Al Murray review – the ultimate Brexiteer remains on the fence

“Having your cake and eating it” has become a pretty useful idiom when describing the infuriating paradox of Brexit. And it comes to mind when watching Al Murray perform his new show, Landlord of Hope and Glory. The comic, who we can probably assume voted remain but who plays the ultimate Brexiteer in Pub Landlord, has met himself in the middle, with a show that takes turns to rabidly attack leave and remain, progressive and conservative values. In other words, a sort of one-man Question Time.

Call it showbiz pragmatism, call it strategic ambiguity, but it feels a bit of a cop-out for Pub Landlord to have a generalised “they’re all as bad as each other” take, no matter how true it may be. Still, it does lead to some solidly funny sections, such as when he misses the old Europe that would start a war over a croissant, and when he extends the “Britain is up shit creek” metaphor to foul lengths.

The loose premise is that: “It’s up to you, the Great British people, to sort this out.” This gives Murray the chance to do his stock-in-trade audience chat, which is as sharp and impressive as ever. A lot of credence is given to the idea that we the audience are going to save the day – and you can’t help but think it’s all going somewhere, that a big finale is afoot, featuring the people Murray has spoken to. It never materialises though, and instead the show finishes on a war song that quite possibly took less time to write than to perform.

Murray’s chat with the audience is as impressive as ever. Photograph: Pete Dadds/Avalon

Away from Brexit, there is no shortage of grievances for Pub Landlord to air, with mixed success. A routine on people using their phones too much is weak; much better is his idea for cheating speed cameras.

For a while now, there has been a question mark hanging over Pub Landlord’s jokey bigotry. Is Murray skewering it or legitimising it? Tonight he chokes on the words feminism and diversity, and rails against young people with hair-trigger offence-taking mechanisms (with that last one it seems as if Murray is talking, rather than Pub Landlord). These are at least contemporary subjects, and the Landlord’s disgust is obviously the joke. (And you can add crisps made of carrot to the list, another of his pet hates.) But some of the faux-misogyny just feels grubby, the layer of irony so thin that it effectively isn’t there. Perving on women in the front row, and paying a man in the audience to go to the bar so Pub Landlord can chat up his wife/girlfriend … that sort of shtick really doesn’t feel like it’s there to be laughed at, and should probably be quietly retired with no harm done to the character.

There is no doubting Murray’s smarts, nor his ability as a comic, but in taking the populist route he is selling everyone short.

Touring until 30 November.

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