The first ever Comedy Prom

The bust of Henry Wood, founder of the Promenade Concerts that have entertained music lovers since 1895, has gazed on many exotic events at the Albert Hall. There was the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, in which the humble uke was twanged not just on stage but by 1,000 amateurs in the audience. There have been two Doctor Who Proms, in which daleks and cybermen demonstrated that you didn’t need to be a great conductor to scream commands at a symphony orchestra. And, this season, the Proms hosted the Horrible Histories franchise, which included Charles II rapping like a 17th-century Eminem.

Family entertainment is one thing. The first Comedy Prom promised something more ambitious. Enter Tim Minchin, the Australian comedian and songwriter. “115 years of history tossed away for a cheap guffaw,” he sang from the gallery, before continuing: “Mozart, Bach: now we no longer give a . . . fach.” Minchin knew what he was doing. His skill is combining rude-ish satire with charming piano accompaniment, a Jekyll and Hyde duality which ensures that you gasp before giggling. And he clearly relished having a new toybox to play with here: the BBC Concert Orchestra on winningly self-effacing form.

The line-up that Minchin presented, with understated aplomb, was such a broad mix that there was something for everyone, though the mood was more Royal Variety than cutting-edge comedy. Kit and the Widow left some mystified and others delighted with their destruction of Lloyd Webber’s and Sondheim’s song-writing skills, before ushering in the soprano Susan Bullock for a Puccini singalong: “No downmarket concert is complete without Nessun Dorma.”

At the other end of the spectrum, the charismatic beatboxer Beardyman bounded on stage in a frock coat to deliver Pachelbel’s Canon with only mouth and microphone. The comedian Sue Perkins once won the BBC’s Maestro competition, though I doubt even she thought that she would end up conducting the William Tell overture at the Proms while a slapstick comic (The Boy With Tape on His Face) aimed a rubber plunger at a blindfolded prommer’s stomach.

The standout triumph was a blast from the past. Franz Reizenstein wrote his Concerto Popolare for Gerard Hoffnung’s first music festival in 1956; its soloist wanders from Grieg to Beethoven to Rachmaninov while the increasingly irate maestro insists on conducting Tchaikovsky. Like all good musical jokes, it’s lame in the telling and hilarious in the hearing, and Danny Driver’s pianist and Andrew Litton’s conductor were note-perfect impersonations of their preening archetypes. It should have been compulsory viewing for some of their less self-aware peers.

Neil Fisher, The Times (UK)
Related Link
Back to List
Back to Top