Reviewer: Jo Beggs
There are not many comedians who’d commit to a run of four nights at the Lowry, a couple of weeks before Christmas. But Rich Hall has a truly dedicated and ever increasing fan base that seems to make it possible. With every new TV or radio comedy series, documentary or panel show appearance, Hall’s sardonic wit and sharp satire are proving him to be at the top of his game.
The recent Rich Hall’s (US Election) Breakdown, broadcast on Radio 4 in the innocent pre-election days when we were all pretty sure we’d have Clinton in the White House, offered up a perfect foil to the campaign madness. His documentaries, made for BBC4, which interpret some of the core values of the US, have made him one of our best-loved American imports.
He’s back, though, with his tried and tested country music comedy format – Rich Hall’s Hoedown. The 2016 version packs in some great stand-up in which he muses on everything that separates our two nations, from gun ownership to restaurant portions, and a whole second half of comic songs. Hall, married to a Brit, has now spent enough time in the UK to appreciate our quirks while still finding them somewhat baffling. He has a genuine interest in people, the way people think and act, which is what makes his documentaries so successful. Although he admits it’s “a bit one-sided” he threatens to keep ‘the conversation’ in the first half going all night. He could certainly do a longer set and it wouldn’t wear thin. The first 45 minutes is gone in a flash.
After the interval Hall is back with five musicians for a longer, faster paced musical set. His invention and improvisation ensure that the show is totally fresh. Call backs to conversations with audience members in the first half sneak into songs in the second. He improvises love songs with a handful of biographical details from couples in the front row, and mingles them with old favourites and a few new offerings. Sixteen years ago Hall won the Perrier Comedy Award at Edinburgh Fringe with his character comedy as Otis Lee Crenshaw – ex-con country singer. If at that time he felt he needed an alter-ego to embrace his love of country music, he’s now quite the musician in his own right, knocking out some great tunes with the help of his brilliant Hoedown Band. It’s a hugely enjoyable sound.
Hall is a hugely enjoyable comedian to watch. He clearly still gets a kick out of performing and he has the audience totally on his side, even when he runs dry of improvised lyrics or stumbles on a punch-line. He demonstrates an intelligent wit, and, rather at odds with the grumpy personae he regularly demonstrates on panel shows, a positive outlook on a world in turmoil.
Runs until 15 December 2016