REVIEW: Ardal O'Hanlon at Bath Theatre Royal, 4/5, by Pip Larkham
THE worst storm since 1987, said the weather forecast, so it was not really the ideal night to leave your cosy home and venture into a windswept and soggy city centre for a bit of stand-up comedy, surely?
But when the tickets are booked and with reality-show results and Downton dominating the television schedules, some laughter was exactly what was needed.
Ardal O'Hanlon, best known to just about everyone as Father Dougal McGuire from sitcom Father Ted, walked on to the Theatre Royal stage to some gentle applause and a smattering of whoops and cheers. It was Sunday, it was Bath, and the crowd were pretty quiet. But this all fitted in perfectly with Ardal, his mellow manner drawing people in as he kicked off with talk about the weather. "The big storm" – everyone had been talking about it, so it would have been odd to ignore it. We had no need to be alarmed, said Ardal, because "in Ireland it has rained every day for the last 200 years".
The comedian then gave us an insight into how he ended up being in showbiz. He talked about his boyhood dreams of being a footballer. And he talked of the small town he grew up in where all jokes came with a "wink", moving to London in the 1990s, Catholicism, politics, married life and, finally, having children.
Ardal came across as a polite comedian – he did not encourage us to engage in any repartee where we had to respond more loudly each time he asked a question. And he swore in hushed tones, but this was all part of his act and it was funnier this way – probably down to some of his Catholic "guilt" and "fear". At times, you saw glimpses of Father Dougal in his performance (the wide-eyed look on his face when he impersonated an Irish politician who "always looks like they have broken something"), and it made us warm to him all the more.
"Do not worry if you have drifted off," said Ardal during his encore, "I do when I watch a comedian." But by the end the laughter was louder and the jokes were funnier. It was a truly enjoyable evening.