Theatre review: Al Murray: The Pub Landlord, St George’s Hall, Bradford

Al Murray
Al Murray
Have your say

Broken Britain may feel like it is supping the dregs of a long-stale pint, but never fear, Al Murray, The Pub Landlord, is returning to refresh our glasses with a fizzing new show.

The nation’s most ebullient innkeeper is back, with his monumental The Only Way Is Epic tour, which stops off in Bradford next month.

Expectations are high. Last year his hugely successful Barrel of Fun tour had to be extended twice, and the current tour is already garnering rave reviews from both critics and, as Al says, from audiences.

“It has been brilliant fun.” he laughs “The extent to which people really get it and allow me to run with the joke as far as I want to run with it, well, it’s been enough to completely recharge my batteries.

“What I love is that it’s different every night. I want the audience to feel that tonight’s the night and it’s unlike any other show. They know that they are getting a 100 per cent effort from me, rather than feeling that it’s just another routine evening.

“In a way I’m hugely envious of comedians who have the patience to do the same stuff every night. But God knows how they do it – I’d go crazy. It means much more to make every show unique. That’s what an audience brings to it.

“We were playing village halls in the Hebrides this summer, and what the audience were bringing to the show every night was something incredibly vibrant and different. The audience give every show an extra buzz. Every evening I find something new to latch onto, and that’s amazingly exciting.”

One of the reasons why The Landlord works so spectacularly well on stage is because Al knows the character inside out. “I can feed anything into the character now.” he says “I know him so well that I know what he thinks about any subject.

“The Landlord has to defeat himself. He always manages to tie himself in knots with his arguments. Some people say the act is rabble-rousing and think audiences take it at face value. But he is a dribbling, self-contradictory idiot, so I don’t mind if people take that at face value.”

Al admits that even now the occasional audience member gets the wrong end of the stick and thinks that the Landlord is the fount of all wisdom.

He says: “There are still one or two who don’t get it. You think, ‘what on earth are they agreeing with – all those mental hallucinations and contradictions?’ But if they want to agree with it, good luck to them!”

The comedian is particularly looking forward to recording his new DVD, also called The Only Way Is Epic while out on the road.

He says: “When I was preparing this tour, I thought: ‘why can’t we make the DVD in a lovely old-fashioned theatre with a proscenium arch?’ I love playing theatres, and the act suits that faintly music hally aspect. I can’t wait to record this new DVD.”

So what themes will the Landlord be tackling in this new show? Broken Britain will, of course, feature very prominently. And our saloon-bar sage has all the solutions, of course. “The idea of Broken Britain chimes entirely with The Landlord.” he says “The Broken Britain narrative is to say simultaneously that this is the greatest country in the world and that we’re rubbish.

“The Landlord can hold that contradiction in his hand. I admire the backflip required to achieve that. It lets you approach things from any angle, and proves itself over and over again. You can contradict yourself in back-to-back sentences, and contradictions are always funny.”

“The idea of us being rubbish doesn’t seem to have gone away. Even the Olympics haven’t managed to wipe out the idea that we’re not very good at things.”

In The Only Way Is Epic, our anti-hero will also be giving us the benefit of his expertise on the subject of parenting.

Al says that, “The Landlord believes that children are our future, which is why he is so terrified. He realises that kids these days don’t know the meaning of hard work anymore. They look at work and think, ‘Oh God, that looks difficult. I can’t be bothered with that.’

“He will also tell us why being a dad is the hardest job in the world. He will reveal that he is possibly joining a group of other fathers who are seeking justice. He will let them have a function room, in return for free membership. He’ll also drive their van to Big Ben, but he won’t wear those silly costumes.”

The Landlord will even be dealing with the subject of edginess in comedy. “This year I’ve been watching the debate about what you can and can’t say in comedy with increasing astonishment.” says Al.

“I find it absurd, peculiar, self-serving and nonsensical. There is such ridiculous machismo when comedians declare, ‘I’m going to say something edgier than any of you would dare say’. Oh, shut up, you pompous jackass!

“The problem with the idea of ‘edge’ is that if the audience expect you to be edgy, then you’re not being edgy at all. The people who say the whole point of comedy is to push boundaries are wrong. The point is to make people laugh. As a response to this debate, The Landlord decides to say something that will really shock the audience.”

As a climax to the show, Al reveals: “The Landlord will attempt to save the country. The audience will end up completely liberated as a new people living in a new Britain.

“It’s about rescuing Britain from itself. The Landlord thinks that we can’t go on blaming the government for everything. It’s not like football, where you can always blame the manager.

“I’ve made him aware that he’s addressing an audience. Now he’s got a platform and thinks he can make the most of it. I think politicians are funny, and this is picking that apart.

“Our present generation of politicians may as well have worked in a bar as anywhere else, for all the life experiences they have. They have only ever been special advisers before becoming MPs. So someone who works in a pub is as likely to get it right as anyone else.”

November 20, St George’s Hall, Bridge Street, Bradford, 7.30pm, £25.50, Tel. 01274 432000

An artist's impression of the new front entrance. PIC: Page Park

Leeds’s West Yorkshire Playhouse secures multi-million funding towards landmark redevelopment