Reviewer: Jo Beggs
Tim Fitzhigham’s 2011 Edinburgh show turns out to have had some miles in it. Fitzhigham not only got two Radio 4 series out of it, but he’s still getting booked by theatres around the country with his hugely entertaining ‘show about the ten greatest bets in history’.
Fitzhigham sets himself quests in order to create his comedy material. It’s a well-worn approach to creating this gentle form of stand-up comedy, and one to which Fitzhigham brings a particularly nice twist. Behind the well-spoken, very English personae, Fitzhigham is something of an anarchist, coupled with a delightful streak of eccentricity. You get the feeling that there’s a determination beyond the mere creation of material that drives Fitzhigham to sail a boat made of paper up the Thames, roll a cheeseboard four miles across fields or Morris dance from London to Norwich.
So the premise of The Gambler creates the perfect opportunity for Fitzhigham to undertake, with the help of some celebrity friends, a whole host of crazy, taxing, and often injurious tasks. Looking back into the history of betting he finds an almost endless selection of wacky wagers, mostly scribbled into betting books in gentleman’s clubs after, no doubt, a long afternoon on the brandy. In trying to re-create them, Fitzhigham proves himself to be pretty game. From entering into a race with a racehorse to pushing a wheelbarrow for twenty-five miles, it’s no wonder he doesn’t know what to put on his passport under ‘Occupation’.
One of the great things about the show is a sense that Fitzhigham has done real research and spent a great deal of energy setting up things that, given our insane health and safety culture, would at first seem impossible. No doubt his affable nature opens a lot of doors as well as making him a compelling watch on stage. He challenges officialdom and regularly wins. That goes down well with the audience.
Some of the material here is duplicated from the radio show, but Fitzhigham has an energetic and compelling presence that gives it new life and some short films of the tasks are equally entertaining. Repetition of the show over a long period of time doesn’t seem to have dulled his enthusiasm to share his stories with an audience, although some ‘comedian on tour’ clichés (“They didn’t get that in Swindon”), audience banter (“So who’s from Salford?”) and tangential anecdotes (here’s a funny thing my kid did) feel a bit over rehearsed. These suddenly, and unnecessarily, tip the show from storytelling to stand up and make it a little longer than is necessary. Still…Fitzhigham does it all with an easy grace that overall makes for a winning night of entertainment.
Reviewed on 18 February 2016