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Alistair McGowan, touring | reviews, news & interviews

Alistair McGowan, touring

Alistair McGowan, touring

Tour-de-force of impressionist's art

Many of his characters are familiar from his television show The Big Impression which he performed with sometime partner and comic foil Ronni Ancona. His David Beckham (and Victoria, which is a new voice) continues to be a delight, while his ex-England football coach Sven-Göran Eriksson and BBC newsreader Huw Edwards are uncanny. He has added many new voices and the only noticeably weak impressions are, funnily enough, those of some fellow comics, including Vic Reeves and Andy Parsons. But his Dara O Briain gets every cadence of the Irishman’s lisping, mile-a-minute delivery.

For those not obsessed with football, or its television pundits and club managers, a lot of the voices will remain unknown even after McGowan namechecks them. And the inclusion of just a single politician - Gordon Brown - and June Brown (as Dot Cotton in EastEnders), the only soap star who gets an airing, are glaring weaknesses in a script that has many clever observations. In addition, the downside of doing 120 voices (sorry to sound churlish) is that too many get only one line - some just a few words - and this can make the show seem bitty and underpowered.

The energy noticeably ups a notch, though, when McGowan goes on extended riffs, about X Factor judges, the healing powers of Pepto-Bismol, or setting one violent extremist group against another in a World Cup setting - “The Sunnis will play against the Irish Catholics in the first round...” And his mimickry is shown in intricate form when he morphs. seemingly mid-breath, from Alan Titchmarsh to Dave from The Royle Family via Alan Bennett, William Hague and Take That's Gary Barlow - a sort of impressionist daisy chain, if you will. It's inspired, as is his Terry Wogan in sexual congress. He also does his research well, with plenty of local references and in-jokes. As for the sport-heavy material: well in football-mad Newcastle, perhaps it’s understandable.

And it may sound perverse to say it, but I find his non-impression material - the straight comedy, as it were - often more interesting because it’s the real Alistair McGowan coming through and he’s a witty, clever and nice bloke who has a neat take on sport, politics and life. But that patent decency, which means he allows the audience to fill in the punchlines to his occasionally smutty material, doesn’t lend itself to anything other than affectionate portrayals of subjects. They are, I suspect, heroes rather than villains to him but not necessarily to all of us, and I could do with his voices speaking some sharper material - or even an occasional knife going in to fillet egos and puffed-up presenters.

But those caveats aside, this is a thoroughly pleasant two hours with much to laugh at.

Alistair McGowan is at the Nottingham Playhouse tonight and then touring until 17 December. Book here

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