Al Murray’s Summer Saloon
Great Yorkshire Fringe, Parliament Street, York
Sat Jul 25
There can’t be many grooms-to-be who can claim they spent part of their stag night racing around a tent on a spacehopper, attempting to settle once and for all the vexed question of whether Great Britain should leave the EU – especially while dressed in a Viking costume trimmed with pink fur.
But that is exactly what happened during the Great Yorkshire Fringe show, Al Murray’s Summer Saloon.
(You may or may not be pleased to learn that, after cheating, and manipulation of the result, it was ultimately clear that we would indeed leave the EU. No need for a referendum now, Mr Cameron – York has spoken.)
Capital of common sense
Al Murray burst onto the stage performing a raucous version of the theme from the Seventies sitcom, It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum, and then informed us that York is “the capital of common sense”.
After looking at the audience, he also announced that it is clearly a city “where bald men walk free”. He then proceeded to cheerfully insult the audience, the band, and the Germans. We were off and running.
Audience participation is a big part of any Al Murray show, and this one was no exception.
He asked one teenager how old he was and, when the boy said he was 16, replied, “Listen, son. I’m a publican asking your age. Now – how old are you?” “18?” “Good lad.”
Getting onto the festival site is perfectly straightforward, and wheelchair spaces in the White Rose Rotunda are easily created by removing the folding chairs at the back of the venue. One single step brings you into the main seating area.
There is an attempt at a ramp to enter the venue itself, but it actually finishes several inches above the ground.
I had to be lifted in my wheelchair onto this ramp, which was both unnerving and unsafe, not to mention embarrassing. This problem needs immediate attention.
He addressed one rather short man as “Frodo”, and dangled a ring just out of the man’s reach.
He took a pint glass from one woman in order to check that it didn’t contain beer, reminding us of the unbreakable rule: “Pint for the fella, glass of white wine or a fruit-based drink for the lady”.
He gave two teenage boys chat up tips, and demonstrated his “sexual panther” moves. And when he discovered that the audience contained a Scot called Scott, he was beside himself with glee.
Written down like this, of course, the material makes the Pub Landlord sound like every UKIP stereotype rolled into one. But the line between parody and offence is a fine one, and Murray’s performance treads that line with a sure step.
The real Al Murray peeps out at least twice in the show – once in a high-speed, detailed account of the D-Day landings, and again in a rapid fire assessment of the Euro crisis (did you know that Greece has declared bankruptcy five times since 1827?).
That monologue concludes with an invaluable piece of advice: if you want to seem knowledgeable about the crisis in the Eurozone, just listen to people’s explanations, and then say, “It’s much more complicated than that.”
Roaring like a bull
Murray’s frenetic, spleen-filled Pub Landlord filled the venue, roaring like a bull at one moment, and whispering secrets the next.
He took the willing audience with him every step of the way to the stomping, clapping, singalong finale.
Special mention must also be made of Murray’s excellent house band, the Charley Farley Sunday Four, whose cover versions of Hit Me, Baby, One More Time and Toxic will not easily be forgotten.
Buzzing with activity
It’s intended that the Fringe should become an annual event, and I do hope that happens.
The variety of entertainment on offer is very impressive, and the entire festival area, in the middle of Parliament Street, is buzzing with activity.
As well as the performance areas, there are bars and food stands, although I overheard a number of comments suggesting the bar prices were rather high.
The venues are described as ‘tents’, but the White Rose Rotunda at least is more like a temporary building, with stained glass, mirrored mock windows, side booths (as well as the central seating area), and a bar. Tickets aren’t numbered, so be sure to get there early for a good place.