Eddie Izzard - Circle
Capitol Theatre until April 23
Comedians, as a breed, aren't impressed by much, and the only guaranteed way to capture their attention and enthusiasm is to throw open the bar. As a result, when comics are excited about anything it is worth paying attention.
British comedian Eddie Izzard's visit had been subject to keen anticipation within the industry, and it is blindingly obvious that Izzard is a heavyweight. For one thing, you don't do a three-hour show (on opening night, Circle ran with interval from 9.30pm until 12.45am), unless you are delusional or brilliant: Izzard is definitely the latter.
Like most true professionals, Izzard makes it look as effortless as losing the housekeeping at the pokies. Izzard's style is deceptively slapdash and relaxed. He stops and starts, loses his way, chats with himself, says "um" a lot, and flits from subject to subject like a distracted bee. Yet, in the same way that the people with messy desks are frequently the most organised, order and logic coalesce out of the chaos of Izzard's fantastic ramblings.
He takes some time to warm up, but Izzard's approach is so original that he has to build a context in order for his comedy to exist. He crafts his world layer by layer, and eventually, with impeccable, undetectable, logic, leads the audience to a planet populated by spaniels who can't play cards.
There is something magnificently "other" about Eddie Izzard; he is not like other stand-ups. He is fascinating on stage, and this allure seems to spring from a dazzling display of contrasts. His transvestism is obviously one example - the beautifully groomed Izzard is simultaneously very masculine and very feminine - but he's also ungainly yet graceful, exceptionally eloquent but unable to finish a sentence, focused yet vague, in control but lost, caring and cruel, terrible at mime and yet somehow good at it, and interested in nonsense and also world politics. He is a paradox to the core, which renders him entirely unpredictable and compelling to watch.
Circle is the first show that Izzard has brought to Australia, and he covers a lot of territory, including a dissection of all the major religions, the Queen, racism, Sean Connery, monkeys with guns, the big bang, Margaret Thatcher, hate, transvestism, Socrates, and the canteen on the Death Star (one of the funniest routines I've ever seen).
Stylistically, he switches between pointed topical material and flights of fantasy that signify nothing, and he is probably at his best when conversing with himself as two different characters. The sheer range of topics covered is impressive (You've got to love a comic who can talk knowledgeably about both Schadenfreude and the Guinness Book of Records), but the genius of Izzard lies mostly in his extraordinary presentation, and ability to take the audience with him wherever he goes. He is a genuine artist with an original imagination and a keen curiosity.
The quality of Izzard's work shone through on opening night, even though he was slightly off his game. It was his first night in Australia, he had a cold, and it wasn't until after interval that he really hit his straps. And, to be honest, three hours is more than an elegant sufficiency. But Circle flows beautifully and Izzard is assuredly a world-class act.