Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
The comedy circuit is becoming congested with comedians using their life experiences as the raw material for their routines. There are shows about dysfunctional families and struggling with physical and mental illness. Mark Steel provides a refreshing perspective on a formula that is becoming over-familiar.
Steel has always known that he was adopted and takes the viewpoint that his birth parents had no interest in what happened to him after the adoption process was complete. The birth of his own children, however, prompts a re-think and Steel begins an investigation, lasting years, trying to trace his birth mother.The resulting revelations are so incredible that Steel admits, were he in the audience, he would dismiss them as utter bloody twaddle.
Who Do I Think I Am? is, if nothing else,a masterclass in how to construct a comedy show. Steel has taken immense pains to get this right – he feigns outrage that so few people recognise that the pre-show music is made up of songs with the theme of identity. In the first Act the theme of the show is touched only tangentially. Steel believes strongly in nurture over nature and affectionately describes his upbringing in a town where the main industry was theft.
Actually, Steel is laying out a group of loose ends that will be meticulously tied together in the second Act in a series of unlikely, bonkers really, but believable events. Steel describes how his left-wing principles were established not by any research or argument but simply because, during his formative teenage years, he had an instinctive loathing for people he learnt were capitalists. In the second Act, through a series of bizarre connections, he discovers that his birth father was a close friend of the people he despised; including Lord Lucan. The method of finding his father is, therefore simple: all he has to do is trace Lord Lucan.
Steel is a generous host and peppers the lengthy show with his passionate and hilarious opinions on politics and how modern technology is making life harder. ‘Dad’s crying again’ remarks his son watching Steel try to use the internet to put together a playlist for the show.
The main strength of Who Do I Think I Am?is, however, Steel’s warm and unaffected personality. He expresses contempt for presenters who, conveniently on camera, experience an emotional meltdown when learning of their ancestry. The conclusion of Steel’s search for his parents is bittersweet but that doesn’t really matter. Steel was always confident of his identity and his relationship with his adoptive parents is free of trauma, well as much as any family can avoid such issues. The result is a show that is short on sentimentally but full of laughs and warmth. Who Do I Think I Am?proves that autobiographical comedy has not yet run out of steam as long as the presentation is inventive.
Reviewed on 26th May 2016