BWW Review: REGINALD D HUNTER: FACING THE BEAST, Richmond Theatre
Reginald D Hunter's latest show was originally titled Reginald D Hunter: Facing The Beast and N-ggas when it premiered at his 20th appearance at the Edinburgh Festival last summer. Never one to shy away from controversy, the tour name has quietly dropped the 'n' word, the PR perhaps thinking that it may have a detrimental effect on ticket sales in places such as Richmond and St Albans.
This is not to say that Hunter avoids the word during his show, explaining that it is not used to cause offence, but is simply part of the black, Southern vernacular he grew up with. His fans do not seem to mind either; if you have followed him as a live stand-up comedian, you will know his unapologetic style. If you have only seen him on Have I Got News For You, you may temporarily be taken aback.
This is a forty-date tour for Hunter and he looks very comfortable on stage, although he was visibly fighting a head cold that seemed to affect him increasingly as the night went on. He is an engaging presence and a natural and likeable storyteller, wanting to entertain and shock in equal measure.
The anecdotes he uses that refer to his family are often the most successful. He speaks with great affection and admiration about his 100-year old father, recalling a hilarious incident with a rookie reporter coming on his birthday to ask him about the differences between Georgia now and 100 years ago. He addresses the inevitable subject of Brexit with wit and clever humour, explaining it to his father with reference to setting your own balls on fire.
There are stories of sibling rivalry, familial tensions and an amusing recollection of his reaction to his brother-in-law asking him why his sister won't sleep with him anymore.
One of Hunter's trademarks is his use of dark subjects to gain laughs. Here there are sections that do not play for laughs at all. Perhaps due to his cold, he meanders at points and leaves uncharacteristic pauses. However, there are some moving moments where he references the teenage daughter he has only just found out about and how he is trying to get to know her; this is evidence of a real intimacy that Hunter shares with his audience.
His stories feel authentic and true and there is often a confessional feel to the show. He talks openly about his previous bouts of depression, his feelings about his girlfriend and how he feels he is only just regaining the nerve to tell the truth on stage and fight 'the beast' of self-doubt.
Hunter demonstrates a clever ability to shock and educate simultaneously. The show features musings and philosophical thoughts; an exploration of #MeToo sees him obviously burnt by a recent Twitter spat where he was accused of inappropriate behaviour and he describes his subsequently low opinion of the all the women involved in the movement.
The success of many comedy shows relies on the ability of the comedian to read their audience and quickly judge what is working and what is falling flat. Hunter knows that the audience hangs on his every word, but appears to misjudge the reaction to an uncomfortable story about the history of a Michael Jackson joke. His logic is clear, but he spends rather too much time on explaining his reaction to the documentary Leaving Neverland, where he seems to judge the recent allegations as simply a sort of love story, rather than revelations of abuse.
Hunter's lengthy experience as a comic is evident here and he does not compromise on his offensive material. Having been living in the UK for over 20 years, he shows excellent insight into the British psyche and the show only benefits from his gently gruff voice and dead-pan delivery.
This show was very well received in Edinburgh and will certainly develop and strengthen during the tour. It will also help when his cold has cleared up.
Photo Credit: Kash Yusuf