It's quite some entrance, although on his previous tours Eddie Izzard has distanced
himself from the amble on pint in hand school of comedy you're still not prepared
for this. A darkened stage lights up and Izzard is laying naked by a toilet bowl,
post overdose, getting to his feet he prepares to lead you through the previous
sixteen years charting the highs and lows of one Lenny Bruce.
The play is based on Julian Barry's 1971 Broadway production and the subsequent
1974 film which saw Dustin Hoffman playing Bruce to Oscar nominated acclaim. So
it was always going to be intriguing to see whether Izzard would have the acting
ability to carry a two plus hour performance practically single-handedly. This
also included recreating Bruce's material and at the same time making the nine
hundred plus audience forget the main reason they were there, to see Izzard, and
concentrate on the production.
After Izzard has dressed the excellent set design transforms into a courtroom
where Bruce is trying to defend himself in an obscenity trial in which he has
already been found guilty. Then it's back to Bruce's formative years, working
strip clubs as a warm up man, forced to impersonate the stars of the day while
honing his humour on the jazz backing band. Here he meets his wife, called in
this production Rusty, played here with all the emotive power of a plank of wood
by Elizabeth "Showgirls" Berkley. The first act culminates with his marriage over,
Rusty in prison and Bruce's popularity and infamy beginning to grow while he struggles
to raise his daughter.
first act there are snatches of Bruce's act but it does still feel at times like
Eddie Izzard with more swearing. One problem being that the humour that was shocking
nearly 40 years ago now seems tame when the comedians that Bruce paved the way
for such as Leary and Hicks have taken it to greater extremes.
The second act though is where Izzard comes into his own. Bruce's audience grows,
he gains international recognition including his only allowed performances in
the UK. He records several albums but at the same time the authorities crack down
on him even more. A string of arrests for obscenity and drug possession follow
along with serious illness which leave the strain of being Lenny Bruce too much
Izzard handles this slide into drug related shambles with such depth and emotive
power that it feels like you are bearing witness to the despair and rage that
eventually led to Bruce's demise caused by an overdose of morphine at the age
of 41. That Izzard could be this convincing is a great testament to his acting
skills and despite the limitation of trying to show this period of time on stage
the production as a whole and Izzard's performance are at least on par with the
film and Hoffman's portrayal. After this the news that Izzard has been signed
up by one of America's largest agents comes as no surprise.