Contemplating chronicling two nights out this past week in one review, I wondered if I was dovetailing for the sake of it. Both involved theatres in Lancashire starring London solo acts, each reflecting on the links between their public and private lives, but with little else in common really. Or perhaps there was.
I’ll start last Friday night, the first spring dumping of snow seemingly already behind us and a late decision taken by myself and the better half to get up to Lancaster after all. I was keen to see David Baddiel’s show and take in my first Grand visit since a 1997 kids’ show during a work placement at the Garstang Courier weekly newspaper.
Beginning with the venue itself, it’s been a key component of this North Lancs city since 1782 (a mere 208 years before the first TV episode of The Mary Whitehouse Experience). Backing on to Lancaster Music Co-Op, where recent writewyattuk interviewees The Lovely Eggs hang out, the building was remodelled in 1897 by renowned architect Frank Matcham, three years after he got to work on Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom and 13 years before he turned his attention to the London Palladium.
By then, fire had gutted its interior, yet an Edwardian refit proved a winner, the building in that guise for 110 years and counting, with such ornate detail to marvel at, not least where we were in the circle. In fact, it’s in its best nick for some years, thanks to on-going restoration work and a team of dedicated volunteers, the kind of community heroes that ensure so many of these great buildings still host events today.
On to David, and we’d only spoken the previous week (with that interview linked here). I guess I was more of a Fantasy Football League fan than of his previous work, but always liked the fella, and he came over well on the phone. Furthermore, the reviews of his new show were very promising. It was well worth a trip up the M6 on a cold and frosty late winter’s night. This wasn’t someone just out to revitalise his career 25 years after those humungous comedy gigs at Wembley with Rob Newman. There’s often a whiff of payola involved in big names of yore returning to the stage, but he seemed to be doing it for the right reasons.
Actually, David returned to stand-up five years earlier, but this was more akin to the loving son we saw in recent Channel 4 documentary, The Trouble with Dad, tackling his father’s battle with dementia, melding that with a public tribute to his Mum, who passed away in late 2014. And both themes were close to my heart, having experienced my Dad’s demise through dementia (he died in late 2012) and having seen my Mum go down that same road since, now in a care home in Surrey.
With David’s Dad, Colin Baddiel, we’re talking Pick’s disease, or frontotemporal dementia. But before you get the medical dictionary out, I should point out that this was no medical seminar or charity fundraiser. And with tonight’s star act Frank Skinner’s old sidekick, there were plenty of moments where you were likely to wince and question what might be deemed appropriate for comedy treatment.
It’s that old conundrum of whether you should keep family matters private, but it works here, and anecdotal evidence suggests David’s folks would approve too. Furthermore, a fair proportion of us out there identified with his comic recollections of his parents, many moments of which I’d hazard a guess he wouldn’t have been laughing at when they happened, wracked by embarrassment.
This wasn’t throwaway humour either, but more about honouring two special people and their extraordinary lives – David mum Sarah was a refugee from Nazi Germany – in what proved a worthy tribute via warm recollections that proved they were no saints but were certainly good people, for all their foibles. As the man himself told me, “You have a choice of going to silence or a very bland memory of them being a lovely person, or the true story, which will be more complicated. I consider it to be a bigger act of love to tell the true story.”
From everything David tells you about his Mum – who you may recall from past TV appearances with her son – you know she’d have appreciated being the centre of attention for much of the night, even when – or perhaps even particularly – the stories involved such sordid details. I won’t go into all that here – go see the show for yourself – but I certainly heard my old man’s own inappropriate humour in some of the stories about Colin. Couple that with Sarah’s bold as brass view on life and I guess it’s no surprise David ended up in this line of work.
The premise of the show is simple enough – engaging, witty bloke gives multi-media slide presentation, sharing memories of his Mum, Dad, grandparents, wife (comedian Morwenna Banks), children and cats. But there’s much more to it, and certainly a lot of warmth and comic craft. What’s more, we came away feeling a little closer to not only David, but Colin and Sarah Baddiel too, on what – for extra poignancy – would have marked the latter’s birthday.
For further dates and ticket details for David Baddiel’s My Family: Not the Sitcom tour, head here.