When you think of true British comedic greats, Rowan Atkinson has to be somewhere in the mix. From his time as writer and performer on Not The Nine O’Clock News, through his many incarnations chastising Baldrick, to his fantastic silent creation of Mr Bean and even his memorable appearances in the Barclays advertisements, his rubberised face and turn of phrase has become synonymous with British televised humour.
As well as his TV appearances, Rowan Atkinson was a highly talented stage performer. You just need to watch his performances on the Secret Policeman’s Ball shows to get an idea of his ability to own a stage. His act works so well live because it is both visual and dialogue-based. His gift for physical comedy combines effortlessly with his intricate monologues, complete with his trademark over articulation.
This DVD is a transfer from a 1992 video release of his 1991 one-man stage performance filmed live in Boston, America. It weighs in at over an hour’s runtime, includes many of his famous sketches, each one around five to ten minutes long, and Angus Deaton pops up now and then to play his obligatory straight man bit that he does so well.
With only an hour’s entertainment on display, the quality needs to be top notch for you to part with your hard-earned cash. Happily, almost every single one of the sketches and monologues performed are not only laugh-out-loud entertaining, they also stand up to repeat viewing – something you can’t say for every comedy DVD.
Opening up with the brilliant A Warm Welcome, a monologue in which Atkinson as the Devil (‘You can call me Toby if you like’) welcomes new entrants into hell, you quickly get a sense of how funny the next hour is going to be. Addressing the various murderers, fornicators and lawyers before their trip into damnation, his well-spoken, well-mannered personality makes for some wonderful lines. “See you at the barbecue,” he finishes. It’s understated, yet brilliant.
Perhaps the best of the lot is And Now From Nazareth, The Amazing…. Playing on the literal interpretation of the Bible, this sketch sees Atkinson as a priest, reading the story of the turning of water into wine by Jesus – with a few extra additions. “They said unto the Lord, ‘How the hell did you do that?’ And enquired of him, ‘Do you do children’s parties?’ And the Lord said… ‘No.'” Expertly timed and delivered, he knows how to ring out big laughs and successfully manages this with almost every line.
Alongside these are skits about an Invisible Man, the delivery of news regarding a fatal beating delivered by a headmaster: “Quite frankly Mr Perkins, if he wasn’t dead I’d have him expelled,” and a typically Atkinson-esque character who finds themselves persistently out of place, and out of sync, in church.
There are no bum notes on show and no flab either, each sketch flying in and out with one sole purpose – to make you double up with laughter. It manages it brilliantly, even with the extra sketch that is provided on this DVD.
It may only be an hour long, but this is a genuine masterclass in stand-up comedy, and a rare chance to own a slice of Rowan Atkinson in a stand-up environment.