Regional theatre review: Jonathan Pie: Live at The Lowry Theatre

Date Posted: 28/02/2017

Political comedy isn’t always the first choice for a group trip. Paul Maguire, former judge at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards – previously known as the Perrier Awards – explains why you might want to make an exception when it comes to Jonathan Pie.

I was brought up on the alternative comedy scene of the 1980s where socially aware comedians predominated. Since then, the political comedian has been a rare beast. The current polarising political climate has seen the re-emergence of comics that focus on politics and the strange, larger than life individuals that now seem to inhabit that sphere.

One of the most visceral of this new-old breed of comedians is Jonathan Pie; he is the creation and alter ego of actor Tom Walker.

For those of you unaware of his existence, Jonathan Pie is ostensibly a TV news reporter. After signing off his report back to the news studio, he vents his annoyance ‘off air’ to his long suffering, but never seen, producer Tim.

Jonathan Pie first appeared in short videos on social media in 2015. Since then he has attracted a large online following. He found worldwide fame last year when his ‘coverage’ of Donald Trump’s election victory found a huge global audience via YouTube.  Some foreign news outlets actually thought that Pie was a genuine political journalist rather than a fictional character.

I was intrigued to see how Tom Walker was going to weave these five minute video vignettes into an hour long theatrical performance.

The premise for ‘Jonathan Pie; Live’, is that he is a last minute replacement for John Barrowman, as a regional host of the BBC Children in Need Appeal. He informed us at the start of the show that he will be talking to Lenny Henry back in London four times during the evening. Thus after ‘throwing back to the studio’ he was able to set up the familiar off-air rants that his fans are so familiar with.

One of the trickiest parts of the comedian’s craft is to get the crowd onside as early as possible in a show, so when his description of the audience as, ‘A loony left, Guardian munching Corbyn fest’ drew a loud cheer, it was clear that he was pushing against a wide open door.

Once he had set the scene and thrown back to The Children in Need studio in London, he started on the first of many tirades. This was clearly what the audience had come to see and they lapped it up.

He railed about homelessness in the UK, criticised Theresa May, whom he described as looking like, ‘The Emperor from Star Wars had stolen Grayson Perry’s wig’. He ranted about both sides of the Brexit debate, and was exasperated beyond reason with the Tory government and the election of Donald Trump.

He took pot shots at both sides of the political spectrum; the liberal left did not escape his opprobrium.

He was incandescent about the collapse of the Labour Party as an effective opposition, he lambasted the left's obsession of drawing offence from any opinion that they disagree with and then attacking the individual rather than engaging in political discourse. He stated that, ‘Bad ideas can only be beaten by debate and not by silencing the argument’. He berated Guardian readers as ‘Self-righteous lefties that can afford to pay £2 a day to read articles that they already agree with’. The Guardian reading audience loved this.

Pies’ rants, which grew increasingly angry, were interspersed with frustrated links to the studio in London and an exasperated phone call to his ex-wife regarding child care. It was clear that things in Pie’s garden were not rosy.

The denouement of the show came when Pie was forced to wear a Panda outfit as part of the Children in Need Appeal. Dressed like this he then juxtaposed the attempts of the last two Tory Chancellors to claim that they came from ‘the party of social inequality’ whilst collectively being worth over £8 million.

The panda’s last plaintive cry was ‘I just want to be respected’.  The pathos and irony were not lost on the audience.

For those of you that like your comedy a little edgier than Michael McIntyre, then Jonathan Pie: Live will give you a large amount of belly laughs, biting political satire and thought provoking social commentary.

Jonathan Pie: Live is currently on tour. The show is just one of a series of comedies scheduled for The Lowry Theatre this year. Other future performances include Sara Pascoe, Tony Law and Reginald D Hunter. For more information visit www.thelowry.com.

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