Tim Minchin And The Heritage Orchestra Live At The Albert Hall DVD review

Sharp comedy, and song lyrics that would make a docker blush: It’s Tim Minchin And The Heritage Orchestra Live At The Albert Hall. Here’s Louisa’s DVD review…

 It’s not been a bad year for Tim Minchin. He’s completed an orchestra arena tour, filled the Royal Albert Hall twice, hosted the world’s first comedy prom, co-written a universally-praised musical, and made a treacle tart on a cookery chat show.

While I can’t speak to the quality of the treacle tart, I can tell you the Tim Minchin And The Heritage Orchestra Live At The Albert Hall DVD is a satisfying and indulgent treat. Indulgent because it comes in at well over two hours, and satisfying because Tim Minchin isn’t just a dab hand at noodling away on the piano, but also an enviably talented songwriter, singer and comic dissector of bullshit.

This time around, the bullshit dissection tackles fame and success, the power of prayer, the danger of taking comments out of context, and the leader of the Catholic Church.

Filmed over two nights at the Royal Albert Hall this April, the show is split sixty/forty between new and old material, with Minchin’s familiar songs jzushed up by the addition of a 55-piece orchestra. In the rock world, the massive orchestra has become a kind of shorthand for Spinal Tap-style stage excess. It’s the sort of thing bands do when they’ve rolled up their last shred of perspective to do another line of ego. All of this makes it a fittingly ironic accessory for a performer like Minchin, much of whose past work pivots on his rock star aspirations.

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It’d be easy to give Minchin stick for the extravagance did he not know precisely what he was up to. His first number addresses all the clichés of hiring a big-ass orchestra, parodies the excesses of modern pop and opens with the line “Nothing ruins comedy like arenas”. Anyone interpreting the show as shark-jumping after seeing that stall set out needs to turn off the DVD and get back to blowing their fuse about jokes they don’t understand on Twitter.

The orchestra comfortably fills the empty space problem faced by comedians on arena tours, and moreover, Minchin’s a good enough musician for parts of it to work solely as a musical performance. Two of the songs on the set list, the new Beauty, and the familiar White Wine In The Sun are light on comedy but stand up as straight compositions. As ever, most of the best stuff happens while Minchin’s buttocks are plonked firmly on the piano stool. While big Eminem-infused opening anthem I’m In A Cage avoids the iffy mumbling and miming openings of his last couple of DVDs, the monologues aren’t all as successful as the songs, but that matters little when the lyrics and music are this good.

Those who consider excessive swearing proof of limited vocabulary can’t have encountered Tim Minchin and his gloriously obscene Pope Song. That this DVD has archived the rare sound of 3,000 voices gleefully filling the Royal Albert Hall with the kind of language that’d make dockers blush is something of a joy. You’d want to clear the living room of any hard line Catholic relatives before sticking it on for a Boxing Day viewing, mind.

Thank You God, Cont, and Lullaby stand out as the new numbers which should find a place in later shows. The first, an uproariously bouncy number that should win an award for successfully scanning the words “omnipotent ophthalmologist”, the second a two-parter on why context is crucial, and the third a refreshingly honest anthem for new parents who long for some shut-eye.

Another new number, Cheese, swings on one gag, and while absurdly funny the first time around, you’ll be safe to dash out for a loo break on repeat viewings. The Fence rallies a great melody, and a central idea Minchin fans will be keen to jump on board with (nothing’s solely black and white), but is light on belly laughs. A few old favourites make a welcome appearance, though I won’t spoil which ones tip up for people who didn’t catch the live shows.

Alongside shots of the venue and musicians, the cameras treat us to plenty of close-ups of Tim’s eyelinered mush, necessary for the facial commentary which accompanies his irony-laden compositions.In terms of extras, there are a couple of short behind-the-scenes rehearsal docs in which we meet members of the Heritage Orchestra, but the animated short Storm is the jewel. Fans of Minchin will be familiar with the sceptic beat poem from his Ready For This? Tour, but this DC Turner-animated version is a beauty, as well as proof that were rationalist atheists to vote in a poet laureate, Minchin would be our man.

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Some of the thrill of Tim Minchin comes from the gap between an old-fashioned aesthetic – man, piano, and in this case, massive orchestra – with biting modern satire. His look might say conventional Flanders and Swann or Noel Coward (dragged through a bush and the make-up aisle of Boots perhaps), but the lyrics are sharp, smart and cut to the quick of modern hypocrisies and inconsistencies.

Good value for money, and offering a new spin even on old favourites, Tim Minchin And The Heritage Orchestra Live At The Albert Hall is a showcase of brains and talent. “Clever never made no one rich”, Minchin sings on show closer, Dark Side. Well, on the basis of these performances, it may do yet.


4 stars

You can rent or buy Tim Minchin And The Heritage Orchestra Live At The Albert Hall at Blockbuster.co.uk.


2 out of 5