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Frank Skinner

Guardian Culture 12th February 2009

At this trying time, says Al Murray's Pub Landlord, it's good to see that "you're all doing your bit - to help Frank Skinner line his pockets". But we're not talking a banker's bonus here. Tickets for Skinner's cabaret cost a tenner - which is hard to sneeze at, even in the chilly depths of this discontented winter. "Let's fiddle while Rome burns," trills Skinner, strumming his banjolele, "and laugh our cares away." That's easy to do on first night - even in a show that slips uneasily between old-school variety and in-your-face comedy.

We get novelty as well as quality for our tenner. The butts of Skinner's jokes include Luiz Felipe Scolari, Alexander Lebedev and Carol Thatcher - although more involve Skinner's own fading celebrity. "I have no pot in which to piss," he says, reprising the George Formby shtick, "I've less work than Jayne Middlemiss."

Skinner is the ideal compere for this event: a comic everyman and a great ad-libber, too. But the oddest aspect of the show, which otherwise mixes established and younger comedians, is Connie Fisher. I doubt that a comedy crowd honed on Skinner's scurrilous smut wants to hear a West End diva sing Lulu's Shout. You can't even ascribe this incongruity to the variety format - because, Fisher aside, there's no variety beyond standup comedy.

Its best exponents here are Michael McIntyre, mocking our hysterical reaction to the snow, and Al Murray, as boorish as ever, who practically inspires a lynching when he discovers an RBS employee in the front row. "Where's the fucking money, Russell?" he bellows, over and over, like Paxman after a pub crawl. What started as cabaret ends as revenge tragedy.

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