20 Apr 2012 in Highland
OneTouch Theatre, Eden Court, Inverness, 18 April 2012
SOME comedians are instantly recognisable by their voice alone.
FOR example Joe Pasquale, sounding like a budgie on helium. Reginald D Hunter, with his American deep-south molasses drawl or Al Murray’s cockney rantings.
Andrew Lawrence is such a comedian. The moment he opened his mouth on stage at Eden Court’s OneTouch theatre you knew you were in for something different. His voice has a strange macabre quality and sometimes it is difficult to believe it is emanating from the diminutive comedian on stage. It’s as though it was the work of some hidden ventriloquist.
I’m not sure how to describe his vocal style. Imagine this. You are home alone late at night, trying to muster the energy to go to bed as the firelight dies. Suddenly your battered old teddy bear, his fur worn away, one eye hanging from the socket, turns to you with a malevolent grin and says, “How are you tonight?” That’s not the voice. As you rise, shaky legged, from your now urine soaked arm chair, heading for the door, he calls after you, “What’s the matter – don’t you want to play hospitals?” That’s Lawrence’s voice.
At his best Lawrence has an acute sense of the absurd displayed with a unique sinister, comedic brilliance. I don’t think I’ve seen any other comedian who can combine his flair for the surreal with such an edgy menacing stage presence.
Lawrence revealed that he studied English at St Andrew’s and his love of language was evident throughout his act. The set piece sections of his act were superbly written and performed with a vocal dexterity that made it easy to see why he has been nominated for a number of awards.
Although he didn’t allude to it, this was, I think, Lawrence’s second visit to Inverness. His first, some years ago now, was in the early stages of his career when he performed as a twenty minute comedian at Hootananny’s comedy club in its small upstairs venue.
Hootananny’s management, never ones to be over-burdened by the tried and tested rules of stand up performance, decided to reverse the running order and put me on, as support, after Lawrence as headliner. This upside down show meant that Lawrence had no warm up act and played to a silent bemused audience of tourists and locals who didn’t know what to make of the wicked squeaky voiced imp performing in front of them. Inverness, perhaps, was not ready for Lawrence back then.
In the years between his two performances in Inverness, Lawrence had clearly sharpened his skills and showed that he was a solid performer by picking up his act immediately where he left off after the interval. The intermission can be death to less experienced performers but Lawrence cleared this hurdle with ease. Although the OneTouch was nowhere near capacity the smallish audience received Lawrence well and a fair proportion of them clearly were fans. His elaborate songs and stories brought well deserved rounds of applause as the audience clearly warmed to this goblin like comedian.
Although Lawrence provided a great night of entertainment I was left with the feeling that he is not yet quite the finished article. He has still to rid himself of the novice comedian’s habit of playing with the microphone stand as a way of dissipating nervous tension. While a few tactile jitters are acceptable, Lawrence constantly manipulated the small tripod in a way that distracted us from the man himself and ultimately detracted from his performance.
Lawrence’s great strength is the surrealism of his performance, this is what sets him apart from other performers and is fascinating to watch. At times I felt he strayed too far from this persona, indulging in blokey banter with the audience which didn’t match the darkness of his other material. His political humour didn’t work for me either, I was unconvinced by his crude outpourings that seemed at odds with the obviously astute and witty material he had produced earlier in the show.
His act out of a depressed baby emerging from the womb into a shallow and unforgiving world was brilliant. When he is reflects on the meaningless trivia of our lives Lawrence holds a hilarious mirror to the world. Perhaps he should do what he does best and take us on a bizarre journey to the dark side of our lives rather than indulge in the kind of knob gags that proliferate in the world of stand up.
Lawrence may be still trying to find his voice but despite that he is growing into a great entertainer and someone you shouldn’t miss next time he braves the far north.
© John Burns, 2012