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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 September, 2003, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
Barrymore's unconvincing return
by Ian Youngs
BBC News Online staff

Michael Barrymore has returned to the stage with a live comedy show in London's West End.

Michael Barrymore
Barrymore milked the applause - before he had even started
Sliding to his knees and reaching out to the audience in an over-the-top luvvie fashion, Michael Barrymore soaked up the applause and cheers from his faithful fans.

He was trying to hide it, but something in his eagerness belied the fact that he really wanted the acceptance and adulation - and desperately needed it.

And that was before a word had even been spoken.

The audience launched into a welcoming ovation as soon as he appeared at the top of a staircase, and Barrymore launched into his exaggerated appreciation routine as soon as he reached the stage.

Barrymore has been out of the limelight - except for confessional interviews - for the two years since a man was found dead in his swimming pool.

This stage show - a mixture of comedy patter, songs and audience humiliation - has to be a success if he is to have any hope of getting back to the top.

And, on the second night of a seven-week run, he reminded us why he was at the top in the first place - but was not wholly convincing.

Michael Barrymore and Suzanne Prentice
He was supported by New Zealand singer Suzanne Prentice
The energy and pure silliness that made him fizz on TV screens in the 1980s and 90s are still there - but have been dulled by age and experience.

The audience wanted to be impressed and - after the initial applause died down - he opened with the song I Don't Know Why I Love You But I Do to the crowd.

But he made an uncertain start after that, with an opening routine - including a hesitant jokes about things like why black men are well-endowed - that left him looking for laughs where there were few.

His biggest skill has always been being able to banter with ordinary people, and that got the crowd on his side.

If anybody heckled, he followed a humiliating response up with a public chat in the hope of finding something funny - and usually succeeding.

When a woman started shreiking with laughter, he dragged her on stage to sit on his knee, sing her a song and try to remove her bra.

Debs from Essex kept shrieking throughout - but the audience was laughing as much at her as him.

When he reached into the front row and picked up a packed handbag, there were howls of shock as he emptied it on stage and started rifling through its contents.

Michael Barrymore
Barrymore made his name on shows like Strike It Lucky
Its owner, a middle-aged woman in a shiny top, swiftly jumped on stage and reprimanded him - at which point he backed off.

He did not refer directly to his recent troubles, but joked with the audience: "I know you're under a lot of pressure out there."

And at the finale, he told them: "I thank you so much for everything you've done for me and for your support."

But his jokes occasionally came too close for comfort - when a member of the front row was reluctant to help him onto the stage, Barrymore quipped: "Any time between now and death would be good."

There was lots of lively, physical comedy and the most colourful part came when he appeared in a pink leotard, white boxer shorts and pulled-up socks.

He was going to do his exercises, he said, while his support act, New Zealand cabaret singer Suzanne Prentice, provided the music.

Die-hard fans

But she had to sing into his microphone - which was stuffed into his leotard, meaning she had to sing into his crotch as he danced around the stage.

The 730-capacity Wyndham's Theatre was not sold out, but Barrymore did pull in a respectable number of people.

There was a mixture of die-hard fans - who loved it - and others (like a stony-faced Alistair McGowan) who are still to be won over that he has something new to offer.

He can still make us laugh - but he had the air of a man who will soon be remembered as a talented but tragic figure who once had it all.

Did you see Michael Barrymore's London show? This debate is now closed but please see below for a selection of your comments.

Hello, Just to say I went to see Michael Barrymore last night with my mother and sister who both love him. I have never been particularly interested in him, but by the end of the night i was totally amazed by him. He is so talenetd, extremeley funny and a very attractive man. I was a doubter like many others but now my opinion has totally changed You have to see this man! Michael Barrymore is back in business.
Natalie Hunter, United Kingdom

It was funny and yet uncomfortable to watch. I heard a review yesterday on the radio and one of the people on the radio said that Barrymore's show was 'unusually cruel to the audience'. I was bemused,as I have always felt that his humour is cruel. I think it's just a case of emperor's clothes syndrome. He's not hot not, indeed, he is viewed as a liability so suddenly his humour is considered cruel.
Pippa, England

My husband, children and I really enjoyed the show and are pleased he has come back to the UK, he was quite blue but very funny and very quick, we'd love him also to be back on television. We think his personal life should be kept personal and his professional career professional.
Juliette Malyon, England

My wife and I attended his opening show on Monday. He is an extremely desperate man and as such, will go the same way as Shakin' Stevens etc. Half of the audience seemed to be there purely for curiosity, rather than being genuine fans. There was something slightly sinister about the slick delivery with which his tired old jokes were delivered - cash registers in front of the eyes, maybe?
Greg Norsram, UK

I thought it was great, he done really well. Still looking good after all these years!
Paul Fletcher, England

He seemed too afraid to get into any banter with the audience in case somebody mentioned about the swimming pool incident. He should just tackle it head on as someone, somewhere throughout the 7 week run is going to make mention of it and I'm pretty sure he will flounder even more then.
anon, UK

I saw him on the opening night, and he did well for the first time back. An obvious 'set up' with the handbag routine, but most of his stuff was funny. Would have like a break in the middle of the set, rather than after the warm-up act.
Lisa, London, England

I went to see Michael Barrymore last night, and the morning after the night before I am still trying to get my head round what I saw. 7 weeks, that show won't last 7 days ! The funniest bit of the evening if you can call it that was when 10 or so people decided he deserved a standing ovation at the end of his very long 2 hour, unfunny sad and pathetic show. They must have been seeing something I wasn't !! I used to be a fan, he made me laugh. Last night he was a desperate man who really needs someone to be honest and tell him to call it a day - not egg him on. He looked uncomfortable up on that stage and the crowd looked unconvinced and were unreactive, the majority definitely there out of curiosity... in fact when the pink leotard went on people began walking out. A step too far. I'm sorry Michael, but you're not my kind of person anymore.
Anon, UK

Standing ovation for Barrymore
16 Sep 03  |  Showbiz
Barrymore's comeback stalls
16 Sep 03  |  Showbiz
No BBC offer for Barrymore
27 Aug 03  |  TV and Radio
Barrymore 'deserves another chance'
23 Aug 03  |  TV and Radio
Barrymore set for London stage
26 Jun 03  |  Showbiz

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