Duchess Theatre, London WC2
Opened 3 March, 1998

The latest comedian to fill a brief gap in a West End theatre's schedule is cuddly, mop-topped, all-round decent bloke Alan Davies or, as he would no doubt hate to become known, "TV's Jonathan Creek" (a programme which bizarrely caught on among television critics during the gap between its first and second series). Davies has apparently already sold out his fortnight's run, which makes it feel less like drowning a puppy to report that he doesn't exactly set the stage alight.

Because Davies is perfectly all right supremely affable and exactly the sort of man who, you are certain, would keep a social evening bowling along nicely. But put him on a stage for two hours and he seems rather too dependent on being likeable and liked. Where the likes of Jack Dee and the current doyen of West End comedy Eddie Izzard take immediate command, however apparently casual or shambolic they may strive to seem, Davies rattles around his nondescript stage set, shuffling uncomfortably round the stage as if to an old Happy Mondays track that only he can hear.

It is a case of personality over material. My companion, a comedy writer and director, rightly pointed out that, if one considers the material independently of the delivery, Davies gets through about an hour's worth in his two hours. As well as his own personal flights of fancy, ranging from bungee-jumping in New Zealand to the possible uses of mad cows in landmine detection, he tackles subjects he thinks stand-up comedians do; any professional comedian complaining about nine-to-five jobs, though, is bound to sound a little hollow. He also visits subject matter and styles more familiar from other performers: we get a disquisition on poo that refuses to flush away à la early Billy Connolly, an Izzardesque riff on cats with ack-ack guns, and even a passing touch of Dylan Moran.

He does a fine gastroenteric attack sequence, and his idea of a remotely controlled Tina Turner is frighteningly plausible. However, the fundamental problem is that Davies' style works a treat in clubs and on the laddish TV panel games where he is frequently the only truly spontaneous participant, but is simply out of place in a venue like the Duchess Theatre. His name fills the place, but his act doesn't quite expand to do likewise.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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