John Robins' 2014 performance, This Tornado Loves You, provided my biggest laughs of the festival last year, and so I had very high expectations going in to his new show. But after only a few minutes, it was clear that Speakeasy would not disappoint; and after an hour, my face ached from laughter. I left feeling utterly cheered, yet also having experienced some surprisingly profound reflections.
The story of Speakeasy rests on two points: Robins' girlfriend (in real life, fellow comedian Sara Pascoe) goes away to Australia for four weeks, leaving him to his own devices for a month; and, subsequently, she discovers what is lurking in his internet browsing history. That might seem like bland, well-worn ground in terms of theme, and it's not something I'd imagine I'd enjoy when baldly described like that. Yet Robins side-steps the obvious, to bring us an alternative and fresh perspective. His clear and creative narrative avoids typically laddish male/female stereotyping, and his mix of storytelling and observation transforms the most mundane of scenarios into full belly laughs.
Robins' style is cheeky, somewhat hapless and a little nerdy – echoed in his physicality and movement around the stage. It's all part of a slick performance from a man who knows exactly what he is doing, and he manages the audience with charm and skill. Around ten minutes in to this performance, an unusually large number of latecomers began piling into the venue, disrupting most of the audience in an attempt to squash into the very few seats left dotted about. What could have been a tense, awkward moment, was integrated seamlessly with a mixture of empathy (the importance of which Robins talks about later in the show) and spot-on quips about the confusing nature of the various Assembly venues. These off-the-cuff comments were every bit as funny as his well polished material.
If I were to be really picky, I'd say there were a couple of moments where repetition used for effect was just a little, well, repetitive. But it is hard to find fault with this performance, and Robins' mastery of his audience was made clear towards the climax of his set. Loud laughter had ensued throughout, yet, turning on a pinhead, he changed the tone – and you could hear that pin drop. This was exactly the plan, and was the perfect moment for his meaningful, thought-provoking conclusions on the nature of online personas versus real life interactions.
Beautifully sewn up with a touching ending and neat call backs, and demonstrating playful interactions with the audience alongside a skilfully-crafted narrative, Speakeasy is an easy show to recommend.