Lee Evans is often a difficult man to read. Having found his way into comedy by the time-honoured route of getting laughs in order to curry favour, he still seems to harbour a fair amount of insecurity about his act. He appears truly incredulous to be playing a six-week season in the West End, and his thanks to the punters at the end of each half of the show sound genuine but awkward, as if he's painfully aware that "You've been a wonderful audience" is usually one of the most insincere lines a comedian can trot out.
Moreover, he spent much of the press night palpably bemused that we were not being quite wonderful enough. Although he had no trouble in eliciting a constant stream of medium-sized laughs, he appeared taken aback at several points that his anticipated big moments did not bring the expected guffaws. Where, say, Eddie Izzard turns the occasional comic damp squib into a quick gag at his own expense before shooting off into another tangential ramble, Evans hangs on to his reaction for that extra moment which suggests an element of truth in it – and these responses come after gags which are by no means failures, but just have not fully met his performance targets. No doubt the foregoing paragraph is exactly what he had in mind during his several apprehensive impressions of chin-stroking critics.
But the ex-boxer, musician and self-proclaimed "twod" works his insecurity wonderfully into his stage persona. Early in the set he degenerates into a torrent of embarrassed half-syllables, like Frankie Howerd with a defective microphone. Many of his physical set-pieces are at his own contorted, gangling expense. If he had a pound for every Norman Wisdom comparison that has been made about him, he could comfortably retire now, but the similarity is gloriously evident. Evans is a master of the uncoordinated lunge, tying himself in knots far too untidy ever to gain a Scouting proficiency badge.
It is when this aspect of his comedy moves beyond himself as a subject that I begin to feel uncomfortable with the shapes he throws. Too many of his impersonations of other idiots – the trainee supermarket "gofer", the guy who always seems to be cleaning the floors of motorway service areas – look alike, and verge on what would elsewhere be condemned as "spastic" humour. His intention is obviously nothing of the kind, but I was unable to stifle the odd twinge of uneasiness as another of these dimwits appeared.
Lee Evans is the rubber-faced, elastic-limbed man of the moment; he has the comic ability to ensure a lengthy career, and seems a genuinely good-hearted bloke into the bargain. If he can strike the happy medium between caring too much about his reception and not thinking enough about some of his material, he will be really phenomenal. He is already well on the way; all that is needed is a bit of fine tuning.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
Return to index of reviews for the year 1996
Return to master reviews index
Return to main theatre page
Return to Shutters homepage