How much Partridge is too much? It’s a question that Steve Coogan seems to have wrestled with over the years.
For a good while after his initial 90s heyday he seemed to put the character out to pasture completely, but from 2010 Partridge got his second wind under the aegis of Sandbach-born writers Neil and Rob Gibbons. Since then, the Coogan/Gibbons team have brought us new TV shows, books, a feature film, and in the last three years alone, two series of One Show-alike This Time, the excellent From the Oasthouse podcast, and now Stratagem, a full-on live stadium tour. Is there still enough fuel in the tank, though?
In truth, the new show is a bit hit and miss. Stratagem involves Alan outlining his bespoke self-help scheme, though he never gets round to explaining it properly. A subplot about his personal reasons for putting it all on doesn’t quite pay off, either. Essentially then it’s a slightly ramshackle assemblage of routines around the main theme of an improving, inspirational talk. The quality control isn’t always sky-high, but there’s always enough decent material to carry it through, and it’s delivered with some vim by Coogan and a tight accompanying ensemble.
One can well imagine that it tickles Coogan to play the prancing rock star, but there remains an age-old issue here about character comedy being performed in arenas. Does it require more intimacy to work at its best? A large part of the appeal of Partridge relies on seeing Coogan’s facial expressions at close quarters. Clearly the matter has been given some thought. Needless to say, in Stratagem there are video screens by the stage to help convey that aspect, but inevitably this is a broader, brasher, cruder version of the character than the one we’re used to.
There is some degree of eye-catching spectacle – songs and (yes!) dance routines, visual gags and theatrical tricks. Most crucially, a huge on-stage screen allows Alan to interact with other (pre-filmed, carefully timed) characters, the majority of them played by Coogan himself. It’s used with varying degrees of success, with the Zoom-based return of one This Time guest becoming a highlight of the whole show.
As writers and directors, the Gibbons brothers ably deliver what you’d expect. There are nifty little call-backs to wider Partridge continuity, barbed swipes about British politics, and copious references to second-rate TV celebrities. Away from the small screen, though, Partridge can be more sweary than usual, and the narrative thread of the show edges close to the downright surreal at times.
Stratagem doesn’t entirely convince that Alan Partridge is a live arena tour beast by nature. The character still feels most at home on the small screen. It’s hard to believe that this tour could be the first of many, but as a one-off live arena outing it does what it says on the tin. On balance, there are enough glorious, funny, inventive moments for it to be a worthwhile addition to the canon. It’s not exactly peak Partridge, so maybe it doesn’t merit a full-strength ‘JURASSIC PARK!’, but, then again, it’s no Barney the Dinosaur either.
The tour continues until June: alanpartridgelive.com