Review: Mirth master Merton’s new offering falls flat

Paul Merton, Our of My Head, Ipswich Regent

He is known for his deadpan, surreal humour and enduring association with long-running satirical quiz Have I Got News for You.

Last night Paul Merton’s Out of My Head tour – his first solo routine in more than a decade – arrived at the Ipswich Regent.

Merton was joined by Lee Simpson, Richard Vranch and Suki Webster, all part of the Impro Chums line-up which has entertained Ipswich on previous occasions.

The evening was billed as a chance to “discover the bizarre workings of Paul Merton’s brain, as he muses on the mighty behemoth that is his noggin”.

And his remarkable mind threw up some truly odd chapters of his life – a trip to a sex shop, a spell at the Maudsley psychiatric hospital and his earliest childhood memory - all captured in a series of sketches and improvisation with some ventriloquism thrown into the mix.

With a stripping ultra-violet nun, a steam room skit and a scene featuring the Duchess of Cornwall being eaten by a snake, not every routine hit the mark, while some seemed to simply fail to reach a conclusion, but the quartet’s whimsical approach and Merton’s storytelling kept things moving.

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Yet the evening felt over-scripted; Merton is a master off the off-the-cuff quip, as millions of BBC viewers will attest, but there was a reliance on weak innuendo and rather dated gags, while some parts of the show seemed under-rehearsed and in need of trimming.

His travels back to his early years featured amusing recollections of primary school teacher Sister Galista but the arrival – and repeated use – of ventriloquist’s dummy “Little Paul” fell flat.

A drawn-out game about teaching giraffes to play croquet was among the most awkward of the night.

Merton clearly has interesting views on mental health. However they were lost in a succession of stilted scenes and a tiresome sketch involving a gigantic sperm.

Having enjoyed the Impro Chums on a prior visit to Ipswich, last night’s show was a disappointment and Merton, as we all know, is capable of so much more.

Many will have left the Regent entertained, but the project is an ambitious, uneasy marriage of stand-up, sketch and musical comedy that fails to make the most of Merton’s masterful talents.