Alan Partridge Live: Stratagem – Review – Hull Bonus Arena
By Roger Crow, May 2022
I hate to think about the amount of hours I’ve spent lost in the world of Alan Partridge over the years, or the amount of catchphrases I’ve dropped.
“Yes, it’s an extender,” is a must when examining any table, but unlike Radio Nowich’s most famous DJ, there is no hidden extra when he takes to the stage at Hull’s Bonus Arena.
There’s no warm-up act either, which is a bold move for any comedy show, especially one this obviously expensive. Well, there’s a big catwalk-style bridge with steps on either side and a huge screen which is integral to the comedy.
Yes, we may get a welcome appearance from Lyn (Felicity Montagu), Alan’s long-suffering assistant, who gets a welcome round of cheers from the masses, but she’s only on screen.
Alan is a man on a mission, to give us, the audience, a talk on how to improve our lives. He does it partly through the power of rap, though many of the lyrics are lost on me; it’s all a bit fast, and yes, could I sound any more middle aged?
There are also dancers, and flashbacks to Alan as a young man, though the youngster in the snorkel Parka is not what you might expect. There’s also a glimpse at Alan in the future, and we get a glimpse at how good Partridge is at disguise when he literally blends in with… okay, I’ll not spoil that bit.
“Unashamed Partridge worship”
And there are moments when I start laughing, and am slightly embarrassed at the fact I can’t stop. Maybe I’m still a little exhausted from seeing Blondie the night before – the sort of artist I’m sure Alan would approve of while driving from a travel tavern to an owl sanctuary.
The encore for that gig went on for so long I thought I’d miss my train. No such danger with Alan’s show. It’s so punchy, the first half is over before you can say: “Hi Susan. I was a bit bored so I dismantled my Corby Trouser Press. I can’t put it back together again. Will that show up on my bill?”
But comedy should be brisk. No rib-tickling movie longer than 90 minutes ever really works, so ‘Stratagem’ should be equally snappy, right? Well, yes, in theory. So why am I left wanting more when Alan and his dancers during that finale take a bow and don’t come back for an encore? Is it the fact our seats on row B were so eye-wateringly expensive I felt like Alan should have appeared in front of me and offered me a wheel of cheese, or at least given me one of his big plates from 1997 masterpiece I’m Alan Partridge?
Yes, it’s often very funny, but it’s also somehow unfinished. Maybe the lack of great comedy stooge Tim Key is a factor, or could it be the show just needed more material? I wanted a big blanket of comedy to wrap me up, but we were given something closer to Alan’s tiny pants from his fantasy sequence for TV boss Tony Hayers. Yes, it covered enough to be embarrassing, but only just.
Had Paul Calf popped up at some point and done a routine about dissertations, I would have been so much happier. Or maybe Tommy Saxondale reflecting on Prog rock of the 1970s, but this is not the MCU, where characters can appear willy nilly from an extended universe, more’s the pity.
I’m so glad I saw the show after years of unashamed Partridge worship, and the routine with Irish doppelganger Martin Brennan is achingly funny, but I do wonder whether this was like Avengers: Infinity War, where there was no real end, and that finale will pay off when Alan and company return to the Bonus Arena on May 15.
I was going to write another more satisfying sentence to round things off, but in the spirit of the show, I’ll leave you wanting more. Ahaaaa!