showstopping wordless mimes. As the evening starts we see Tape Face on a set that recreates backstage waiting to go on and dozing off while listening to the Shipping Forecast. The show we are about to see is presumably supposed to be taking place in his head before his real show.

The dream device is a simple one that adds a loose narrative to proceedings. From here things start quite slowly. Having seen Tape Face before I knew what was in store, but I did wonder what newbies might make of watching a grown man messing about with two toy pigs while the duelling banjos song from Deliverance played. Tape Face himself seemed to concur with my thought, pulling a “what on earth are you laughing at?” expression. One of the joys of his act is the way he conveys so much with a look.

It is not long, however before he goes into his trademark audience participation routines. The strongest are the ones he has been doing for a few years and they remain huge fun as unsuspecting punters find themselves centre stage. It can’t be easy for an “amateur” to perform like this, so total respect for the first man up who had to do a sexy dance without even the support of Tape Face next to him.

I won’t reveal the other highlights here as part of the fun is seeing them unfold and come alive for the first time. Wills does have a fantastic knack though for getting the most out of his audience, finding the people that will be sporting enough to play along but not so attention-seeking they will upstage him.

What I would suggest in the run-up to the London 2017 shows is that the first half is trimmed back a bit. At over an hour there were maybe two set-pieces too many. At one point shortly before half-time Tape Face sat in his armchair again and this felt like a natural point for a break, but then the show continued.

There were plenty of surprises among the familiar routines (if you haven’t seen him live you may have seen them on YouTube). I’ve never been to a Tape Face show where an audience member shouted something out but at this show the star had a unique way of shutting them up. The music is well chosen too, with power ballads and classic dance tunes bringing the comedy pay-offs to life, while snippets from the Amelie soundtrack add to the cuteness factor already established by his trampish suit and trainers. I’d never really felt it before but there is something of a latterday Chaplin about Tape Face.

There is nothing quite like this on the live circuit at the moment. On the surface this seems like a children’s show rather than intelligent adult comedy, but as an experiment I took two hard-bitten, cynical Stewart Lee fans and they were blown away. This really is a show for all ages. Warmth, charm, inventiveness, laughs. What’s not to like? A living, breathing dream of a show.

Now Touring. Ticket details here.


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