red roses for me

It's quite some entrance, although on his previous tours Eddie Izzard has distanced himself from the amble on pint in hand school of comedy you're still not prepared for this. A darkened stage lights up and Izzard is laying naked by a toilet bowl, post overdose, getting to his feet he prepares to lead you through the previous sixteen years charting the highs and lows of one Lenny Bruce.

The play is based on Julian Barry's 1971 Broadway production and the subsequent 1974 film which saw Dustin Hoffman playing Bruce to Oscar nominated acclaim. So it was always going to be intriguing to see whether Izzard would have the acting ability to carry a two plus hour performance practically single-handedly. This also included recreating Bruce's material and at the same time making the nine hundred plus audience forget the main reason they were there, to see Izzard, and concentrate on the production.

After Izzard has dressed the excellent set design transforms into a courtroom where Bruce is trying to defend himself in an obscenity trial in which he has already been found guilty. Then it's back to Bruce's formative years, working strip clubs as a warm up man, forced to impersonate the stars of the day while honing his humour on the jazz backing band. Here he meets his wife, called in this production Rusty, played here with all the emotive power of a plank of wood by Elizabeth "Showgirls" Berkley. The first act culminates with his marriage over, Rusty in prison and Bruce's popularity and infamy beginning to grow while he struggles to raise his daughter.

Throughout the first act there are snatches of Bruce's act but it does still feel at times like Eddie Izzard with more swearing. One problem being that the humour that was shocking nearly 40 years ago now seems tame when the comedians that Bruce paved the way for such as Leary and Hicks have taken it to greater extremes.

The second act though is where Izzard comes into his own. Bruce's audience grows, he gains international recognition including his only allowed performances in the UK. He records several albums but at the same time the authorities crack down on him even more. A string of arrests for obscenity and drug possession follow along with serious illness which leave the strain of being Lenny Bruce too much to bear.

Izzard handles this slide into drug related shambles with such depth and emotive power that it feels like you are bearing witness to the despair and rage that eventually led to Bruce's demise caused by an overdose of morphine at the age of 41. That Izzard could be this convincing is a great testament to his acting skills and despite the limitation of trying to show this period of time on stage the production as a whole and Izzard's performance are at least on par with the film and Hoffman's portrayal. After this the news that Izzard has been signed up by one of America's largest agents comes as no surprise.

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