Review: Brian Gittins, Soho Theatre

brian gittins

It's comedy, but not as we know it. Brian Gittins has been on the circuit for a few years now, but his popularity has gained some purchase recently, thanks to his appearance in the Ricky Gervais series Derek as sad, sex-obsessed loser Kev. He might be playing a small room in the Soho Theatre but he has just extended his run. I recommend you go, but I also recommend you get there early enough to grab a seat at the back.

This was one of those shows where the audience spent most of the gig with their sphincter muscles in collective spasm, hoping that they would not get picked out for a spot of onstage embarrassment. The self-consciously ironically awful grubby sweat-panted sleazy Gittins (actually a character created by David Earls) has regularly indulged in low-level audience participation but here he has gone down the Adam Riches/Nivk Helm route, pushing "AP" for maximum effect.

At one point he says "This is as uncomfortable for me as it is for you." (apologies if this is not verbatim, I was at the front and had hidden my notebook by then). I'm not so sure though – Gittins doesn't have to wear a rubber Elephant Man mask or pretend to masturbate onstage. He doesn't have to lob a prosthetic penis around. And he doesn't have to get down on all fours to pretend to be an antelope. And he is getting paid.

There is a thin line with audience participation. Are you using members of the public to enhance the show or are you using them for easy laughs? Gittins seems to shuttle backwards and forwards across this line during his hour. As well as cheap prop gags there is clearly plenty of craft here – in the clunky musical cues, in special guest Charles Petrescu who – no spoilers here – has to be seen to be believed, in the unlikely sponsor of the show Rampoo – "shampoo for rams".

Gittins has evolved since I last saw him two years ago. The cafe proprietor persona seems to have been quietly dropped. Maybe Angelos Epithemiou has been given custody of that. Instead he refers to himself as working as a comedian for the last six years, slogging up and down motorways in his Mini Metro. In his own way he is a distant cousin of Gervais's Derek – just as socially awkward and unable to relate to people in a normal way, but then I guess you could say that about most stand-up comedians.

Just in case you are still wondering, I did enjoy Gittins, but in a wincemakingly  uncomfortable way. The show is not all about the audience but that is the element that lingers longest. As well as the Riches/Helm penchant for full-on immersive interaction, there was a hint of Tim Key surliness and Harry Hill lunacy, all delivered with an added nightmarish edge. As the show climaxed with an onstage all-male "gang bang" the reference points weren't comedic at all, but filmic. Firstly I thought I was watching a Carry On film directed by David Lynch, then, for some reason, I thought of Pasolini's adaptation of Marquis de Sade's compendium of sexual horrors (thank you Wikipedia), The 120 Days of Sodom. But maybe that was just me. 



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