Alexei Sayle, self-proclaimed godfather of alternative stand up, has emerged from a 16-year period of performance hibernation to illuminate the basement stage of the Soho Theatre, an apt and flawlessly modern setting for one of the few who fearlessly forged the art form from the universal revulsion of Thatcherism and malaise of the ‘80s.
Sayle is a one-off, a warm-hearted, heart-on-sleeve type of public grandad who unwittingly became the progenitor of so many grumpy old men, sweetly jaded misanthropes and that odious, sell-out arse-licker Ben Elton.
It’s a pleasure to see Sayle back on the stage, freely pouring his familiar flavour of hot oil into the mouths of the lunatics who seek to undermine society’s beating heart purely to serve their own malicious agenda.
It seems prescient that he has chosen this particular year to return to the stage – a Tory government is once again siphoning cow juice from the mouths of babes, led by a grotesque, puce monster, and popular culture has eaten itself and regurgitated the remains. Everything that Sayle railed against in the ‘80s has returned with a damaging vigour.
While rampant social destruction has become more sophisticated in its conniving, Sayle has not moved in step with the reflexive post-post-modernist cynicism which now constitutes contemporary stand up. But why should he?
Sayle is a set piece in and of himself, a character whose reputation as a left-wing firebrand precedes him. In the ugly moral void which today passes for modernity, his default socialism almost seems archaic and naive, but it serves as a vital reminder that humanity is essential and indefatigable in its goodness.
One could anticipate that 16 years spent waiting in the wings for an appropriate monster to come along to be vilified might temper the central conceit of any gently aging comic’s vitriol, but Liverpool’s favourite gnome could never be guilty of such a thing.