Leicester Comedy Festival review: Tom Mayhew at Attenborough Arts Centre

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Review by Ewan Collins

Tom Mayhew was not what I expected.

A quick search online reveals no end of reviews written with a clenched fist, proclaiming the arrival of a new working-class-warrior of a comic, whose witty takedown of social injustice is to be the catalyst for a long-awaited shift in the paradigm of the arts. Or something.

I could not have been more wrong. My host for the hour was delightfully articulate; a natural Greek yogurt of a gentleman.

The venue was minuscule; shoulder-to-shoulder seating, with the front few rows left  worryingly exposed by the lack of a spotlight on the stage. This didn’t faze the 2018 BBC New Comedy Award semi-finalist, who draped the audience instead in a blanket of ease and comfort – except perhaps the ones who turned up late and were met with a few quick one-liners. But even they seemed delighted.

This was in fact Tom’s greatest asset. His ability to improvise and engage with individual audience members is so sharp it left me wondering if these clearly unscripted detours might be somehow rehearsed.

The audience involvement was so funny, however, and peaked so soon, that it left the majority of Tom’s written act feeling flat and homogenous. Don’t get me wrong, a comedian that proudly and bravely scrutinises the flawed structure of the field in which they are trying to succeed is a breath of fresh air, but what I discovered tonight is there is a fine line between a comedy show and a crusade. I drifted off at some point after ‘the job centre’ and came back round sometime before ‘Jacob Rees-Mogg’, only to find myself having ordered a copy of the Communist Manifesto for next-day delivery.

Granted, Tom might not have been performing to his ideal target audience; one joke regarding the Tories being responsible for the deaths of children, which I thought was the pick of the bunch tonight, was met with a silence which can only be described as the first time your mum catches you exploring your manhood as an adolescent teen.

Regardless, the final stretch of the routine was delivered with an inspiring level of passion and overwhelming sincerity. Surely every person in that audience left with a fire burning inside, sparked by Tom’s battle cry against injustice.

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