Rob Auton: The Crowd Show – Soho Theatre, London

Reviewer: Alex Vella Bartholomew

If you are looking for an evening of sexy, hoping-to-shock stand-up comedy, this is not for you. If, however, you are partial to an existential crisis in the shower and would be relieved to know you are not alone, come this way. The Crowd Show is Rob Auton’s comedic and poetic take on people, connection, and a jumble of random yet related subjects.

The spine of the show is a list of tips for speaking in front of crowds that Auton found online when preparing a wedding speech. By following this list and bringing us along with him, he breaks the ‘fourth wall’ from the outset. Holding his stack of notes, speaking words of wisdom and sometimes just weird words, Auton is like an alternate Moses reading the ten commandments (tips in this case) to a bemused but supportive crowd. The tips include introducing your full name, talking to one person at a time, and playing a game to get the audience to interact with each other, leading to the crowd playing rock-paper-scissors, or nature-stationery-stationery as Auton prefers to call it.

Although the list of tips provides the structure, the gut of the show is the glorious mixture of Auton’s mundane and spiritual thoughts which intertwine and separate. He effortlessly hits the crowd with deep truths before offering the release of a laugh. The crowd feels quite bonded by the combination of complexity, simplicity, and sometimes surreality of this show.

At one point, Auton performs a pop/rap song about speaking to a fan pre-show when he’s not yet “in the zone”. At another point, he’s performing a gig as if he’s warming up the crowd at a strip club. The show is a cross-section of his brain; an insight into his world “to make the outside world easier to live in”. And it all comes down to our need for people and connection. In Auton’s words, “if I see a picture of a person in front of a mountain, I ask who’s that person?, not what’s that mountain?”. It is an artform in itself that this statement comes so soon after making the point that muesli is a posh flapjack that can’t hold itself together.

The audience can see that Auton is nervous, but thanks to the subject matter, this extra layer of sensitivity adds to the performance. The Crowd Show is not stand-up comedy as we know it, and Auton doesn’t describe it as such. It is not a consistent laugh-a-minute, and sometimes the laughs are slightly strained. But you will find hope, heart-touching moments, and a sense of joy to be surrounded by people living in this one moment; “It never gets bigger than this moment”.

Rather than the instant gratification of laughs forced out from crude embarrassment, the audience is left with something more rewarding, positive, and lasting. Auton is speaking from his heart for the purpose of real connection, because in the end, “everyone needs to feel needed”.

Runs until 18 March 2023 and continues to tour

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