Hexagon Theatre, touring 12 May – 27 June 2009
Reviewed for the Oxford Times
For the uninitiated, this is the template for a Ross Noble stand-up show. Noble, an energetic and dishevelled Geordie, bounds on stage in front of an imaginative inflatable set piece. Chats with people in the front row provide a jumping-off point leading to a sequence of surreal tangents, loose associations and non-sequiturs, which is either entirely improvised or intricately structured to seem that way. Nearly three hours later he stops – not because he’s run out of steam, but because people have to get up for work in the morning.
Noble’s latest tour, Things (at Oxford’s New Theatre on 15 May), deviates from the formula not one bit. And why should it? The loyalty of his fans remains undimmed by repetition. During his performance at Reading’s Hexagon Theatre, they provide him with material by leaving hats, magazines and soft toys on stage in the interval, and heckle him with obscure references to previous tours. Potentially frustrating for more casual followers – but Noble makes sure to explain those callbacks worth repeating, and to dismiss the more insular ones.
This tour’s inflatable is a monstrous winged chimæra with four heads, each of them Noble’s. Considering he claims to have designed it himself on a napkin, it would be easy to mistake this for hubris; but from the few personal anecdotes that sneak in amongst the weird imaginings, it seems that, in fact, Noble is his own worst enemy. Perhaps the creature represents the part of him that can’t resist a quip, however ill-advised or inappropriate.
References to swine flu, MPs’ expenses and Jade Goody mark out Things as more topically influenced than previous tours, but don’t expect a move towards cutting-edge satire. Noble’s greatest asset is the amount of quality nonsense he can tease from a single heckle, and his usual format is the one that makes the most of it.
Written by Ross Noble