On Monday night Julian Barratt played his first ‘solo’ live show in a considerable number of years. Tickets for the gig sold out fast, but we made it our duty to be there and report back. Of course we did. Here then is our review:
It’s only a few short months since we were lucky enough to witness The Mighty Boosh‘s reformation downstairs at the Soho Theatre. In the same location on Monday night we had the privilege of experiencing another return to live performance involving Julian Barratt. Generally viewed as ‘the one who’s less keen on gigging’, it was a rare and real pleasure to see him on stage.
He performed under the guise of Jon Breeze, a flakey new age lifestyle guru, resplendent with blond flowing (nylon) locks, box fresh slacks and linen slip-ons. Bowls of pine nuts and water refills were provided for the audience by his earnest brigade of white-clad helpers, or “Wellness Companions” (Oly Ralfe, Stephen Evans, Will Adamsdale and Matt Steer).
Over the course of the evening Breeze guided us through a series of modules, designed to relax our inner selves and re-connect us to “now”. Occasionally this took on the form of song, with deadpan musical accompaniment from Ralfe and Evans – a particular highlight. Evans’ hissy fit and off stage strop was a delight.
At the start of the evening one did wonder whether the premise could be stretched across an entire show; but the perfect attention to detail, Barratt’s ability to continuously delight our minds with surprising strings of words (“The distant scream of saffron” was a particular favourite of ours), and the on-stage chemistry that he radiates simply by being there meant that the giggles built and the joke crystallised over the course of the evening.
The nonsense that Jon Breeze spouted was ridiculous enough to be entirely credible, which was part of its joy. People’s handwritten troubles were pulped in a blender to create a “worry smoothie” and “now cloaks” were offered to anyone who felt themselves to be at risk of “overflowing”. You get the gist. By the final module, which involved a fretless bass (allegedly the instrument that vibrates at the same frequency as the vulva…), the audience was putty in Breeze’s hands.
What binds this character to Barratt’s other creations is his pomposity. From Howard Moon to the Mayor in Government Inspector and various others in-between, Julian has a real skill for portraying characters who can’t hide that they believe themselves to be above the rest of us. Exactly the kind of people we enjoy laughing at, though not necessarily with; and that’s not a complaint.
The other fascinating aspect to watching Julian perform solo for the first time in many years is being able to better appreciate what he and Noel Fielding bring to the Boosh as individuals. It felt a bit like suddenly being able to understand how red and blue combine to make purple. That’s not to say that their independent creative output should only be assessed against the Boosh, of course – but it was interesting to observe nonetheless.
Jon Breeze’s modules were punctuated by short set pieces by Adamsdale and Steer (as unsuccessful jobbing actors), TVO favourite Steve Oram (as borderline headcase and cleaner at Millets HQ, Jeanette) and Andrew Buckley and Ed Gaughan (as a couple of Mark Morrison-singing priests). Although it took a moment for the audience to adjust into and out of these breaks, the changes of pace that it offered worked well.
The show ended with a joyous singalong to ‘Come With Me’ (a little strange to begin with, given its provenance as a Boosh song), with the audience being invited to follow the performance up into the theatre bar – and then out onto the streets of Soho, to the bemusement of passers’ by. A gloriously silly finale for a gloriously silly evening.
Whether Jon Breeze has the same lifespan as some of Barratt’s other creations remains to be seen, but if he chooses to extend this show beyond a one-off in the West End, definitely try to see it!