Review: Simon Evans, Soho Theatre

Stewart Lee recently wrote an article in the New Statesman about the lack of right wing comedians. I sort-of doubt if Simon Evans is a card-carrying Cameronite, but there is something distinctly conservative about him. Not in a horrible Bernard Manning/Bob Monkhouse way, but in his love of traditional old values. Have a look at his website, for instance. The design is a homage to the virtually extinct London Routemaster bus.

Evans' latest show, Friendly Fire, picks up on similar notions of nostalgia. After a few snappy opening gambits involving last year's Olympics (nice line about Sir Bradley Wiggins), his underlying theme is how this septic isle has lost direction, citing the way we make stars out of the likes of John Terry when we used to make stars out of explorers such as Shackleton.

It is a clever show in all sorts of ways. As well as the narrative arc Evans manages to shoehorn in crowdpleasing jokes that would function just as well in short club sets or on Live at the Apollo and probably have. His own experiences are pretty universal for a man of his fortysomething vintage – moving out of London, parenthood – but he puts a neat, dictinctive personal spin on them. He dresses distinctively better than the average fortysomething dad too. He was in a well-cut plain suit onstage but one can imagine him relaxing in tweed.

When it comes to children Evans wonders why they get so much attention these days – he preferred it when they were packed off to boarding schools or up chimneys until they were adults. He has an illuminating, self-mocking story about going into a classroom to read from a book and he takes Gibbon's Decline & Fall. This is typical of the way Evans' erudite brain works. It was obvious he was going to take in an unlikely tome – for one awful moment I wondered if it would be 50 Shades of Grey, but Evans is far too original for that.

He might be bemoaning the collapse of society and manners in the modern world, but this never comes across as Grumpy Old Man Syndrome. Instead it slots in neatly with his traditional values worldview – give Evans a chance to sit down in a comfortable leather chair and pour him a decent single malt and he could put the world right. He might be boiling over with rage, but it is a wonderfully controlled kind of rage.

For this Soho Theatre run Evans has had to cram a 90-minute show into a one hour slot, so at times the pace galloped along, but he also knew how to slow things down to a languid trot. The three best extended sections involve having to deal with a rat infestation, a predictably hellish family trip to Disneyland and the story of the aforementioned Ernest Shackleton.

The closing Shackleton vignette barely contained any jokes at first, as Evans set the heroic scene of their battle for survival, but it was told so well the audience was riveted. Except for one ignorant acorn-bladdered twat who decided to go to the toilet at a pivotal moment. One almost expected a bigger pay-off at the end, but the yarn was so good is barely mattered. 

To say non-stop big laughs is not Evans' style might dissuade some people from seeing him, but please don't be put off. There were lots of belly laughs last night. One was unscripted, when Evans accidentally spat at a fan in the front row (not the one who went to the toilet), but most were part of his elegantly  constructed set. Like those little paper things the Routemaster conductor used to give passengers in exchange for money, this is just the ticket.

Simon Evans is at Soho Theatre until April 20 then on tour. Details here.

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