‘I’ve done so many strange things in my career,” says Rob Brydon – not the least of which is journeying from the offbeat mockumentary Marion and Geoff, where he made his name, to nights like this. A Night of Songs and Laughter finds Brydon in Mr Saturday Night mode, crooning his way through a Desert Island Discs-like selection of songs that tell the story of his life. It’s slick, sentimental and spacious enough to allow for plenty of Ronnie Corbett-esque raconteurship and joshing of the crowd. Positioning him more as merry-making master of ceremonies than standup comedian, it plays to Brydon’s strengths.
In such a context, for Brydon to ask, “What is it about me that attracts the old and the infirm?” can only be richly ironic. He knows full well that his latterday Max Bygraves shtick does not deliver the shock of the new. But he also loves to tease his audience – mainly, tonight, for their decrepitude. Such exchanges offer glimpses of the wolf one sometimes discerns under Brydon’s sheep’s clothing. But otherwise it’s showtunes and hip-shaking Elvis numbers, as well as heart-on-sleeve balladry memorialising the Welshman’s first kiss, his first girlfriend, and the birth of his first child.
It’s always a showbiz confection, the autobiographical storytelling never more than skin-deep. But it usually works. Brydon can hold a tune and pack feeling into it; he’s backed by an excellent band led by Paul Herbert (ribbed ruthlessly throughout) – and his anecdotes zero in endearingly on his own indignity and ineptitude. For all that he jokes otherwise, his voice work and celeb mimicry is, as ever with Brydon, another highlight.
It’s a matter of only mild regret that the story-of-my-life narrative peters out in act two, which devolves into singalongs of Sweet Caroline and Brydon’s chart-topping Islands in the Stream, performed in character as Gavin and Stacey’s Uncle Bryn. A bespoke lyric, written during the interval to incorporate Brydon’s interactions with the crowd, is a bit weak – some acts improvise this stuff – but after a show dedicated to Brydon’s pal Barry Humphries, making himself conspicuous in the crowd, no one leaves this feelgood evening under-entertained.
At the London Palladium on 18 November and touring until 16 July