Friday, 25 October 2019

PODACST REVIEW: RHLSTP - Recorded live at The Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool.


In July 2019 The Guardian published a column in which Edward Tew claimed that Richard Herring was ‘the best celebrity interviewer in Britain’ and, having been an avid listener to his Leicester Square Theatre Podcast (RHLSTP for short) for about 5 years now, I was inclined to agree. His podcast, which has grown from strength to strength since its inception in 2012, leans on a winning formula, from which many other ‘chat shows’ should take note. If you are the kind of person that can stomach more than 60 seconds of Graham Norton or Jonathan Ross without cringing so hard that you clench your own spleen, then you are a tougher person than I. Richard Herring’s podcast (“RHLSTP”) is the perfect antidote to the fawning platitudes and rehearsed spontaneity of celebrity sofa shows.

It is great that Herring has taken his podcast on the road and despite his protestations to the contrary, the format is emboldened by its lack of mainstream (corporate) success. Tonight in The Liverpool Playhouse, the capacity crowd of over 650 fans, would argue that his podcast is indeed successful, and currently sitting at #14 in itunes’ comedy podcast chart it has certainly found a large fanbase.

Herring arrives on stage and deftly establishes the persona of a host who is simultaneously unprepared and shambling, whilst confident and experienced enough to know that he’ll cope with whatever turn the show takes; “I’ll do a bit of stand up first to prove that I can do jokes…”, “Don’t look at me as I go offstage. Just pretend that when I come back, I’ll have completely changed…”. The podcast begins in earnest with some facts about the town it is recorded in, all of them met with a withering aside that risks insulting the local audience or the fact itself is so mundane it has already achieved that anyway. Then comes the introduction of the guest, which invariably includes “Is probably best known for…” followed by their most embarrassing or obscurely inconsequential credit to date. This works so well to achieve two things; Firstly it undercuts Herring’s role as celebrity interviewer, suggesting that his research and awareness of his guest is painfully lacking, and secondly it immediately removes any airs or graces for the interviewee, who usually has to begin the interview by confronting their own failure. Tonight’s first guest, the wonderful Kate Robbins has to justify her role in ‘Sex Lives Of The Potato Men’, which she does with good humour.

Kate Robbins is the perfect guest, although visibly fighting nerves with a showbiz tic here or there in the first couple of minutes, she soon relaxes and spars wonderfully with Herring. As a veteran entertainer from her Eurovision Song Contest entry in 1980, to Hollywood films alongside James Franco (whom she does not hold in high regard) via a writing gig on Cilla’s ‘Surprise Surprise’, her stories are littered with name-drops, self-deprecation and hilarity. When given the time to elaborate on anecdotes, which is the modus operandi of RHLSTP, she ‘performs’ rather than ‘tells’ her anecdotes and the hour in her entertaining company flew by. A particularly fun insight was her conclusion that there is something sad and pathetic about an ageing impressionist comedian, which is immediately followed by one of her own excellent impressions because, as she admits “I just can’t stop myself!”.

After the interval, Herring offers more observations about Liverpool and introduces his next guest Frank Cottrell-Boyce, the Liverpool-born screenwriter and children’s author, who gamely plays along with Herring’s bitterness that his own screenwriting is not up to scratch compared to his guest’s success. Tonight we got the best of both sides of RHLSTP, the comedian drawing laughs from every unexpected turn in the interview and the more thoughtful, intellectual guest holding our attention with insightful tales about his career and work. That is not to say that Frank Cottrell-Boyce could not bring the house down with tales about sheltering in the doorway of a Gregg’s with a star who had just returned from the Oscar’s ceremony, or his mum dismissing one of his ambitious films as “just the number 60 bus route” because she recognised all of the filming locations.

Richard Herring is indeed the best celebrity interviewer in Britain, his research notes in hand reveal that his amateurish persona is disguising a well prepared, insightful host, whilst his insistence on using “Emergency Questions” (a contrivance originally installed to acknowledge his failing interview technique, but now a fan favourite which he has to shoehorn in because his interview technique almost never fails or stutters) keeps interviewees on their toes and keeps their feet firmly on the ground. As I sat rapt for the two hours, I was aware of something that had not occurred to me before in my own fandom of this podcast. It has become a cult. Fans shout back catchphrases, the cameo appearance from particular emergency questions (of which there are 1001) have us cheering like we just heard the introductory bars to a hit single and certain topics have us laughing expectantly as the running joke tiptoes surreptitiously through the consciousness of the knowing crowd, even when the guest is completely oblivious (Herring’s troublingly amorous preoccupation with robots, I’m looking at you!).

Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast is available to download on all podcast providers, and continues to tour throughout 2019.

Reviewer - Ben Hassouna-Smith
on - 23/10/19

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