It's a Chinese proverb that maintains "life is a tragedy for those who feel; and a comedy for those who think". Michael Moore is definitely a thinker, but it'd be wrong to label him a comedian or dismiss his one-man show as extended stand-up. He feels, he thinks and then he gets angry.
Given the American's notoriety in his own country, it's interesting - but no accident - that he's chosen to make his stage debut on foreign soil. Moore has built a career criticising his compatriots, which hasn't always made him popular. Certainly not so with former General Motors' chief Roger Smith (the relentlessly pursued subject of Moore's first documentary Roger and Me), NRA frontman Charlton Heston (under fire in his latest gun-control film Bowling for Columbine) or President George Bush who Moore dubs the "thief-in-chief" in his new book Stupid White Men.
The publication of Stupid White Men in the States - where the first 50,000 copies rolled off the press on 10 September 2001 - was postponed and nearly cancelled. Following 9-11, the publishers felt its criticism of the Bush administration was too controversial. Moore and his supporters have fought a tough battle against such censorship, propelling the book to the top of the bestseller lists.
Michael Moore Live! seems at first a post 9-11 addendum to Stupid White Men. Shuffling about in front of a picture-panel backdrop showing the smiling, youthful faces of George Bush, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and Tony Blair, Moore presents compelling ammunition for conspiracy theorists, not least details of long-standing financial associations between the Bush and Bin Laden families. It's horrific if what he asserts is true - and some of his facts do scream out for checking (for which he helpfully provides all the sources).
At times, Moore's performance goes off the boil, primarily when he strives too hard for laughs. A 'search of Osama' interlude involving Graham Norton-style cold calls, one to a fast-food joint in the Middle East, goes nowhere, and a "Stump the Yank" quiz between two punters serves up more embarrassment than enlightenment. Moore also indulges for far too long in recounting some of his early rebel skirmishes.
It's when he's into full, furious rant mode - whether railing against Bush, big business or members of his audience - that Moore's most effective and affecting. And for all his anti-American jibes, we 'privileged classes' of London aren't let off easily either. In the end we're issued some very direct and plaintive calls to action, amongst them: 1) shred your loyalty cards; 2) get involved; and 3) don't allow the UK government to follow the US lead, either in war or in welfare.
I left this odd display of social, personal and political commentary feeling, in equal parts, ashamed, challenged and inspired - but above all, alive (which, in my book, warrants the full five stars for this review). Maybe we can make a difference. Michael has.
- Terri Paddock