Al Murray first debuted his Pub Landlord character at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1994. Since then, the irate, internally-conflicted publican has gone on to enjoy massive success, including selling out some of this country’s biggest venues. This year, Murray returns to Edinburgh with Al Murray: Landlord of Hope and Glory playing at Spiegeltent Palais Du Variete in George Square Gardens.
This year, Murray’s alter-ego sees it as his mission to bring together the people of the United Kingdom and to expound on topics including sexuality, public decency, morality, and, of course, Brexit.
All the hallmarks that have gone into making the Pub Landlord a much-loved British comedy institution return in this latest show. Murray is still peerless in audience interaction, in recall, in character work, and in creating his signature curious combination of pub snug, tabloid newsroom, and evangelical church. His ability to make utterly absurd points seem alarmingly plausible is as admirable and unnerving as ever.
The problem with Murray’s show lies not in any of the material or in his skill as a performer, but rather in something outside the theatre. At the height of his influence, the Pub Landlord took rather mundane political topics and filtered them through his colourful caricature, which was instantly familiar to anyone who has had a pint in any small-town pub across the United Kingdom. He took the ordinary and used the contrast between that and his character to form the backdrop of his clever comedy. Now that the news is a far more white-knuckle experience, that contrast is not as apparent, and therefore some of the effect is diminished.
Most importantly, the Pub Landlord was always a character raging against a system that was not going his way. He was, in his view, a bastion of common sense “British thinking”. Now that Britain is leaving the European Union, his is the side with the momentum and so, at times, the character’s underdog charm also takes an unfortunate hit.
Only Mr Murray knows the future for his finest creation, but being the consummate performer that he is he’ll also know when the Pub Landlord becomes outdated or is no longer of use. It’s perhaps too early to say that this is categorically the case now but, if politics continues on its current path, it feels like it’s heading that way.