Has the time it takes to ‘become’ John Shuttleworth become less and less for Graham Fellows as the years have rolled by? As time has crept on, have the two merged into one? It was a question that exercised SevenStreets’ mind throughout his latest show – The Man With No More Rolls – at the Everyman Theatre recently.
Fellows is now, surely, older than Shuttleworth was originally intended to be. That’s a stat that unsettled us slightly – don’t the years roll by? – but it must be downright weird for Fellows.
Shuttleworth has become part of the comedy furniture, touring and appearing on a variety of media for some time, and his songs will be buried in the consciousnesses of people who might not even recognise his name. Surely everyone can recognise the melody – and the worry – of having Two Margarines On The Go? And what of the Austin Ambasador? Can you ever Go Back To Savoury?
Eggs and Gammon goes all audience-participation-y – all apart from a halpess audience member who refused point blank to join in – while new song Smells Like White Spirit is very amusing.
The mundanity of it all is akin to the Peter Kay and Michael McIntrye genre, but because it’s Shuttleworth it’s even more obscure, ridiculous – and funny. The title of the show refers to agent Ken Worthington’s printer error, but it also introduces a recurring motif on Shuttleworth’s lack of confidence when it comes to trendy breads.
An extremely flimsy narrative barely ties it all together, with familiar songs coming and going along the way, and the show would be hard to describe as a whole.
To disassemble the night’s entertainment, to pick over it and seriously analyse it – where it went wrong and where it went right – might not flatter The Man With No More Rolls. It was undeniably a bit slipshod and knockabout at times.
Fellows always reacts well to a fumbled song or a forgotten lyric – in fact the show often goes off at an even more amusing tangent – but whether this was part of the act wasn’t clear. One song just falls away and Shuttleworth admits he’s ‘lost confidence’ with it. But is it Shuttleworth or is it Fellows?
It’s either brilliantly meta sleight-of-hand or handily verisimilitudinous for Fellows that genuine fluffs can be passed off as part of the act.
Did it affect our enjoyment? Not a bit of it. The audience interaction, the ad libs display an act honed to near real-life, and quick wits. Some amusing asides about the Everyman – a ‘condemned theatre’ – are a recurring joke and some sonic doodles bring references to ‘your very own’ OMD and the like. It’s engaging stuff.
To simply spend time in the company of the amiable, hapless, small world of the Shuttleworths is a pleasure in itself; the Radio 4 cosiness of it all as familiar as a roll-neck jumper. To punters of a certain age at least, as is evinced by the audience.
The Man With No More Rolls is hardly a comedy masterclass, nor a landmark in the form or genre but it is excellent in its own way; a gentle British whimsy that makes one glad it simply exists in the face of the landfill comedy of the McIntyres or the eye-watering brutality of the Boyles of this world.
A world with John Shuttleworth in it is a friendlier world and The Man With No More Rolls is as comforting – if battered around the edges – as the famous tan leather jacket.