If 2011’s Carpet Remnant World was Stewart Lee’s ground-breaking psychedelic album, then Much a-Stew About Nothing could – as its title suggests – be his next batch of unfinished demos.
And on first listen it seems, that with a bit of work in the studio, there could be some more cult-classic comedy hits on the way soon.
Lee warns an expectant crowd from the outset that there will be no cleverly-woken narrative thread through this set tonight. Or even a backdrop. He confesses to having arrived armed only with a bundle of fresh ideas, three new set-pieces and an “optional encore – if you want it”, with the best bits set to find themselves polished then eventually put on the tele via the next series of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle.
But Lee is clearly still reeling from his last visit to the plush Lowry Theatre, which apparently ended badly. After being unable to resist the lure of engaging in a lengthy impromptu dialogue with a Maltese heckler, he was likewise unable to complete his planned show in time and left owing the venue money!
Keen to ensure this doesn’t happen again he quickly distinguishes an early enthusiastic shout-out. “This is not a two-way conversation Salford. This is very much a monologue.” Few comedians can get away with an instant assault on their paying public. But fans of his Comedy Vehicle know by now that it’s best not to back seat drive or question Lee’s often erratic driving. Nor his eventual destination. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the journey – from the post-modern to the surreal, and back again, via his observatory in Hackney.
Ironically though the highlight of a slow-burning first half did come from the audience member, who – to Lee’s delight – offered up “furry eggs”, as a response to the left-field question of what form would a mythical Griffin’s young take? Bird Eggs or Baby Lions? A beautifully bizarre improvised exchange.
After apologising for his first half faux pas of referring to Salford as Manchester – which brought groans from some residents of the Other City – Lee began to move through the comedy gears after the break.
The closest The Lowry came to rapture was after a startling piece of satire regarding a Merseyside politician’s rightist fears about the arrival of an influx of Bulgarian immigrants next year, on the basis that the best Bulgarians should stay where they are for the benefit of Bulgaria. Lee compares this to early mammals ordering the first landed fish back into the sea, and questions whether he himself would have as many fears about moving on from his Liverpool homeland if it would benefit his career.
Other highlights include an abstract reflection on the character traits of Lee’s imaginary black and gay wives – and the tragic-comic gasp around the room when he kills these fictional characters stone dead.
Towards the end Lee – intentionally or not – rolls out a few old hit singles of jokes that have appeared on other tours. But that’s pretty forgiveable for a man who so often pushes the boundaries, and he ends on some half-written jokes read off a piece of paper. With most acts you would feel short-changed in this situation, but with Lee it’s an insight into how he constructs and edits his hilarious world vision.
You get the impression that once it’s been fully MOT’d and given a lick of paint, Stewart Lee’s new comedy vehicle will soon be revved up to full throttle and driving straight up the alternative comedy charts once more.
Review by Paul Glynn
What: Stewart Lee, Much A-Stew About Nothing
Where: The Lowry, Salford Quays
When: touring, next event at The Lowry is February 3, 2013