Ricky Gervais may have shed the pounds, whitened his teeth and shamelessly conquered LA, but his co-writer Stephen Merchant’s Hello Ladies tour – the tour that he jokes will take him up and down the country in search of a wife – simply couldn’t get more British in its appeal. A self-depreciating dissection of his life so far and the mores of dating, it is full of warmth, chuckles, and that very English playing down of achievements Gervais gets stick for completely disregarding.
Our host for the evening is up for the challenge and is a natural entertainer. Merchant performs with a gusto that up to now, you could argue, has been belied by the laid back, lackadaisical characters he has played on screen.
An evening with him is time well spent. Merchant has the charm and childish sense of fun of Tim Brooke-Taylor, the comic timing of a Python and the confidence and attitude (albeit in a toned down form) of his pal Gervais. That’s quite a killer combo.
It may have been an age since he last performed live, but it’s clear he knows what he’s doing and how to stay in control of the situation. He’s very physical on stage, too; self-aware, yet not so much you actually believe he is the tightwad, unlucky in love loser he makes himself out to be. Like any good stand up or storyteller, his exaggerations turn him into a grotesque.
The material (superbly written, natch), is essentially rather unchallenging stuff of life spiel — the cost of refreshments at the cinema, wedding faux pas and dealing with being 6’7. But Merchant sells it. He’s a comfortable performer that immediately puts his audience at ease.
His opening act, Josh Widdicombe, shared some of that gentle, manchild charm and his set built up nicely to a great finisher about end of the pier arcades.