Brydon, Mack & Mitchell review – backchat and banter from TV trio

Cliffs Pavilion, Southend
Rob Brydon, Lee Mack and David Mitchell take the off-the-cuff gags of Would I Lie to You? on the road for a nonessential but entertaining night of comedy

The panel show offers a TV lifeline to scores of comedians, but it has never taken off as a live format. I could see that changing if the industry catches on to what Brydon, Mack and Mitchell are up to on their Town to Town tour. It’s as if the trio have asked themselves: how can we monetise the skills – and the camaraderie – honed over a decade on the BBC’s Would I Lie to You? Fair enough. They offer complementary qualities while each being adept at raillery, lively chatter and off-the-cuff gags. As per many a panel show, it’s completely nonessential but passes the time entertainingly.

Given the complaint that such TV is the cosy preserve of backslapping male comedians, perhaps it is regrettable that the show’s set suggests a gentlemen’s club: oak panels, upholstered chairs and even a moose head looming down from the back wall. There’s something Rotarian, too, about Rob Brydon’s introductory remarks, which include impersonations last novel in Mike Yarwood’s day, and a hard-to-love standup routine about how weakly the ageing Brydon now pees.

As on the small screen, Brydon plays host, firstly of a local knowledge quiz bespoke to each venue; and, after the interval, to a Q&A casting our three amigos as agony uncles to life problems volunteered by the crowd. The format is vanishingly thin, and serves mainly excuses to crank up Brydon, Mitchell and Mack and watch them go. Most of the going falls to the latter, on whose Eric Morecambe-alike ebullience and unpredictability the show heavily depends.

It is Mack who, in timeworn fashion, gets the audience laughing at itself – in this instance, because of the depressive cast to much of the Southend crowd’s input. This is not, goes the evening’s running joke, a town overburdened with self-esteem. That much is evident from the local quiz, when Brydon’s request for Southend’s most famous person and best visitor attraction yield few results. The first half highlights find Mitchell extrapolating a geographical principle from the inaccuracy of the name Southend-on-Sea and Mack berating the audience for noticing water drops coming from the ceiling on to the centre of the stage.

In the audience advice bureau that comprises act two, the joke is often in the brusqueness of the advice rendered – be that Brydon urging a teenager to defy her “hag” of a mum (who she is sitting next to) and pursue her university dreams, or Mack expressing dismay at one singleton’s efforts to find love. (“What are you doing to get a date?” he asks. “Looking at passersby,” comes the bathetic reply.) It all amounts to precious little; there is neither structure nor climax. But the trio’s pleasure in one another is infectious, as Mitchell’s awkwardness and erudition, Brydon’s spiky smarminess and madcap Mack’s tomfoolery enjoy their respective moments in the spotlight.

On occasion, Mack’s quick wit and readiness to leap into a new idea – as when he pounces on the phrase “cat protection league” and runs with it – are so funny, even the moose head must struggle to keep a straight face. Throw in the backchat and banter at which all three excel, and you’ve a show that – like the best of its telly counterparts – you’d happily pass the time with if there were nothing worth watching on the other side.

Touring until 3 October.


Brian Logan

The GuardianTramp

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