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Review: Al Murray’s latest ‘Guv Island’ tour is fresher than a newly brewed pint

If you’ve ever seen him perform, you know exactly what you’re going to get at an Al Murray gig. In many ways, it’s the same act that he’s been doing for 30 years. His Pub Landlord character is still the same beer-swilling, banter-fuelled bartender with an affinity for the band Queen and a strong distaste for French and German people.

That isn’t to say, however, he’s ever predictable. In fact, what Al has refined over his years of stand-up is his consistent ability to be the opposite — to subvert expectations and improvise with the audience with masterful ease. He gives us what we want while simultaneously being full of surprises, which is why he remains among the top ranks of the UK’s greatest stand-up comedians.

“Beer for the fella, glass of white wine for the lady” — those are the rules at Al’s establishment.

As the lights in the Marlowe Theatre dim and the starting announcement is made, Al’s entrance is as brash as ever, with a custom theme song based on his tour title, “Guv Island,” blasting out of the speakers. He then makes his trademark entrance, sloshing his beer over the front row, roaring “cheers” with his hands in the air and rattling off his beloved catchphrases (“Let’s hear it for the beer! All hail to the ale!”). Even if you’ve seen it a hundred times, it’s impossible not to raise a grin as Al lights up the room and makes the audience go wild.

As always, the first half hour of the show sees Al jeer with the audience. No one in the front rows is safe — lectures are given to anyone with a job not considered “proper” (like a builder or plumber), the elderly gents are asked what D-Day was like, and the overweight members are classed as “chunky monkeys” destined for a “forklift funeral.” Rory the railway man got a right roasting, in particular, which made for a show highlight. It felt as though Al could have easily kept this going for the entire show and it wouldn’t ever get tiresome.

The venue was filled with excited Pub Landlord fans.

Of course, he does have rehearsed material as well which is just as entertaining. He mixes some very relatable insights with a heavy dose of satire, with some observational humour that makes a surprising amount of sense while other takes are clearly parodic Pub Landlord patter. As Al gives both barrels to prime ministers, vapers and easily offended youths, he still manages to integrate some improv as he brings previous audience participants back into the discussion.

You would assume that poking fun at the modern political climate would be like shooting fish in a beer barrel for Al, with his old-school persona clearly clashing with the progressive types of today. It’s an all-too-common topic for many stand-ups, yet Al somehow makes his material on Gen Z and TikTok addiction still feel highly original.

Al performed at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury.

It’s Al’s body language that makes his performances special, and this gig was no exception. He struts around the stage with a complete command of the audience’s attention, occasionally walking over to his bar for a refill as though we really are visitors to his pub, and always knowing just the right time to take a sip of beer to enhance the joke that little bit more.

It takes a truly skilled comedian to make the audience roar with laughter without saying a word. When a member of the audience told Al that he was a banker, a communal “oooh” echoed from the crowd and Al slowly turned with a knowing grin, stiffly removing his jacket as though warming up for the lecture of a lifetime. This gesture alone received howls of excitement before Al even had a chance to rip into the poor fellow.

Al keeps up the high energy until the very end, bowing out, as usual, with a musical performance. This time, it’s a new song called “We Are Not Americans,” which is much catchier than it has any right to be. If I had one complaint with this show, it’s that my face ached with laughter as I exited the theatre.

As always, Al brought his signature mini bar and British flag to the stage.

Every comedy fan needs to see Al Murray perform live at least once — that’s all it takes to make you want to see him again and again. Previous attendees will already know that every show he does is unique thanks to his mockery of the audience, and you will be pleased to know that he has never been more skilled in his ad libbing. As for the new material, just like a a newly brewed pint, Al’s latest routine feels fresher than ever.

Rating: 5/5

Featured image: Promotional artwork of Al Murray: Guv Island