I am not a great fan of Dara O Briain’s TV shows being only a peripheral flicker into Mock the Week, Robot Wars and Let’s go 8-Bit, and being one of the few people in the country who dislikes Professor Brian Cox I never watch Stargazing Live. So I was relieved when my first belly laugh kicked in early into Saturday night's show when Dara was describing working with Prof Cox: 'Give me some space, Brian'.
In fact this was only the start of a wide range of laughs, guffaws and giggles resounding around the New Theatre as the comedic express train of this one-man show regaled the audience with a gargantuan gamut of subjects: the BBC, Oxford, gap years, builders, dinner parties, voice recognition software, Legoland, fake news, Brexit and Norway to name but a few. Dara had no time for any hecklers to warm up but early in the show engaged directly with the front row when demonstrating his discomfort at talking to strangers at dinner parties – some gentle ribbing ensued and tales of audiences past – but the humour was rarely cruel though often insightful. But most of all, based on personal observation, the comedy was self-deprecating and mocking.
Large amongst Dara’s own comedic concerns was the onset of middle-age and shades of mortality, themes which recurred throughout the show. Although I doubt he will die of 'hot feet' my own concerns about my hot knees did provoke empathy and I am guessing the audience sympathised too by the level of laughter resounding around the theatre at the mocking of this self-centred health scare. We were also taken along on an epic comedic journey to Legoland and we all laughed mightily at the failure of the quest and the lengths Dara went to conceal this from his young son. After all, who has not been forced to find the humour in a failed family outing? Ultimately this is the secret of success of the show; whilst the topics are far ranging and the audience diverse, it is Dara’s personal insight and self-deprecating humour which engages the audience and provokes the most mirth.
As well as the personal jokes involving the difficulties of middle-age – having kids, building extensions and arranging 'me' time – Dara also touched on current politics with a simple but hilarious Trump impression and an amusing discussion of Brexit and Dara’s own right as an Irish citizen to remain in the UK. This also led to a discussion of the difficulties involved in writing a show intended to tour for two years worldwide and the necessity of focusing on more perennial topics and tweaking the show to suit each audience.
Dara also went to some length describing how he constructs his shows comedically for maximum laughs and how easily this can fall apart, as in his last show at Hay, if he omits earlier in the show to set up the final double gag. As the Magic Circle recognises it is a dangerous thing to let your audience know how you are doing what you are doing but this New Theatre crowd were happy to go along with the post-modernist deconstruction of the gag and greeted the comedic denouement with all the more laughter when they recognised the earlier setup. Thus demonstrating that in spite of the constant laughter this is a sophisticated and well-thought through show although the rip-roaring pace often leaves you struggling for breath between gales of guffaws and belies the wit and wisdom of Dara O Briain’s unique Voice of Reason.