Monday, January 26, 2015
David Elms at the Pleasance Theatre, 25th January 2015
Monday, January 26, 2015 by londoncitynights
From December to February, The Pleasance Theatre is transforming into a laboratory. Clad in surgical whites, clipboard in hand, comedians are playing scientist; experimenting with new material, figuring out timing and discarding the failures. The audience are white rats; gags being tested on us and our reactions intently studied. Given that these are works in progress it'd be wrong to rigorously review them, but comment? Ah why not?
On last night was David Elms, who comes lightly garlanded with a smattering of awards; making two 'Best One-Liner' lists from the Edinburgh Fringe, finalist in the Chortle Student Comedy Awards and Edinburgh University's Stand Up of the year. I'd never heard of him, but those who had spoke highly of him so expectations were sort of high.
Then again, stand-up comedy at 8pm on a Sunday evening doesn't quite feel right. After a busy weekend all I wanted to do was cocoon myself in a duvet and burrow far into the sofa. But there's no time for lazing around and so, groggy and sore-limbed, I ventured into the frozen January night. In my heart of hearts I hoped he wasn't going to be the kind of comedian that spends an hour yelling and furiously showering the front row with spit.
Thankfully David Elms is to Sunday evenings as raspberry jam is to a steaming slice of hot toast. He's an introverted, almost priest-like, presence; softly whispering into the mic in cool, measured tones. Each syllable and glottal stop is precisely deployed, fluttering softly over the audience like confetti. He's so hushed that the bustling sounds of the bar below threaten to drown him out. There's a fragile meekness in the way he peers out over the stage lights and says "go easy on me" .
I don't think he had too much to worry about, the audience appeared to be solidly composed of fans. When he asked if anyone was here that hadn't seen him before, just a few hands popped into the air. Though this was a sold out show he appeared a bemused that anyone had turned up at all, asking "why are you here anyway?" His ultra low-key style seems relies on a well-behaved audience (I find it difficult to imagine someone heckling him), all of us happy to tolerate the odd scrappy digression and meandering anecdote
The act itself consists of 'yer average white middle-class miseries; though as this is 'yer average white middle-class Islington audience they go down a treat. So we get material about buying a hypoallergenic dog, worries over a receding hairline, giving up sugar and liberal guilt over appearing in advertisements. Domestic observational humour usually drives me straight to cynicism, but well, it's Sunday evening and who's got the energy for that? It reminded me of flicking through The Observer supplements and being dozily amused at what Tim Dowling's kids have gotten up to this week.
At the core of this is a desire to "get across what life is really like"; Elms explaining that he's trying to inject some genuine truths about life into the show. High points are a beautifully played bit about how people are always looking at his new wife and expectantly saying "not long now..." Through a combination of cranking up the ridiculousness of his delivery and a mischievous glint he makes an innocuous phrase deeply surreal, building to a really kickass punchline.
Somewhat less successful is a late shift into drag. The sight of Elms in a wig and dress is worth a giggle (though honestly he looks pretty good), but once you've chuckled it doesn't really go anywhere else. Putting on a cod-Spanish falsetto voice, the already languorous pace slows to a frustrating crawl, and worse, a crawl bereft of jokes. It's a relief when he finally takes the wig off and resumes playing 'himself'.
There's a conspiratorial nature to Elms' stage persona; as if purely by attending we're in on a secret joke. He's at his most charismatic when chatting with the audience; tossing out the gentlest of gentle burns, asking people about their lives with sincere interest, peering curiously into the crowd when someone laughs randomly and fretting over what might think of him. Late in the show he confesses that he was paranoid that tonight wasn't going to work, that this was nowhere near close enough to be a show. He needn't have worried; though the focus could be a little stronger everything is securely laced together through sheer force of personality.
Elms is an easy man to like, which makes it easy to root for him, which makes it more than easy to laugh along. I think he is pinning down "what life is really like": it just so happens that his life is pretty blissful right now, which is reflected in the cheery content. Comedy as cosy as a goose-down duvet might not be everyone's cup of tea, but on a Sunday evening? Yes please.
The Work in Progress Season continues at the Pleasance Theatre until 25th Feb. Tickets here.Tags: comedy , David Elms , Pleasance , stand up comedy , work in progress