Reviewer: Laura Maley
Brian Conley, a Saturday night variety TV star since the late 1980s, kicks off his new tour, The Real Life of Brian Conley’ in Salford at The Lowry, with an audience brimming with enthusiasm for his blend of nostalgic comedy and music.
Early on stuntman alter ego Dangerous Brian makes an appearance and catchphrase ‘It’s a puppet!’ gets a couple of well-judged, not over-played, outings. The evening really is a mix of stand-up, sketches, songs and some tricks (with classy support from Mat Ricardo)
As well as a long career in comedy, Conley is very well-known for starring in musicals. Starting with his first West End rôle in Me and My Girl, through an Olivier-nominated title rôle in Jolson – and more recently in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray and Fagin in Oliver! – Conley’s passion for musical theatre acting is very clear. Audiences for his upcoming turn as P T Barnum in Barnum later this year will surely appreciate this. Every rôle is celebrated here tonight in song, but it would be interesting to hear more of the background story from Conley about his journey into musicals. It is immediately obvious that the rôle of Al Jolson in particular has played an important part in his life and career so it’s a shame for the audience not to hear more about why.
Given the tour’s title, it would be reasonable to expect more of an ‘audience with…’ style of show, which isn’t really what is presented. Instead there’s a slightly patched-together aspect, with so much represented and the transitions into different sections sometimes a bit clunky. There is a small element of ‘journey’ to the show, but this is illustrated by a slideshow backdrop of photos and stills which would really benefit from some attention (and sharper focus). Although Conley refers to the ‘multi-million pound international tour’ with a twinkle in his eye, things like this are easy to fix and would really enhance the nostalgia which the audience are keen to capture.
With an audience mainly in their 40s to 60s it’s clear that what Conley provides here – and the audience very much enjoys – is a fond and nostalgic look back 20 years or so. The humour is dated in places; cheesy (but knowingly) at times, and will not be to everyone’s taste today. However, it is very hard not to warm to Conley himself and hearing such high levels of hysteria and hilarity throughout the room is infectious and many offer an ovation at the end of the evening.
Reviewed on 28th April 2014