Tom Allen The Stand 1615 until 24th August Reviewed 16th August £8 3 stars
Tom Allen is a recognisable character, but I can’t quite put my finger on which one. There’s elements of Oscar Wilde – the wit, the card, the life of the party. Beau Brummel is in the mix; his concept of fashion as an essential and important element of personality is clear. But then that entertainer’s weltschmerz bubbles up, like a vampy Marlene Dietrich.
I can see him equally at home in a piano bar, with a cigarette holder, in 1920s Paris; or leading a chorus line in a Ziegfield Folly.
Allen himself acknowledges that “people love the cliches, don’t they”; and I hope that I don’t do him disservice by turning him into a cardboard cutout of a human being. His show Life/Style is very much a character piece, relying not so much on one-liners or punchlines as mannerisms and delivery. We explore some general observations on his day-to-day life interspersed with tangential reflections on the nature of human interaction.
A big part of the show is his fascinating fascination with top hats, waistcoats and accoutrements. I couldn’t tell you my Victorian from my Edwardian from the backend of a bus, and have no inclination to. Nonetheless, I found this material deeply interesting – whether because it legitimately is, or because of his charm and gift of narrative, I can’t say.
Like his subject matter, his performance style is idiosyncratic. It’s difficult to envision any other comedian I’ve seen this year succeeding with Allen’s material. He doesn’t have jokes so much as commentary of his stories, and his approach mixes the theatrical with the personable. The overall effect is of being entertained by the funniest man at the party, speaking as his will dictates, rather than a comedian with a rehearsed set.
At times this falls flat. His bit on the explosion of the top hat factory was not well-received, and dragged on for too long: perhaps it was too different from the rest of his set to sit comfortably. And although he obviously has some musical ability, the piano in the corner is neglected except for a single song. It would distract by its presence, if it were not for the fact that the awkward seating layout makes it invisible to most of the audience.
Allen’s a good performer and a funny man. This show doesn’t come together in the way I would hope, but it’s still worth a visit. In saying that I suspect he has better things to offer, I mean no imputation that Life/Style is not an entertaining way to pass an hour – merely that the best part of the show is Tom Allen himself.