Reviewer: Jo Beggs
Milton Jones edges sideways on the stage dressed as Great Britain. It’s exactly what the audience expects from this Radio 4 and TV favourite who has built his career on a surrealist sense of humour and an endless supply of puns and one-liners. The audience – a pretty full house in the Lowry’s huge Lyric Theatre – need no warming up, Jones has them laughing from the first moment, and the first ten minutes of kooky comedy sets the scene for the rest of the evening. This clever skit gives Jones the chance to poke fun at Brexit and Scottish Independence, giving politics a wry sideways glance. Jones is not a comedian who rants about things, he just gently drives home his point in a totally compelling way.
It’s a great warm-up for the actual support act. Chris Stokes offers up twenty minutes of amiable comedy to an already contented audience, with stories of everyday life – from his Black Country childhood, to the breakup of his marriage, from injured pigeons to dog walkers. Stokes is an ideal comedian to put in front of Jones’s audience – likeable, inoffensive and funny.
The second half of the show is a well-crafted hour of comedy from Jones. Built entirely around one-liners, Jones weaves a makeshift story through the whole thing, with the set broken into distinct sections. On the pretence of having a new PR Manager, Jones plays a series of voice mail messages which invite him to a range of publicity interviews. While he waits for the call from Hollywood he agrees to local radio gardening shows and snippets in regional newspapers. When the phone finally rings for the ‘big job’ it’s the opportunity to address the nation – and to tell us all how he’ll sort everything out.
Jones breaks up a heavily scripted show with some improvisation – handling the interruptions of audience members’ mobile phones and a problem with the stage lighting with easy grace. He throws himself open to the audience for suggestions on themes he can talk about, and ably deals with everything from Norway to Algebra. He must have hundreds of adaptable jokes stored up that will fit every situation. He even manages to seamlessly drop in a handful of local references and a Harvey Weinstein joke, which is about as topical as you can get. It’s no wonder he’s the darling of the panel shows.
Scattered props and some slides on a big screen create a space that’s like a giant playroom, which Jones runs around in, dressed in one of his many signature brightly coloured shirts. A bird-house houses an old dial phone. A wheely bin is filled with a lot of large flags, with which Jones makes some wry comment on international relations. This isn’t completely new material, he did something similar in an Edinburgh show a few years ago, but it’s solid comedy, and updated to reflect the current state of the world.
Jones’s real skill, though, is to create a well-rounded show out of a bunch of completely unrelated one-liners. It’s in the call-backs that the power of his writing really comes through – with running jokes and clever references to his earlier – and even Chris Stokes’s – jokes. He brings the audience along with him every step of the way.
If you want a couple of hours in the theatre when you barely stop laughing – this is the show for you. It’s a one-nighter in Salford, but a glance at Jones’s web-site shows what a hard-working comedian he is. It’s unlikely on a tour of this length – which runs well into 2018 – that he won’t be coming somewhere near you.
Reviewed on 15 October 2017 | Image: Contributed