Reviewer: Jo Beggs
There’s never been a better time for a sharp, honest look at the United States, and Rich Hall, with his sardonic outlook on life, does it with style. The Virginia-born Anglophile comedian has truly come of age thanks to the current state of the union. With his Radio 4 Rich Hall’s (Election) Breakdown he attempted to make sense of the unlikely Clinton/Trump political battle, and the result of that election has given him a perfect target for his musings on all that’s wrong with America.
But Virginia-born Hall loves America, he’s rooted in Americana, as anyone who’s seen his excellent TV documentaries will know. Rich Hall’s Hoedown sees him bring together solid musicianship, comedy and a good dose of improvisation to create a format that’s proved a winner for the past eight years – an hour of country music that is as toe-tapping as it is funny.
The forty-minute first half of the show is straight stand-up. He launches in with a Trump tirade, does a run of great material about the differences between the US and the UK, from insurance advertising to street crime, and chats up the front row of the audience. Despite the quality of the material it takes a while for Hall to get the audience warmed up and he’s clearly feeling it, talking about playing the Lyric – the larger of the Lowry’s spaces – rather than the more intimate Quays Theatre, and noting the empty seats.
Things get more lively in the second half. Joined by a guitarist (Rob Childs) and drummer (Mark Hewitt) Hall rolls out an hour of country songs, templates into which he inserts improvised material based on people he’s spoken to in the audience. Like all improvisation, some of these work better than others (it’s the more mundane jobs he’s after rooting out – the airline pilot doesn’t get a song, the IT guy does), but he has some great lines and brilliant rhymes, and it kind of goes to prove that you can write a catchy country song about pretty much anything.
Hall does a few of comic songs off recent albums too, which demonstrate his quirky brilliance. Fur On A Stick about a retired greyhound realising he’s been duped all along, and his painfully accurate, tragic but hilarious song about seeing an aging, and increasingly off-key, Bob Dylan play live.
For a show that has the potential to be different every night, and one that’s been going for so long, Rich Hall’s Hoedown doesn’t have quite the variety you might hope for. Some of it stands up to repetition, but it does feel like Hall has found his comfort zone and is reluctant to move out of it. There are times when the show feels a bit flat, when Hall’s characteristic world-weariness feels a bit too real. Like he’d rather be somewhere else, with a better audience. But then we all have off-days.
Hall’s audience has clearly grown, though, in recent years with increased TV and radio exposure. He’ll need to keep the live shows fresh to keep them coming back. The thing is, in his moments of genius improvisation he proves that he’s one of the most intelligent, quick-witted comedians around. Let’s hope there’s lots more of that to come.
Reviewed on 3 December 2018 | Image: Contributed