Pros: Genuinely funny songs on a weird and wonderful mix of topics.
Cons: Between missed tech cues and a few off set choices, there are a few awkward moments.
I live in West London. This may seem like a strange way to start a review but guys, it’s WEST London, like super West. This often means it takes me a while to get to wherever I’m reviewing, but usually I don’t mind. This occasion was just worse than others because torrential rain and a signal failure called off all the trains for a fair few hours. Still, I eventually got the theatre – an oddly placed building buried amongst Camberwell housing estates. But I got there. And was welcomed and thanked for coming, it’s amazing what an acknowledgement, a smile and a cold beer can do for one’s mood.
I was at the Blue Elephant to see James Sherwood – their self-styled “minstrel” in residence who writes and records comedy songs for the theatre and tonight was performing some of them. The start of the show was a little awkward. After a delayed start, the audience waited in the dark when the lights were dimmed too early. In his first song, Sherwood then tried to encourage audience participation from a barely-warm audience…
However, things only got better and what followed was a charming and witty collection of songs. The tunes covered a wide variety of subjects including – but not limited to – identifying famous Jeremys, how Christmas songs are recorded in the summer, and the education system. A particular highlight was You Bring Out The Best In Me, a love song that took the well-worn notion of people changing once they are in a relationship to a hilarious extreme.
Sherwood produced a string of political satire songs, including one where he yearns to be poor, hungry and disabled. These songs gave the set a much-needed edge with Sherwood neatly avoiding that annoyingly eccentric comedian style. As he needled Vladimir Putin, the Anglican Church and even Gary Barlow, a sense of camaraderie developed between him and us – a small but receptive audience.
My main complaint with this show is the patter between the songs, which was both too long and nowhere near as funny as the songs they were leading up to. Sherwood spent a long time explaining the context in which the songs were written, which felt largely unnecessary.
After a rocky opening, the set had a good structure, moving slickly from the witty, to the political, to the sad, to the downright silly. Unfortunately, the ending was awkward as the show’s beginning. Sherwood left the stage in order to play a recording of the latest of his monthly offerings written for the theatre. The atmosphere only became more uncomfortable when the lights were turned down to stop anyone leaving. As the recording finished, we were treated to a blast of a song used earlier in the show – the last of a couple of technical hitches – whilst we applauded an empty stage.
While the start and end of the show were oddly judged and slightly bungled in their execution, the majority of the evening was enjoyable. There are few belly laughs but the set was funny and charming for all.
A new song by James Sherwood is available each month on his YouTube Channel, or via his Twitter @SherwoodJam.
Written and performed by: James Sherwood
Box Office: 020 7701 0100
Booking Link: www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk
Booking Until: 14th May