Tim Minchin is most certainly ‘Back’. Eight years since his last tour in the UK, he’s performing three sold out nights at the New Theatre, kicking off last night.
Still sporting his trademark messy hair and kohl-lined eyes, but with a more muscular physique than I remember, he enters barefoot, takes his place at the piano and begins with ‘If This Plane Goes Down’ – later performing fan favourites such as ‘Prejudice’ as well as new numbers throughout, plenty of swearing still included.
There was meant to be a 20-minute interval, but audience members rushed back to their seats as he unexpectedly appeared back on stage early, telling us that he always gets bored backstage. i’m just looking. Talk amongst yourselves.”
Around 15 months since the tour first went on sale, he tells us that he still doesn’t really know what the show is going to be about. “Which is partly negligence, and partly sense of adventure” he explains. “I think the great thing about live theatre is that it’s live, and that’s one of the last few experiences like that… That’s why I get you to turn your phones off, it’s just going to be us tonight, whatever happens it’ll be… unique. Which is not a guarantee of quality, but, if it’s sh*t, it’ll be our sh*t.”
For anyone who has missed the memo, this is not straight stand up comedy. Tim views himself as more of a musician than anything else (although his CV is vast and displays an impressive number of skills). His songs here do most of the talking, but in between them he can be both deadly serious and play the fool, as he gives his thoughts on the state of the world and what he’s been up to while away from our shores.
“As the night draws to a close Tim and his band received not one, but two standing ovations”
He’s not just filling the time here either, these sections are equally poignant, hilarious and sad. He definitely likes to take the audience on a journey; describing the show as “logical philosophy lectures, slash cabaret”.
As he settles into one of his most famous tunes, ‘Rock And Roll Nerd’, albeit alone, down comes the black fabric to reveal a full seven-piece band with drums, guitar, trumpets and more. There are large Roman-style pillars supporting lighting structures and a large screen centre stage as the show steps up a triumphant gear to whoops of delight from the crowd.
The music is as loud as a rock gig, lights strobe over the audience, while the backing singers/instrumentalists perform comical child-friendly dance moves in a decidedly non-child-friendly show.
Quirky and manic, Minchin is now running and jumping around like an excitable child, atop the piano as often as playing it, but together he and the band create stellar harmonies.
They clearly have a brilliant camaraderie so that under the heavy satire and deliberate vacuousness of some of the songs, some hit a meaningful punch too.
the proceeds of the best (most expensive) 50 seats in the house is going entirely to Barnardo’s and the Samaritans.
Minchin’s way with words still takes precedence, delving into subjects such as his wife and two children – he’s been with Sarah since they were teenage sweethearts – as well as ideas around confirmation bias and tribalism. “The idea that you should extend empathy to your enemies is out of fashion” he says during one of his sensible moments.
He also discusses his reputation for not believing in God, being sad while privileged, as well as the guilt and self-loathing that comes with it.
Having spent time living both in the UK and the US, he also goes into some detail about the faults of both Conservative and Progressive attitudes in the world – Tim firmly counting himself in as a Progressive.
There was meant to be a 20-minute interval, but audience members rushed back to their seats as he unexpectedly appeared back on stage early, telling us that he always gets bored backstage. “I’m just looking. Talk amongst yourselves” he jokes, checking for empty seats to see if anyone has left.
A man after my own stomach, Tim dedicates around eight-and-a-half-minutes of the second half to his song ‘Cheese’. “I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written” he states halfway through, even breaking a fingernail in the process on the piano with his conviction. “It was worth it.”
As the night draws to a close Tim and his band received not one, but two standing ovations, the first being one of the most decisive I’ve seen during my many visits to the theatre, people rising almost completely in unison.
He comes back for the encore wearing a Barnardo’s t-shirt, the proceeds of the best (i.e most expensive) 50 seats in the house is going entirely to Barnardo’s and the Samaritans.
The team dedicate the last song to Greg Weaver, a veteran audio engineer and industry all-rounder who was Tim’s tour manager in Australia and worked with him on Upright, Sky’s upcoming comedy drama which airs on November 28, in which Minchin stars.
Weaver died suddenly of a heart attack in May, just hours after Minchin and the team had finished the Australian part of this tour. The band and Tim stand centre stage, singing together into one microphone. It’s a solemn ending after the laughs, and shows their deep bond.
Signing off, Tim says with humble sincerity: “It’s pretty amazing to go away for eight years and still have people turn up to your concerts. Thanks a lot”. We fall in love even more.
Tim Minchin – Back – appears at New Theatre Oxford until Saturday. atgtickets.com/oxford