Have I got flying bunny rabbits for you.
Paul Merton’s first stand-up tour of the century is perhaps not what you would expect from a man most famous for his po-faced comebacks on TV panel show Have I Got News For You. Out Of My Head – of course meaning both stuff coming out of one’s mind (thoughts/imagination) and ‘I’m mental’ – claims to take the audience on an exploration of the workings of the comedian’s brain, or his ‘noggin’ as he prefers to call it. It’s a proper planned show – i.e. it is scripted and directed – and joining Merton to provide special effects, songs and all-round silliness are performers Lee Simpson, Richard Vranch and Suki Webster.
Just before he became a household name (sort of) for pooh-poohing poshy editor Ian Hislop, Merton checked himself in to the Maudsley psychiatric hospital. Out Of My Head light-heartedly plays out some of his neuroses, none of which are we expected to take literally, and for some reason the overriding image I’m left with is of numerous flying bunny rabbits (they really do fly – the special effects are good). In addition, a ventriloquist’s dummy, ‘Little Paul’, makes frequent appearances representing Merton’s younger, more self-assured self (perhaps) and Charles and Camilla make a few cameo performances too. This isn’t supposed to make any sense. I think.
The sketches are somewhat haphazard in content and fluidity – there is a sense of narrative and purpose in that the show begins with Merton as a child and ends just as he checks out of hospital, but there is no attempt to reveal anything of any depth or give the audience a real sense of having been taken on a journey. The impression I’m left with is that rather than really exploring any part of his brain, Merton’s objective by this show is to supersize and bring to the stage his surreal-peppered ponderings that we’re used to seeing on Have I Got News For You. The results are a fairly unusual show that gently plays around with the concept of fusing 21st-century comedy with cabaret, while ever-so-slightly exploring issues around mental health and the part ‘imagination’ should play in our lives. In an era where the manically pacing Michael McIntyre rules the comedy stage, it was lovely, actually, to be lightly tickled by Merton’s modestly weird musings. I laughed out loud, a little.