#CrazyStupidComedy: David Baddiel – “My Family: Not the Sitcom” (Playhouse Theatre, London)

“I don’t even know what the sitcom is, son!” Those were my dad’s words when I surprised him with tickets for David Baddiel’s latest one man show in London for his birthday a couple of months ago. I had to explain that it wasn’t a sitcom we were going to see – hence the title – but that it would hopefully deliver with the same punch as a really good sitcom. Pa MacGregor wasn’t at all sure, but was up for it regardless. I will confess that booking for me and my dad to see David’s new show was sort of a deliberate ruse for me to see it. 

When I sat down to write this review, I realised that, comedy wise, he has been an inspiration of mine for longer than I thought. I’m sure for others older than myself reading this, that their first encounter with him was as part of the satiricial sketch show The Mary Whitehouse Experience, or Newman and Baddiel in Pieces, his double act show with Rob Newman that ran until 1993. 

My first encounter of him was with the man I widely regarded as his partner in crime, Frank Skinner, in the mid-late 90s. When World Cup fever was at its height in the summer of 1998 (yes readers, even non-footie loving 9 year old me got swept up in the mania of it all), I remember watching their hilarious Fantasy Football series for ITV – specifically the notorious episode with Brigitte Nielsen, that has to be seen to be believed – and buying, on cassette from Woolies, a re-released version of the classic footie anthem Three Lions with Britpop upstarts The Lightning Seeds, that held the top of the UK charts for three weeks until, of course, England were knocked out by Argentina on penalties.

Which thus brings us to the present day. For one reason or another, I didn’t get round to seeing David’s first critically acclaimed one man show, Fame: Not the Musical in 2013. My Family: Not the Sitcom, its follow-up, had a sold out run at the Chocolate Factory last year (the theatre, not Willy Wonka’s business. Ooh. Satire), and was midway through its second run in the West End when me and Pa Mac went to see it a month ago.

Though the show was titled as it was (and Mr Baddiel himself advised me of this on Twitter when I mentioned I was coming to see it), and whilst he talks about his dad, Colin, who suffers from Pick’s disease, a form of dementia (more on whom in a bit), it is, for the most part, his own eulogy of sorts to his mum, Sarah, who passed away in 2014. He opened the show explaining his reasoning for this, when he was at her funeral. Chiefly, the idea that, when someone dies, the common or garden line used by loved ones and friends will be “They were a truly wonderful person”.

David flips this theory entirely on its head, but in a way that’s surprising yet side splittingly funny. He reveals that his mum – who as a young German Jew, escaped Nazi rule with her parents as WWII broke out – proudly embarked on an extra-marital affair for the best part of two decades with golfer David White (proudly, she asserted, as it made her more glamorous than a housewife), that continued for some years as she built up a golfing obsession/shrine in the family home, all to the relative non-chalance of her husband and much to David’s mild irritation/borderline horror.

I don’t want to give too much away for those yet to see the show, but suffice to say, his uncovering of emails and letters spanning the course of his mum’s affair with David White were a great source of much of the show’s humour. Chiefly, her use of inverted commas in steamy poetry sent to her lover, and also an interesting choice of pseudonym when she attempted to muddy her lover’s name in the golfing world following a brief tiff they had. But I also got the sense of her being a larger than life character through more anecdotal observations. 

One of these, was through several clips extracted from David’s appearance on Who Do You Think You Are, the BBC history show where celebrities trace their family tree, including one clip where a cake she’d got him for his 40th birthday set alight from having, well, 40 candles on it – “she’d got me a reenactment of the battle of Dresden for my 40th”. And another, from a stand up show he’d done where he’d downed a pint after a dare from a couple of guys in the audience, prompting her to make the most motherly of heckles and enquire if he’d eaten something before downing said pint.

He makes the point though, that the show is about memory, and keeping memories alive after people have gone or have lost their own memory, through humour. When talking about his dad’s Dementia, for instance, David recounts asking, upon being informed of his dad’s diagnosis of Pick’s, as to whether or not nurses were describing his dad’s condition or just his dad’s notoriously sweary and eager to shock personality (growing up, David and his brothers, Dan and Ivor, were referred to as “w***ers” by their dad, as his own term of endearment) – something that became amplified at the wake for his mum’s death, where his dad made a shocking preposition to a mourner paying their respects.

The idea of memory, certainly comes in to play at the life affirming endpoint of the show, when another archive clip is shown of him and his dad backstage following his final show with Rob Newman at Wembley Arena in 1994, in a rare moment of warmth that is unexpectedly touching. But after opening up to audience questions, he also recounted two final anecdotes. 

One from a friend of his, whose own relative suffering from dementia forgot they only had one leg following a fall at the care home they were at. The other, from Ruth Langsford, co-host of ITV daytime favourite This Morning which he appeared on last year to promote the showwhose own dad answered to the question “Who is the current prime minister?” at his GP assessment for dementia in 1997 the name “Blair”. Followed five seconds later by “Lionel”.

