Alan Partridge: Stratagem review – two hours of tremendous silliness

Edinburgh Playhouse
In a joyful return to the stage, Steve Coogan’s deathless alter ego delivers a motivational lecture he keeps on derailing

The last time Alan Partridge graced the nation’s stages, he was trying his hand as a life coach, in Steve Coogan’s 2008 tour Alan Partridge and Other Less Successful Characters. The idea clearly stuck because, 14 years on, it’s been developed into a full show. Stratagem, Partridge tells us, is “a fun way to share knowledge that, I believe, will change your life.” And so begins a very satisfying two hours for fans of Coogan’s deathless alter ego, as Alan combines motivational PowerPoint with time travel, song-and-dance, and a relaxation exercise turned slanging match with an upstart protege.

The whole show, created with Coogan’s Partridge co-writers Neil and Rob Gibbons, is tight, well-worked and has its own satisfying little narrative arc, as the flimsiness of Alan’s life-coach pretensions is revealed. Coogan is far from the first comic to find pathos in the overreach of motivational speakers, but Stratagem doesn’t turn much fire on that soft target. Really, it’s just two hours of tremendous silliness, revelling in Partridge’s foot-in-mouth illness-at-ease, making hay in the chasm between his fussy, small-minded reality and the big-vision sophisticate he longs to be.

All this is achieved with the help of a troupe of young backing dancers whose friendship Partridge is needily eager to claim, and cameos from comic and Starstruck actor Emma Sidi as a successful Stratagem graduate and a mouthy audience member whom Alan ill-advisedly invites on stage. None of which, of course, suggests a man whose life advice you’d go anywhere near. But no matter: in act one, Partridge focuses inwards instead, co-opting the magic of theatre (as he keeps telling us) to address first his 11-year-old and then his 103-year-old selves. The latter is to be found in a dystopian 2065 cyber-Norwich, a half-man, half-avatar with an ageing Partridge face and the lower half of a can-can dancer in fishnets.

Here to change your life … Coogan as Alan Partridge.
Here to change your life … Coogan as Alan Partridge. Photograph: Johan Perrson

Will we still be laughing at Partridge when he’s a centenarian? You wouldn’t bet against it: the character whom Coogan once considered “an albatross around his neck” is nowadays at the centre of his own thriving multi-platform metaverse. And Coogan clearly takes pleasure in the performance. I don’t just mean the endless adenoidal pettifogging, which reaches its apogee here in an 80s power-ballad routine that Partridge keeps interrupting to discuss the finer points of Lib Dem politics. It’s also the rich comedy of physical awkwardness, as Alan inches uncertainly in and out of someone else’s follow-spot, or disguises himself as soft furnishing. His trendy upstage graphics, which ape the famous iPod silhouette ads, are also hijacked by a precious visual gag that will live luridly long in the memory.

Where does all this leave the Stratagem programme, and changing our lives for the better? Barely anywhere. In act two, Partridge gets back to the point, extrapolating some daft anagrams and bullet-pointing the programme’s nonsense principles. One of these – atonement – is illustrated in dialogue with a newer Coogan alter ego, the Irish rebel singer Martin Brennan, whom Partridge slighted on BBC One’s This Time and now seeks to make peace with by means of a penny whistle.

The show is, then, an extension rather than an expansion of what Partridge does. Another splash around in the shallows of self-delusion, sexual repression and midlife unease. But no one makes that territory funnier than Partridge, as Coogan proves again in this joyful show.

Stratagem With Alan Partridge Live is touring the UK.


Brian Logan

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Alan Partridge takes the stage with a Stratagem to heal Britain
Steve Coogan’s blazered broadcaster promises to bring a touch of TV evangelism and hatred of speed bumps on tour next year in venues across post-Brexit UK

Chris Wiegand

26, May, 2021 @12:52 PM

Article image
This Time with Alan Partridge series two review – welcome back, excruciating agony!
Steve Coogan and the team return in the perfect parody show ‘covering everything! From aqua-aerobics to abortion! From zebras to Zionism!’

Lucy Mangan

30, Apr, 2021 @9:00 PM

Article image
His time has come: the revenge of Alan Partridge
For two decades, Alan Partridge has been a glorious failure. But now he’s made a triumphant return from the Travel Tavern to be the BBC’s face of Brexit Britain. We trace his journey from humble football commentator to national icon

Peter Bradshaw

03, Nov, 2017 @6:15 PM

Article image
Move over Mrs Brown: comedians prefer Alan Partridge and Fawlty Towers
Gold TV has polled the professionals about their favourite comedy. But even the funniest of the funny can’t easily be reduced to scenes and one-liners

Brian Logan

04, Jan, 2017 @1:06 PM

Article image
I, Partridge by Alan Partridge - review
The latest batch of comedians' memoirs has Edmund Gordon yawning – with one exception

Edmund Gordon

23, Nov, 2011 @9:00 AM

Article image
Pride and Partridge: Felicity Montagu's comedy gold with Coogan and Austen
She played the loyal PA to Norwich’s deluded DJ and the cake-scoffing vicar’s wife in Nighty Night. Now back on stage as Mrs Bennet, Felicity Montagu explains why humour is a deadly serious business

Nancy Groves

15, Sep, 2016 @3:18 PM

Article image
Alan Partridge on his new podcast: 'This is the real, raw, be-cardiganed me'
He’s back – sporting a post-lockdown haircut and hosting a new podcast. Britain’s No 1 raconteur talks about his new hat, driving a Vauxhall, and why Boris Johnson looks like the evil rabbit in Watership Down

Rich Pelley

02, Sep, 2020 @5:00 AM

Article image
Has Piers Morgan killed Alan Partridge?
The second episode of This Time has dipped in the ratings. “A-ha!” says his rival host

06, Mar, 2019 @4:07 PM

Article image
No, Alan, no! Why Partridge on The One Show would be a national disaster
An online petition to get the This Time With Alan Partridge duo to present the real-life TV magazine show must not succeed – and here’s why

Stuart Heritage

27, May, 2021 @11:43 AM

Article image
Mid Morning Matters box set review: classic banter with Alan Partridge
Meatloaf-inspired phone-ins, a luddite folksinger and an anecdote about Scalextric swapped for cocaine – Norfolk’s showbiz legend returns to his radio roots

Phelim O'Neill

28, Apr, 2016 @5:09 PM