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A CurtainUp London London Review

I thought tonight I'd talk about everything .— Eddie Izzard
Eddie Izzard
(Photo: Andy Hollingworth)
Eddie Izzard has now brought his new stand-up show for a month-long run in the West End following a triumphant tour of America. After building up a high profile in the States (with FX drama series The Riches, roles in films such as The Avengers and Ocean's 12, a Tony-nominated performance for A Day in the Death of Joe Egg — not to mention two Emmys for his 1998 stand-up show Dress to Kill— I guess it's not so surprising that Stripped was premiered there rather than in his home country.

However, I would be interested to know what the reactions of Christian fundamentalists were to Izzard's main theme, which is to pour scorn on the idea of a God creating such a bizarre and unjust world as we live in. Of course, with his Monty Pythonesque surreal humour Izzard's "stripped down" history of planet earth is all about laughing at the ludicrous, but nonetheless it is presented very much from a born-again atheist's point of view. He has been quoted as saying in a Newsweek interview, "If there is a God, his plan is very similar to not having a plan".

This quote is taken from the Wikipedia website, appropriately enough as Izzard starts his show by confessing to being a Wikipedia addict. All the facts and information on early human civilization and religion, around which he weaves his inimitable free-flowing comic web, are taken from that autodidacts' bible. And you can see why this makes sense as, like hopping from one blue web link to another, Izzard's dizzyingly digressive style leads him to explore realms other comedians cannot reach. The audience just has to keep up with his astonishing flights of fancy.

Izzard's free association of ideas leads him from the creation of the world to the invention of the iPhone, which he uses to surf the net. (I don't know whether he's getting commission from Apple but apart from this product placement, elsewhere he extols their creativity compared with Microsoft dullards.) There are hilarious parodies of passages from the Old Testament, including the Flood (God's gift to the anthropomorphic Izzard, as he voices a menagerie of animals on Noah's Ark), the plagues (by the time he got to frogs God had run out of ideas) and the Ten Commandments (a lascivious interpretation of "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's ox"). But although Izzard's scepticism is loud and clear, his strange imaginings are so ingenious he could surely raise belly laughs in the Bible belt.

There are also very funny skits on Stone Age man playing Scrabble and on the slowness of the Romans to respond to Hannibal crossing the Alps with his elephants, due to the difficulties of understanding Latin grammar. Language fascinates Izzard, who also delves into French and German, though non-verbal comedy is very much part of his act, with plenty of grunting and growling among his vocal effects. He says he has faith in human beings rather than a supernatural deity, but he frequently shows life from the perspective of animals (and even machines), with a wonderful account of giraffes only being able to cough when attacked by tigers and recurring characters such as a trumpet-playing jazz chicken, a stoned squirrel and a diary-writing squid.

The set design features walls adorned with map-like shapes and hieroglyphics, where through a barred window we can see moving sun, moon and stars. We can escape into a world of the imagination as long as we hold on to the coat tails of Izzard's stylish long dinner jacket (which he manages to make look cool with blue jeans). As a transvestite (or, as he prefers, "male lesbian"), forsaking his usual glamorous dress and heels means that Izzard gives a more physical performance than normal, always on the move as he mimes and mimics his way through the absurdities of human existence.

There are some things that don't work, such as lazy references to easy targets such as Sarah Palin and Dubya ("Burning Bush"), as well as a vampiric Mrs Thatcher, and the show gets stronger after the interval as, like a surfer on a wave, Izzard really goes with the flow. Sometimes he seems to lose the plot as he goes off on a tangent, but of course that is an integral part of his stream of consciousness style which often shows him at his most brilliant. With such an unusual amount of extemporizing, it would be fascinating to see how different his performance is on another night. You certainly feel a lot better about life after sitting through two hours of such inspired lunacy. If Eddie Izzard didn't exist, we'd have to invent him.

Eddie Izzard: Stripped
Written and performed by Eddie Izzard

Lighting: Keith Johnson
Sound: George Glossop
Running time: Two hours twenty minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 412 4661
Booking to 12th December 2008
Reviewed by Neil Dowden based on November 20th 2008 performance at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1 (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)
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