Reading my programme with my dad on the train home that evening, David stated that there’s one memory he wanted the audience to take away from seeing the show: “That was a good show. I must remember to recommend it to my friends.” And that, dear readers of this blog, is what I’ve remembered to do for you now. 

RATING: 5/5

David Baddiel’s “My Family: Not the Sitcom” is on at the Playhouse Theatre in London until 3rd June. He will tour the show nationwide in 2018 from 29th January – full dates and tickets are available here. Twitter: @Baddiel

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Back to her roots: Una Healy’s found her solo groove

Most people who know me know that I love my girl groups. Hell, I even write a weekly column about it for the music website Buzzjack. But one thing I love, perhaps even more so, are the solo ventures of former girl group members. In fact, if I went on Pointless, I can almost guarantee you I would nail a round asking for the names of solo singles by any former girl group member of the last two decades.

I can talk at length about records like Cinderella’s Eyes, the critically lauded but commercially underperforming 2011 effort from Girls Aloud’s Nicola Roberts, or about former Eternal star Louise Redknapp’s 2001 cover version of ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’, complete with its Reservoir Dogs aping video. Of course, I draw at the line at some points, and can’t understand why Beyoncé is still deemed saviour of everything when her Destiny’s Child bandmate Kelly Rowland has made far more interesting endeavours musically, but each to their own.

I think my fascination is with seeing members of these groups breaking out as their own entity, however successful or terrible they may be in doing so. When they’re brilliant of course, it’s all the better. So the recent arrival of the debut solo record from Una Healy has, as you can imagine, been something of great excitement for me.

Up until a couple of months ago, the last time I’d seen Una was in September 2014, with the rest of The Saturdays, dressed as glitzy air hostesses at Wembley Arena for their greatest hits tour. They took a hiatus after that tour to pursue their own projects – although up until earlier this year, only Vanessa White and Mollie King of the Higher and What About Us hitmaking girl group had dipped their toes into solo waters, with distinctly disappointing results (Frankie Bridge and Rochelle Humes however, have moved away from pop, and are instead concentrating on TV and fashion vehicles respectively).

County Tipperary born Una meanwhile, spent time as a judge on the Irish version of The Voice for two series, before she quietly signed a deal with Decca Records early last year. She spent the best part of two years writing and recording for The Waiting Game, which stormed into the top 10 of the iTunes chart upon release in February, on the back of some very positive exposure usually unreserved for someone with a pop past like hers.

But anyone who knows of Una’s pre-Saturdays past knows that this is very much a return to her roots. Her uncle, Declan Nerney, is a well respected name in folk and country music in Ireland, reinforcing her pedigree in this field of music. She also extensively gigged and did the circuit around the Irish music live scene for some years before girl group stardom came a-calling. And as well as appearing as backing vocalist for Brian Kennedy at Eurovision, she even self released her own EP in 2006, titled Sorry, one of the tracks from which, Had it With Today, went onto be a B-side to Higher for The Saturdays in 2010, establishing her songwriting credentials. 

Anyone that saw the girls’ tours will also know that she played guitar on their acoustic sets, proving her talents in that field. And all of which really comes across on The Waiting Game as an album. The opening track – and her new single – Battlelines, is a perfect example of this. Gently strummed and easy on the ear, it’s an upbeat and melodic number about staying strong in the face of adversity. Her last single, Stay My Love, a beautiful duet with Sam Palladio, a Cornish actor and country singer better known as Gunnar from the hit US series Nashville is also one of the highlights.

But so too is the title track, and songs like the upbeat Staring at the Moon, which she wrote for her daughter Aoife Belle, Out the Door, a punchy number about not letting the travails of life get in the way of what really matters like love and family, and the haunting closing ballad Angel Like You, that talks about the spirit of loved ones being around even after they’ve gone.

Her passion for her new solo venture really came across when I saw her launch the album back in February, at the beautiful but intimate Old Church in St Pancras, London. It was just the right venue to showcase the material, as well as a couple of choice covers that married perfectly with her original songs – amongst them, The First Cut is the Deepest, which Una’s long standing idol Sheryl Crow covered in 2003, and also the traditional Irish song Black is the Colour of my Lover’s Hair, which I remember from my mum’s Mary Black albums growing up.

It seems as well that it’s not just her old Saturdays fanbase on board with her. The same audience her new music is aiming at that has sent the likes of sisterly duo Ward Thomas (whom Una supported last year) and The Shires up to the top of the album charts and sold out venues in the last two years have been accepting and welcoming of her new venture too. It’s safe to say therefore, that she’ll be making waves as Una Healy: the solo artist for some time yet.

Una’s new single Battlelines and her album The Waiting Game are both out now on Decca Records. She performs at Bush Hall in London on 15th May, and will also perform at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville with Sam Palladio on 17th May. Twitter: @UnaHealy