Review - Stewart Lee Content Provider at Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Stewart Lee
Stewart Lee

Anyone who visits Stewart Lee's touring show, Content Provider, in the hope of a relaxing night out full of observational quips and light-hearted banter probably knows very little about this particular comedian.

To be a Stewart Lee fan is to accept that banal jokes about marriage/family life/ other aspects of the everyday are simply not going to happen. Instead, viewers are mentally transported to a comedic plain in which there is no secure footing, where apparently familiar subjects are turned on their heads and even the audience's appreciation of the performance comes under close scrutiny.

I'm a big fan of Lee's brand of metatextual humour, so I was very keen to catch his latest show (the tour's second visit to Northampton) at the Royal & Derngate.

A trait in Lee's work is to make audience members a source of mockery, deriding their ability to process his layered and clever jokes. Theatre-goers really came under the verbal hammer yesterday (THURSDAY) evening as Lee delivered his material, repeatedly stopping to condescendingly explain his statements to the watching crowd.

This doesn't sound like the recipe for a fun night out but the result is hilarious as, despite the torrent of deliberately exaggerated abuse faced by the audience, there is also a sense that Stewart's increasing frustration with himself and the world around him is the actual butt of the joke. He even, at one point, states that he is coming to despise the character of Stewart Lee.

As ever, Lee's performance was entertaining from start to finish. Without giving away too much about the content, his eclectic array of subjects ranged from brexit and Trump to Caspar David Friedrich's painting Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog, and the culture of selfies and digital consumerism.

The comedy is enjoyable but always a little uncomfortable because, mocking though it may be, there is always a truth at its heart which makes viewers keep thinking and analysing what they have seen - long after the show has finished.

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