Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
Earlier this year Sam Wills performed on America’s Got Talent with a change to his stage name. He shortened his usual title from The Boy with Tape on his Face to simply Tape Face. One might have assumed this was purely for the benefit of Americans who struggle with long phrases but the title of his current tour suggests that change may be permanent. The Boy with Tape on his Face is Tape Face is promoted as a greatest hits compilation and it really does feel as though Willis may be saying goodbye to at least part of his past.
If the material is familiar the framing format is inspired. The Lyric Theatre is transformed into a shabby backstage dressing room in which Tape Face is making his pre-show preparations. Backstage announcements count down to the commencement so that, at the end of the evening, Tape Face exits the stage to start the show we have just watched. Tonight’s show really is a dream – Tape Face dozes off listening to the Shipping Forecast and his mind drifts back through his old routines.
As he never speaks Tape Face is often categorised with the great silent comedians of the past and even his clothing is monochrome. But he is as much magician/ mime as comedian, and his use of mundane objects from daily life in his routines bring to mind a child in play. It is fascinating to watch an empty dress being manipulated to turn the cheesy ballad Lady in Red’ into an amorous dance or a duel being fought using balloons and staplers.
Although his mouth is sealed by tape Willis’s features and body language are remarkably expressive allowing a hint of malevolence and exasperation as Tape Face glares at patrons who do not follow his mimed instructions or leaps in surprise at unexpected laughs or sneezes. The show is anything but silent. Music is a constant feature with Tape Face spoofing his own reputation by using a pair of pigs to play ‘Duelling Banjos’.
Audience participation is a vital element and tonight’s patrons are particularly good sports helping to recreate scenes from movies or enact bullfights. You have to admire the bloke who copes with being unexpectedly cast in The Full Monty or the poor soul who is dismissed without being given a role so often that he becomes a kind of stooge.
The only slight problem with The Boy with Tape on his Face is Tape Face is that the balance between the Acts is uneven with the first half of the evening pushing towards exhaustion while the second half barely seems to have got going before it ends.
If Sam Willis really is planning changes in his Tape Face character then the current tour is a golden opportunity to catch classic routines performed with freshness and vigour before he moves on.
Reviewed on 13th November 2016