Wednesday 8th October, Brighton Dome

Anybody who has seen Bill Bailey’s stand up, or his brilliant piano performance in Black Books, will know that the West Country comedian is as musical as he is funny. So, placing Bill Bailey on stage with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra seems like a natural and delicious pairing. The dream of the shows creators can be seen in the new orchestral version of ‘Hat’s off to the Zebras’, but it is in this song that you can see the problems beginning to show themselves.

Bill Bailey showing the feminists how to smoke a pipe.
Bill Bailey showing the feminists how to smoke a pipe.

His musicality, always being prevalent, shows that somewhere, under all the unbridled comedic success, is a very, very frustrated musician. Why is it funnier for an audience to hear the song with live accompaniments? For large portions of the night it seemed that Bailey, along with composer and conductor Anne Dudley, were playing a conscious game of try to play as much music of their own taste whilst slotting in enough gags to placate a sympathetic audience. This isn’t necessarily a criticism, as the music on offer was top draw. From the weirdness of theme tunes such as Panorama and Warner Brothers, to the beautiful Moonlight Sonata, it was a chance to hear an orchestra playing music that quietly makes up the fabric of our daily lives. The self-indulgence peaked with a rendition, played in full, of Saint Saëns’ ‘Aquarium’ a piece so sublime that it turned the auditorium into a quiet, reflective place, where comedy is forgotten and Bailey’s musical talent was thrust to centre stage. Methodically, and with a passion that was undeniable, he systematically introduced each section of the orchestra to an audience that seemed to have spent its £30 in order to laugh rather than to be taught. It is in this context that the comedians talent showed itself most fully. Even the nations favourite TV lecturer, Simon Schama would have struggled to work a crowed with such unorchestrated aspirations. It was Bill Bailey’s personality, and not the overly structured format of the night, which insured that everybody had a good night.


If it seems that so far this review has been too serious and too worthy, forgetting that laughter is the only barometer of a comedians success thenthese last few paragraphs were designed specifically for you: so enjoy it you over-critical mother truckers. There were a few moments in the night that were rib crackingly funny. The use of Doctor Who’s theme tune to create a Jacque Brel-style swing ballad was as good as anything on Part-Troll or Cosmic Jam. Yet, the funniest moment of the night came from a fly landing on the comic’s hand’. The unplanned freshness of his ad-libbing cut across the scripted nature of the rest of the night, delighting his audience in its wake.

Tonight, Bailey stretched the edge of his audiences patience and whilst he left the crowd content and smiling, it may well be a relief to many of his fans when he returns to the stripped down world of stand-up comedy.

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