fri 01/07/2022

Lee Evans, Wembley Arena | reviews, news & interviews

Lee Evans, Wembley Arena

Lee Evans, Wembley Arena

Midlife brings out new notes in a long night of physical and vocal brilliance

Not everyone likes Lee Evans and his bespoke brand of simian gurning and jerky rubberised motion. But he is very much to the taste of a majority of the comedy-going classes. Few other stand-ups – you can count them on one hand – could spend a season touring the UK’s soulless edge-of-town arenas and not have to worry about performing to empty banks of raised seating. Evans tore into two sets of an hour each last night at Wembley Arena without, apparently, a thought of conserving any energy for the five nights still to come and the long list of bookings beyond. Such is his hypnotic hold that for an encore he even sang a sad song at the piano about a funny man and (almost) nobody left.

Now that Evans has been joined on the Enormodome circuit by Michael McIntyre, their joint preoccupation with life's minor irritations grows striking. Dread experiences of flying on easyJet and shopping at IKEA found Evans sharing the bafflement and hurt all his audience recognise from life in the modern commercial cattle market. There were times when it looked as if he’d put together his set list by rifling through the lifestyle sections of a Sunday broadsheet: sport, shopping, travel, restaurants (I’m pretty sure McIntyre’s done the very same joke about the absurdity of wine waiters).

But there is something about Evans’s physicality which takes him into areas of comedy where no others can follow. His skip, to summarise, is a much more dysfunctional thing than McIntyre’s. It’s not simply that his elasticated limbs seem to be fitted with extra joints, or that his face is fashioned from Play-Doh. The skill with which he deploys them to illustrate his narratives are the product of a wild and wonderful visual imagination, and he uses it to brilliant effect on the big screens behind him. Thus we have Evans seeing him and his stooping grandparents as an illustration of homonid evolution. Or graphically demonstrating his uselessness as a junior sportsman. Or his nan doing techno. Part of the comedy lies in this odd little bloke mimicking the macho postures of the alpha male. He’s done it on television, but it would be fascinating to see him attempt a wordless set on stage.

Meanwhile, Evans’s physical oddness tends to shroud his vocal gifts. Knowing that his regular speaking pipes are underpowered, he spends most of the set doing the police in different voices – Spanish, Swedish, Scouse, angry, thick, bemused. He finds jokes lurking in ridiculous words – "Santander" and "vendor". He also works well with nonsense sounds – a broken satellite link on the news; a lovely gag about the words spelled out by the letters on an optician’s chart. Nor should his cleverness with language be overlooked. The business of responding to oncoming car lights he described – perfectly – as “beam jousting”.

Part of his shtick as a family entertainer (whose favourite adjective, as of course in most families, is “fuckin’”) is pushing the boundaries of taste. Jokes against celebs – Jordan, Cheryl Cole - cropped up here and there and each time he promised to cut them. In truth there’s other stuff that might more usefully go. The lights went down to the sound of Strauss – Also Sprach Lee Evans – just after 8pm and the audience weren’t let out till just before 11, by which time he’d drenched two shirts, two suits and two towels. Evans could perhaps ditch the bog-standard patter about robber bankers, or contemporary television, everyone else being on that patch too. You wonder also if he’s channelling a bit too much Tommy Trinder or Les Dawson in frequent visits to the traditional old joke-trough of the adversarial marriage. “Tell you what, she can take a punch though.” I don’t much want to hear Evans on the menopause. It feels at odds with the generosity of the rest of his act.

A comedian whose stage presence was once all about boyishness has now advanced into middle age. You can hear in his voice pleasing new notes of midlife disgust once copyrighted by Leonard Rossiter’s Mr Rigsby. It suggests that one day Evans will seamlessly morph into Victor Meldrew. It’ll be fascinating to hear what such a rare physical specimen has to say about being betrayed by a crumbling body.

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