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Twelfth Night (Manchester)

Michael Barrymore

By • West End
WOS Rating:
The last two years have seen a cataclysmic fall from grace for Michael Barrymore, previously one of Britain's most popular family television entertainers, as prurient interest in his difficult personal life has completely overtaken that in his career.

But if his new live show at Wyndham's Theatre is an attempt both to return him to his live stage roots (where he began as a Butlin's Redcoat) and rehabilitate his image as a popular entertainer, it fails dismally - not least because, away from the bite-sized, edited portions of television lunacy, Barrymore just isn't very funny. And now that his image is so heavily tarnished, he isn't particularly likeable, either.

Most fatally, however - and inexcusably given the steep £38.50 top price - is that he's not at all prepared for a solo stage show: he simply doesn't have any material to stretch across less than a meagre hour and a half's stage traffic.

Not since Jeffrey Archer starred in his own 2000 play The Accused - about a man wrongly accused of a crime just as Archer himself faced charges of perjury that subsequently imprisoned him - has anything quite so shameless, self-promoting and ultimately desperate been peddled in the name of light entertainment on the West End stage.

As Archer did, Barrymore similarly alludes frequently to his own difficulties. "You're a nutter!", says Deb, an admiring fan with a killer laugh in the third row who perhaps inevitably hails from Essex - to which he instantly rejoins, "I've done eight rehabs - I do know!". Soon enough, he's got her onstage for a grotesque round of humiliation, though Deb doesn't seem to mind.

Later, he jokes that a light aircraft recently crashed on its way into Stansted near his Essex home, and the press blamed him for leaving his landing lights on. But Barrymore, who will forever see himself as a victim and not take responsibility for anything in his life, cannot wriggle out of this one: where are the laughs, where is his show?

As joke after joke falls flat, he is at least a little knowing. He refers to a semi-comatose effect sweeping over the audience, "like a mass depression". Early on, Barrymore offers us a get-out clause: if there's anything we don't like, we should simply stop him and say, "Michael, it's not for me - I don't like it." He has written my review.

- Mark Shenton


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