When you have a character as brilliant (and familiar) as David Brent, Ricky Gervais barely has to open his mouth before you start snickering (a condition which usually leads to chortling and then full blown belly laugh). Here he just has to come on stage, wearing dark glasses and a waistcoat and you are in hysterics. “Fashion, innit,” he says before unleashing on a packed Apollo Hammersmith a gig based on songs already seen on learn Guitar with David Brent, his online series.
Only, of course, here he has a full backing band, a light show and thousands in the audience. Yes, one cannot help feeling that the man who once fronted the 1980’s band Seona Dancing and was ents officer for London University is quite pleased to be here. Here is Gervais’ chance to recreate his heady pop star days, only now he is a comedy mega star so the cheesiness can be blamed on Brent and his creator can feel the endorphine rush. Clever, huh? It also makes for a blissful evening.
One of the joys is that the music is rather good, and Gervais really knows how to deliver a song. As anyone who has watched Learn Guitar will know, the melodies are rather sophisticated and tuneful and they are leant a real rock star punch here by the accomplished session musicians (well Hollywood stars can afford people like drummer Andy Burrows of Razorlight fame can’t they?)
We can overlook the fact that here is a man – Brent – whose current career sees him selling urinal lozenges as a salesman but now suddenly finds himself playing to a packed house in one of the UK’s biggest live spaces. Rather it’s best to enjoy the hilarity of opening song Life on the Road and its reflections on going into “Gloucester” where he buys a “Costa”.
(By the way anyone expecting a superstar cameo from one of Gervais’ Hollywood mates may be disappointed. Brent is introduced by Keith “Are you planning to nail Dawn” Bishop from The Office. But it was still a nice touch).
Brent’s ode to Slough in (you guessed it, “Slough”) is delivered with the same panache, but not before he takes issue with Sir John Betjeman, the poet who wanted friendly bombs to fall on the place. But we know where Brent is “heading” – to the place “’’tween London and Reading.” There is something so subtle, so emphatically Brentian in that word “‘tween” and the anticipation of the lamity.
The next song imagines the unimaginable – David Brent having sex. But we can still enjoy Lady Gypsy in which he remembers (for her sake we hope not a real) formative sexual encounter. Next up is Goodnight my Sweet Princess, a coruscating mickey take of Elton John’s Candle in the Wind, which allows Gervais to poke fun at the cult of Diana through the prism of Brent taking the whole thing at face value.
The same goes for his cack-handed attempt to show he’s not a racist. Equality Street, already made famous by Comic Relief, is given a real zing, with the aid of comedian, rapper and actor Doc Brown (already seen as a very capable warm up act before Brent came on stage).
The only gripe is that there isn’t enough. After the wait and the warms ups this is little more than an hour of Brent and I probably speak for the whole audience in saying that we would have liked more of the self-proclaimed “philosopher, leader of men and great comedic mind”.
But it was still a joy to see a dream held by both Brent and Gervais himself fulfilled on this grand stage. He was as brilliant as you’d expect and his enjoyment was infectious. Being a pop star with adoring fans is clearly very addictive and he is very good at it. Fact.
Ben has worked as a professional journalist specialising in TV and the arts for nearly twenty years writing for Stage newspaper, Sunday Mirror and the Sunday Times, The Guardian, Evening Standard, Broadcast, Independent and the New Statesman where he wrote a column.