sun 24/09/2017

Stewart Francis, Pavilion Theatre, Worthing | reviews, news & interviews

Stewart Francis, Pavilion Theatre, Worthing

Stewart Francis, Pavilion Theatre, Worthing

Canadian comedian demonstrates there's more to him than endless puns

A human cocktail of wordplay and surrealist deviance

Before Canadian comedian and British TV panel show regular Stewart Francis arrives on stage his audience are entertained with his one-panel cartoons. These, Sharpie-penned in black, are projected as a slideshow (sample: in a fishbowl, one fish says to the other, “It’s all kicked off again in the Middle East” – title “Topical Fish”). It’s unfortunate that whoever set this up couldn’t be bothered to centre the image, since a good quota of the jokes' key lines were rendered non-existent, chopped off at the top. Happily, a half-hour support slot by UK-based fellow Canadian Dana Alexander went down better, warming up the initially somewhat placid crowd.

Francis introduces himself, self-mockingly acting as his own backstage hype man. He wanders on wearing a charcoal grey suit with an open-necked pink shirt, matching pocket handkerchief, and a facial mic. Francis is most famous for his word-play (this tour is titled Pun Gent), and he does indeed go into routines where he piles saw-that-coming puns on top of much cleverer ones to cumulatively hysterical effect. However, while anyone who’s come to hear gags such as “I had a fear of climbing chestnut trees but I conker-ed it” will leave happy, as will those who wished to bask in the occasional greatest hit previously aired on TV, there is much more to Francis than I’d anticipated.

When he leaves, he ensures his immediate return via a slide asking us to yell for an encore

Throughout an hour-and-ten-minutes of stand-up he deliberately undermines his debonair persona, spiking his deadpan delivery with bizarre asides, whooping outbursts, coy infantilism and, most amusingly of all, intimations of clangingly inappropriate deviant sexuality. I had reckoned that his show might consist of an endless stream of one-liners, which would amuse but never truly take off and conceptually satisfy, but I needn’t have worried. Francis weaves all manner of surrealist red herrings and narrative play into his act.

About halfway through, he starts playing off against supposedly subliminal images and words that appear fleetingly projected behind him; he makes much theatrical hokum of the idea that he is being fed his lines via an earpiece from an inept backstage stooge; he goes into an immensely funny routine about Sean Connery that involves a spot-on impersonation; he rides close to the edge with material about Bill Cosby and Michael Schumacher, garnering not-entirely-sure rumblings from the crowd.

When he eventually leaves, he ensures his immediate return via a slide that asks us to yell for an encore. We do and he does. In this final sequence, which he treats with the same blasé off-hand manner as the rest, he winds together elements of what came before, including a running joke about a twisted, perverse ordeal he claims always happens to him when he goes to India, and moulds it all into a preposterous climactic piece before winding down with a couple more puns and disappearing. Stewart Francis isn't really one for sparring with the crowd, but he's very good at taking them on a trip into silliness. His whipsmart word play is only the start of the journey.

He goes into an immensely funny routine about Sean Connery that involves a spot-on impersonation

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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