Theatre review: Stewart Lee at Royal & Derngate

Stewart Lee
Stewart Lee

It is impossible to get bored when watching Stewart Lee doing stand-up comedy.

While some comedians might prompt audiences into polite laughter with a series of bordering-on-boring sex or mother-in-law jokes, thinking is a must when enjoying Stewart’s humour.

I was fortunate enough to see his latest show, Much A-Stew About Nothing at the Royal & Derngate on Saturday night and I joyously observed how his comedy routines are capable of taking viewers from the ordinary and mundane to the far reaches of deep existential crisis, political truths and even the beginning of time in the course of a few sentences.

From the outset, Stewart takes a stance of affectionate derision when it comes to his audience; something which somehow makes his comedy even funnier. He lets people know their input does not matter, he is, after all, simply using the tour to prepare for a forthcoming TV show.

But somehow he still gets drawn into mini-debates with the audience. At one point he stopped the show when he saw a man’s mobile phone lit up in the stalls. This led on to a hilarious aside in which he accused the man of not knowing what theatre’s are like and that they have their own lights, torches are not needed. He then spoke to another comedian on an imaginary telephone and told them all about Northampton’s obsession with torches.

Then came a very funny set in which he tried to describe literary animal satires (think Animal Farm) but then drew links to the unsatirical creatures of the old Ben Fogle series of Animal Park.

In the second half of the show, the comedy got even better. He included a long rant about Paul Nuttall’s comments on Bulgarian immigration, taking the old anti-immigration argument way back in time via the period of the influx of French Hugenots in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was a very clever way to show off the foolishness of the ‘not in our back yard’ argument, without going as far as saying this.

Another highlight was his section on the faux artisan packaging and labelling of supermarket ales, which coax borderline middle-class alcoholics into thinking they are connoisseurs.

I am not sure which routines from his show will make it into his TV programme, Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, but if this tour is anything to go by, I cannot wait to tune in.