Live Review: Clinton Baptiste – The Paranormalist Returns, Leicester Square Theatre

Live Review: Clinton Baptiste – The Paranormalist Returns, Leicester Square Theatre

It has always fascinated me how the briefest of television appearances can sometimes make the biggest impressions. I’ve often wondered why John Thomson didn’t capitalise further on his appearance as nervous ventriloquist Joe Beezley with his puppet Cheeky Monkey on Knowing Me Knowing You With Alan Partridge. There was surely more mileage in his rabbit-in-the-headlights car crash performer.

Others have seen potential and run with it. Alex Lowe made a brief appearance in Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights many years ago as showbiz psychic Clinton Baptiste and is currently, nearly two decades on, on a national tour that is so successful it keeps getting extended. Now who could have predicted that?

It is easy to be simplistic about the success of Lowe’s Baptiste, who is, we are told in the blurb, “the copyright of Goodnight Vienna Productions” – the production company for Peter Kay’s comedy output. He is an instantly recognisable type, from the spangly suit and blond mullet to the slightly creepy bonhomie, the cheery “hiya” and smutty innuendo. You certainly don’t have to have much inside knowledge of stage psychics to enjoy this gig. 

And from the moment Lowe dances onto the stage the audience absolutely loves his show. He sets out his stall and the tone of the evening pretty quickly, explaining how he is going to bend over backwards to show us his third eye. But there is more. He is also, hold your breath, going to die and then come back from the dead.

We have to wait until nearly the end for that death-defying moment, however. Before then there are countless laugh-out-loud jokes, including a running gag about the tour’s sponsor, tool hire company Lawler’s. For those that think no joke is too low-hanging here – or should that be Lowe-hanging? – I don’t think he did an actual gag about being a tool himself. Though I may have been laughing so much I missed it. 

The jokes are often pretty crude and unapologetically non-PC –  there’s one about Michael Barrymore that feels like the kind of gag that would have done the rounds in the school playground in the 1970s – but you kind of have to do your utmost to take that on board and create a comedic cordon sanitaire around the material and assume it is literally not to be taken seriously. As with Phoenix Nights this show is very much a throwback to different times. One unashamedly crowdpleasing routine involving a spot of levitation could have come straight off a Tommy Cooper ITV special.

Most of all it is a great performance from Lowe, who also has the alter ego of ageing radio phone-in fan Barry From Watford. There’s some nice crowd work here too, sometimes from the stage and sometimes – feel those sphincters tighten – as Baptiste wanders through the crowd feeling up people’s auras. For those that don’t know much about Baptiste via Phoenix Nights or his podcast we get his back story, from growing up as an odd child in Bolton to being inspired by Derek Acorah. There is also a shadow over his past. Some people have hinted that Baptiste may have had a hand in the death of his elderly wife Maureen. Part of the show involves him attempting to clear his name by bring back a message from Maureen – in felt tip on a piece of card – from the other side of the celestial curtain… 

Earlier this week I saw Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth on the same stage. Shuttleworth is maybe more nuanced, but both Fellows and Lowe show the same total commitment to their comic creations, never once dropping out of character. They are both amazing at what they do. Both fictional characters are northern too, though that may be a coincidence. It would not surprise me if some people think Baptiste is a genuine paranormalist. But then again some people think Alan Partridge is genuine. And probably Joe Beezley too. 

Tour continues until June 19. Buy tickets here.

 

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