Review: Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra @ Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

First published in Stage

MMMMM. Nggh. Eh? Hmmm? Huh?

This seems to be how Bill Bailey engages with his audience at the start of every show, but perhaps it doesn’t work so well at the start of a review.

Maybe that’s because it’s not accompanied by the hilarious arm-waving, shrugging and nonchalant facial expressions of a long-haired, wild-eyed troll lookalike.

Anyone who has seen a Bill Bailey DVD knows how it works — the comedy is not only an assortment of songs with funny words, but a uniquely clever series of contrivances in which the actual arrangement of the music becomes the joke.

This time he’s got a full orchestra behind him, and he’s not afraid to use it.

If you drew a hypothetical metaphysical line between music in Bolton and comedy in London, a normal Bill Bailey show would fall somewhere near Milton Keynes.

The guide to the orchestra lands somewhere in the middle of the Peak District.

Bill takes the audience through a hilarious musical journey, but it’s educational as well, as he parodies each instrument while explaining how they are used.

It’s not all classical. Chris De Burgh and rock operas come in for a particular panning.

The orchestra allows for some ridiculously extravagant musical experiments.

Ever wondered what the Panorama theme tune sounds like backwards? Doctor Who as Belgian jazz? Or Saint-Saens’ The Swan on a set of tuned alpine bells?

Pretty good, actually.

The guide is a unique event, and unlike any other comedy you are likely to see, ever.

Truly unmissable.


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