It’s easy for me to tell when I’m not seeing a conventional stand-up comedy set – I’m not inclined to warn people to sit in the front row at their own risk. The audience leaves the theatre knowing nothing about the lives and circumstances of the front-rowers other than a few people’s first names, and I’ve forgotten all but one (Angela, because she introduced herself a second time at a later point in the show) – such is Rob Auton’s drive for the audience as a whole to feel they are a part of the evening’s proceedings, not just those (un)fortunate enough to bag seats close to the stage. Or, to put it another way, it’s called The Crowd Show for a reason.
There are Jack Dee levels of dry delivery in a show that delves deep – occasionally, uncomfortably so, at least for a comedy set – into the dynamics of live performance. It’s often been said that watching a performance online or on television is not the same as being in the theatre or an arena. But this show goes much further than getting an audience already in an auditorium to agree that there’s nothing like, as the musical Hamilton puts it, being “in the room where it happens”.
Auton is a master at reading the room. Sensing potential tension, particularly amongst those who, like me, haven’t seen him perform before, he puts us at ease, even if there is a mischievous streak that occasionally comes out in this otherwise very civilised on-stage personality. A couple of latecomers were given a collective heckle upon entry (Auton had fed us some relatively benign words to shout out), and the crowd (if I may use that term) participates in a game or two. In keeping with the ‘crowd’ theme of the show, it’s actions and words the entire room does at once. Auton gently dissuades people tempted to sit back and let the rest of the audience carry them, insisting that it wouldn’t be the same without everyone.
Firmly in the realm of ‘hallelujah, the lockdowns have ended, and how wonderful it is to be able to go about our business once more’, there are a remarkably diverse number of ways of saying thank you to the audience for coming. The emphasis here, though, whilst taking nothing away from other ‘out of the pandemic’ comedy shows that gloriously blast various political leaders, is on channelling pent-up anger into something more positive. At least for a moment, despite everything going on in the world, Auton succeeds in persuading his audience that it is a wonderful thing to be alive.
The sentimentality doesn’t stop there – a recently married man, Auton goes on to recall his wedding: despite being a public speaker, it’s one thing engaging in banter with paying punters at Soho Theatre, and quite another to say something poignant and meaningful in front of friends and family. I’m usually rather sceptical about earnestly emotional performances, but found myself disarmed by this one – probably because it was peppered with recollections of past audience reactions to Auton’s material, most of which were awkward, or quirky, or both. The feeling that crowds are a Very Good Thing might quickly dissipate on a crowded Tube home after the show, but that doesn’t stop the show itself from being a compelling and fascinating experience.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The Crowd Show is a comedy/theatre/spoken word show about crowds, people and connection.
The Crowd Show is a show suitable for anybody who has been in a crowd or wants to be in the crowd for this show.
From award-winning writer, actor and podcaster Rob Auton, The Crowd Show is a comedy/theatre/spoken word show about crowds, people and connection – suitable for anybody who wants to be in the crowd for this show.
ROB AUTON: THE CROWD SHOW
Mon 13 – Sat 18 Mar 2023 7.15pm