Proms 2011: Comedy Prom

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Australian comedian, musician and actor Tim Minchin made history on Saturday by presenting the first ever Comedy Prom with comedian and Maestro winner Sue Perkins. Annie Reece went along to find out what all the fuss was about.

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There was no Elgar, no Liszt, no Bach, none of the usual suspects at the Royal Albert Hall for Saturday night’s Prom. Instead the concert hall welcomed its first ever Comedy Prom hosted by Australian jack-of-all-trades Tim Minchin and guests. Purists be warned, this is not a Prom for you.

Minchin kicked off the concert in a grey wig and glasses with a number that parodied conservative reactions to this Comedy Prom: ‘Hosted by an immigrant! Is nothing sacred anymore?’, before setting the tone for the rest of the night with his lullaby written for his second child. Its risqué lyrics drew a few uncomfortable laughs from the crowd as they settled in to Minchin’s edgy comic style: ‘Where is the line between patting and hitting/when is rocking, rocking and when is it ‘shaking?’ Henry Wood would be turning in his grave.

Stars from the classical world also made appearances at this Prom. Soprano Susan Bullock was welcomed to the stage with rather hesitant applause, (‘Who’s she?’ echoed quietly across the hall, testament to this atypical Prom audience) and flexed her comedy and vocal muscles with Sondheim’s ‘The Boy from Tacarembo La Tumbe Del Fuego Santa Malipas Zatatecas La Junta Del Sol Y Cruz’. Conductor Andrew Litton and pianist Danny Driver performed Reizenstein’s Concerto Populaire with the BBC Concert Orchestra, a comedy skit about the delicate relationship between conductor and soloist. At one point Andrew Litton, exasperated by not being able to curtail a trumpet solo, held up a yellow card to the orchestra member in question, a practice that I think should be enforced in all concerts today.

Kit and the Widow’s ‘The Dying Swan’ is a song set to the music of Saint-Saëns's 'The Swan' from Carnival of the Animals and looks at how pollution caused by our consumer lifestyle is killing nature. The song would have been all the more poignant had it not been followed up by a ludicrous ‘curry-oke’ of Puccini’s 'Nessun Dorma'. This ridiculous sing-along replaced the Italian lyrics with a menu of Indian food. Think of the rousing chorus ‘Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me…’ replaced by ‘Pilau, Pekora, Paratha’ etc and you’ll get the gist. This critique of the middle-classes tied in with the musical number from the stars of BBC Three’s puppet show Mongrels, as they took to the stage with their song ‘Middle class is magical’.

 

Beatbox artist Beardyman performed an Albert Hall friendly rendition of Pachelbel’s Canon and an impressive jazz improvisation and mime artist Sam Wills aka The Boy with Tape on his Face mimed to Rossini’s William Tell Overture, much to the chagrin of the Radio 3 audience. Minchin rounded up the evening with three of his popular favourites: ‘F sharp’, ‘Prejudice’ (‘Only a Ginger can call another Ginger, Ginger…’) and as an encore ‘Not Perfect’. 

Reactions to this Prom will undoubtedly be mixed. The woman who sat next to me was horrified by most of the concert, barely applauded and then left early, but I talked to a man on the way back to the train station who said he felt like he had been awoken from a dream.

My thoughts? I found the first Comedy Prom funny, smart, stupid, moving and ridiculous, in other words, everything it should have been.

You can listen to the Comedy Prom on BBC iplayer now and watch it on BBC Two on 27 August.

Prom 40:
Performers: Tim Minchin, Sue Perkins, Susan Bullock (sop), Danny Driver (pno), Kit and the Widow, Beardyman, The Boy with Tape on his Face, Doc Brown, The Mongrels, BBC Concert Orchestra/Andrew Litton and Jules Buckley.

 Annie Reece