It was with a sense of nervousness that I took to my seat in the eighth row for Al Murray’s Barrell of Fun Extra show at the William Aston Hall last night. You see, not knowing much about his stand up shows, I made the mistake of doing a bit of online research on Murray and immediately stumbled across tales of audience members getting a damn good ribbing. Indeed my worst fears were confirmed when he bounded in stage in full Pub Landlord gear spilling the majority of his pint over unsuspecting people in the front row.
In keeping with the traditions of the Pub Landlord TV series Murray sets the rules from the offset; he promptly sets about confiscating pints of beer from ladies in the front row and replacing them with white wine. Also everyone’s name is “a lovely British name” and everyone is British from God to the Incy Wincy Spider with a hilarious explanation of what makes each one British.
Whilst his character is brash and bawdy there is a cleverness to Murray’s act best evidenced in the sharp putdowns which formulate the bread and butter of his show. For instance when he learns that one man is a BT engineer he replies in a instant “Well what are you doing here then?” and practically has the 900 strong crowd eating out of his hands. He’s also incredibly adept at remembering and coming back to the people he interacts with such as the wookie in the front row, Lofty the blind fitter and the Welsh Wizard who Murray envies for having a wife who also works for him.
If it all sounds a bit ad hoc there is a purpose to his material. Murray claims that the real crux of his show is to fix Broken Britain and in the second half of the show he does so by setting about what we have to be proud of. He explains how God Save The Queen is the greatest anthem on earth as it actually saves the Queen each time it is sung. The routine revolves around her majesty getting into daft perilous situations such as getting stuck in the freezer or crashing in her plane only to be saved by an unwitting audience member who is forced to sing the anthem.
Perhaps the funniest moment comes when Murray “helps out” an 18 year old PC World employee called James, who has been ribbed for most of the show, by getting him to “woo some lovely ladies” by running around the entire venue, hand on head, pretending to be a shark.
When asked how he would fix the economic crisis in the Q&A session which forms the finale of the show Murray brashly pronounces that reducing the price of beer would solve the UK’s problems. Whilst you fear that he might not be the man to solve this particular crisis he certainly provides a hilarious form of escapism from it on a wet Thursday night in Wrexham, the sell out crowd’s standing ovation a testament to his wit.