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Review of Richard Herring: Happy Now? at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

Long before the show started last night there was something that slightly felt wrong to me. On the stage was the quite usual projection of our star of the night, this time an apparently contented family pose. What differed from all the previous stand ups I had seen though was a quote: "At the very top of his" The Scotsman. Now I had happily used my money to purchase a ticket and was seated for the show, I needed at that point no sales pitch, in my mind it just seemed weird to have it up there on the screen.

However putting aside such wayward thoughts I was ready to see Richard Herring's stand up for the first time. Originally part of a double with Stewart Lee, Herring has become a huge success on the comedy circuit with Happy Now? his twelfth show in as many years. He must be doing something right? Sadly for me after the show, I wasn't entirely sure what it was.

Unlike the recent comedy shows I have seen, Happy Now? is a tremendously rigid performance based on his new found life as a 48 year old first time father. There is very little audience interaction which for me makes a comedian appear more confident on stage. The quick witted bouncing off the audience tells much about a stand-up and Mr Herring offered nothing of this, although while he did have some vague observation of the front row, he got involved in little exchange with them. This was basically a play masquerading as a stand-up, rehearsed and ready to go, with the only requirement from the audience being to laugh.

In absolute fairness many of them did, I myself rarely got above a rigid grin. There was an uncanny feeling with Herring's act and some of the audience that I had arrived at some sort of happy gathering of fans. There were groups of people scattered around the theatre that were happily loving every minute of proceedings. They were in on it almost like "I love this guy, I am going to laugh at everything he says". However unlike those recent shows I had seen from Ed Bynne and Katherine Ryan (and her fabulous support Stephen Bailey), there was an awful lot of us that didn't seem to be in on the joke.

There were moments I gladly enjoyed, including rather surprisingly the discussion of his self conscience informing him of ways he might end up killing his baby. This was edgy and darkly funny, but this certainly was not to everyones taste. I also enjoyed his rather clever picking apart of a welcome mat and its gramatical issues, a clever piece of work well constructed. However for every success there were many dull meandering stages where we seemed to be going nowhere. Most painful and excruciating of these was the first ten minutes or so (it seemed much more) coming out of the interval, where he tried to sell us his merchandise. If it had been funny, it might nearly have been excused. However that ten minutes was unquestionably one of the worst periods of time I have spent in my many, many hours in the theatre.

Herring also has for me a tremendously unwatchable stage presence. Pacing about is fine and many comedians do this successfully. However here coupled with that twitchy constantly endless fiddling with his hair, made the whole thing a putoff. I know we can't help mannerisms, but I have never been so distracted in my life by such a thing on stage.

There is some heart in the work and I don't think Happy Now? was ever intended to be full of belly laughs, it is a more thoughtful piece. However it still missed much of the required elements of a night of stand-up. It may well be a case of "it's me, not you", however I know others felt the same. Herring used Marmite in his one of his pieces relating that you either love it, hate it or actually just don't mind it. Sadly for me, I am much nearer the hate it. You however at the back were clearly loving every single minute.

««½


Performance reviewed: Saturday 5th March, 2016 at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton.

Richard Herring: Happy Now? was performed at the Royal & Derngate (Royal) on Saturday 5th March, 2016 only but is on a tour until June. Website for details: http://www.richardherring.com/gigs/

For further details about the Royal & Derngate visit their website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/

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