wed 22/05/2024

Spencer Jones: Making Friends, Soho Theatre review - award-winning comedian mines his post-lockdown escape to the country | reviews, news & interviews

Spencer Jones: Making Friends, Soho Theatre review - award-winning comedian mines his post-lockdown escape to the country

Spencer Jones: Making Friends, Soho Theatre review - award-winning comedian mines his post-lockdown escape to the country

If big chickens scare you, this is your thing!

Spencer Jones: Making Friends - doesn't want chicken tonightSoho Theatre

Lockdown feels more like a dream now: empty streets; bright, scarless skies; pan-banging at 8pm. Did it all happen? One part of our brains insists that it did; another resists such an overthrowing of what it means to be human.

Try recalling events of 2019, 2020 and 2021, and you’ll find them hazy, ill-defined and you reach for a phrase I say more often than I ought, “I don’t know whether it was before or after the pandemic…”

Spencer Jones didn’t find it easy and upped sticks for The Sticks, moving home and family to Devon for those oft-cited reasons - nearer to Mum, better for the kids and a slower pace of life. I’ve felt that kind of pull too, but, by the time I reach Euston station, I’m already homesick for the tender mercies of Tooting. Spencer does reach that conclusion too, but it takes him rather longer and provides the raw material for his new show, Making Friends

Having grown up on comedy gigs in the alternative boom of the Eighties and missed the stadium phase of the genre kicked off by Baddiel and Newman, it’s as interesting to analyse what is not in Spencer’s show as what’s in it. (You can see one element of his act has worked well - we’re on first name terms already). 

There’s no politics, no hate-laughs, audience interaction solely of the most polite kind. There’s warmth and inclusiveness, a man inviting us into his world, perhaps not privy to his innermost thoughts, but personal enough without oversharing. The intent is not to change the world, but to entertain it.

I was reminded of two old-school comedians, now long gone. In the self-deprecation, the smiles to the audience that all but forced us to smile back and the invitation to laugh and not snarl at the absurdities of life, I summoned the image of Ken Goodwin, stalwart of the seminal ITV show, The Comedians and a performer I can’t have  seen more than twice in four decades or more. It’s a testament to both acts that such long neglected synapses were fired.

With his haphazard use of props and technology, always going that bit wrong while we understand that the man is actually in control, there was more than a touch of Tommy Cooper in the show. No magic, but Cooper was always more about the creation of an alternative reality and Spencer is adept at creating that too.

That ambition is most obvious in the denouement of the show, rural life now living rent-free inside his head, neighbours hard to read, friends hard to make, life just too repetitious after the hurly-burly of the metropolis. He picks a fight with a cockerel, the aggressive bird looming large in his garden and larger still in his mind, the mental manifestation of how the benign idyll has become a hostile environment. It’s absurdist stuff, a crazy anthropomorphic neurosis, but it brings things to a head - and it’s funny too.

An hour is a long time for a stand-up to command a space and, while there are songs and some throwaway puppet work to provide variety, more plot would be welcome, characters introduced and despatched to history quite swiftly - probably fair enough in a show with the theme of isolation. Bite too is absent, comedy’s delicious transgressive permissions that allow us to laugh at a man on a banana skin when, in real-life, we’d probably rush to help, not really Spencer’s thing. The feeling persists that his problems, real though they were, are a little bit First World for us to invest that much.

I’d watch out for that six-foot tall chicken though.    

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