American YouTube sensation Chris Fleming has almost 250,000 subscribers, who regularly tune in to watch his online sit-com Gayle, in which he portrays outrageous social-climbing suburban housewife Gayle Waters-Waters.
Many of those fans seem to be in the audience London’s Soho Theatre to see Fleming’s eponymously titled new one man show. There’s no other explanation for the applause, which greets him before he even opens his mouth, unless the audience simply appreciates a man in a purple velvet smoking jacket and matching pointy boots.
When Fleming does finally speak, he does so with the mannered politeness of a visiting exchange student, who senses all is not well with his hosts, but is simply too well brought up to point out their deficiencies.
Unlike many visiting US comics Fleming makes no concessions to his audience. Where he could have shoehorned in a few jokes about a hard Brexit he chooses instead to offer observations gleaned from his own upbringing in suburban America, consequently anyone hoping for a gagfest is likely to leave feeling disappointed.
What we get instead is a masterclass in how to slowly make friends with a room full of complete strangers. Fleming is undeniably likeable and whoever you happen to be he wants to be your pal. Unless, of course, you happen to be Ed Sheeran!
More cordial than caustic, Fleming makes no withering putdowns, displays little anger, and wouldn’t dream of embarrassing you in front of your parents.
So far, so unremarkable. And then Fleming begins to move. At first upright and in one place, and then down on the floor. His former dance training begins to take hold and suddenly, we’re at a whole different show. It’s almost as though by freeing up his limbs he allows his mind to go on a trip, and it’s a real bender. With the aid of video he guides us through the “Post Grad Shuffle”. It doesn’t matter where you studied (or even if you studied) you’ll find it hilarious. It’s easily the funniest three minutes of physical comedy I’ve seen for a while, while managing to be strangely touching at the same time.
And then I suddenly realise who Fleming’s onstage persona (and shaggy perm) reminds me of. It’s Montgomery McNeil from the film Fame, the closet homosexual who always worries that “maybe people aren’t going to like me when I go to a party.”
Well, on tonight’s evidence I’d be thrilled to meet Fleming at a party, any time. Just so long as there’s plenty of good tunes to keep us moving.
– Cary Gee