Routines about anxiety are ten a penny round these parts, but few commit to it as visibly as Tom Mayhew. With the appearance of a socially crippled teenage Steve Punt, he’s awkward in both word and deed. It’s a good comedy look for him.
Unfortunately, there’s a third element of awkwardness today that he’s not prepared for – the audience. Mayhew has a stinker of a room to play – half a dozen punters in the long Spare Room of the Caves. His one liners – dry, self put-downs about rejection and his own timidity – land to silence. Not because they’re badly written; there just isn’t the critical mass of people to get behind them. He gives us permission to laugh at the sadness, letting the persona slip slightly to do so, but once the silence is established, no-one breaks ranks.
Consequently, it’s hard for Mayhew to work up any momentum. A section called Heckle Tom requires at least one proponent of the art to be in the house. None of us are, and it feels like padding anyway. A couple of otherwise OK callbacks about parental abandonment need re-explaining as the most responsive audience members were latecomers. The atmosphere eventually eases when Mayhew adopts a more storytelling tone. With less pressure on each line paying off, tension dissipates. But it all rather tails off as Mayhew gradually uses up his material and gives up.
The thud, thud, thud of one-liners on a cold room just doesn’t work today, but Mayhew’s chronic awkwardness definitely has legs as a stage style; it gives him a distinctive hallmark. It’s not hard to imagine it really firing, especially with a fuller spread of material. It’s a shame the cauldron of the Fringe can be so unforgiving sometimes. You definitely root for an underdog like this to keep fighting.