“I heart Chris Titmas”, says the garish-pink badge I was handed at the beginning of this cheerfully ramshackle show. Well, there’s some truth to that: I did love Susannah Hewlett’s comic creation, a self-obsessed shopping-channel host with a slick line in patter and a scandal in his recent past. He’s well-conceived, often hilarious, and there’s a great show to be built around him. I just don’t think it’s this one.
As we settle into deck chairs outside a beach hut in Hove, Titmas greets us like an adoring crowd – oblivious to the fact that his three years as a minor TV host don’t exactly make him an A-list celebrity. He hosts a raffle, makes a “personal statement”, and reads an extract from his autobiography. Ever the salesman, many of Titmas’s recollections centre around the products involved – a series of ridiculous contraptions which elegantly parody standard shopping-channel fare.
But recently, we discover, Titmas has been famous for all the wrong reasons: his fiancée is missing, the police were involved. I could have lived without the heavy-handed parallel with the death of Reeva Steenkamp, but overall this storyline’s a promising one. The more Titmas talks about it, the more his delusions begin to unwind… and it sets the scene for a genuinely unexpected finale, as Titmas exacts a self-centred revenge on his erstwhile betrothed.
But the truth is, for all its eye-catching wackiness, this doesn’t really work as a show. As character-based stand-up, it’s too stiff and scripted; in fact, Titmas became considerably more engaging when Hewlett was forced to ad-lib for a short while. As a piece of theatre, on the other hand, there’s just not enough to it – we don’t learn enough about our host to really climb into his skin.
And all the way through, I was asking myself the obvious question: why are we sitting here, out on the seafront, in the biting wind? There’s a half-hearted story about why Titmas is in Brighton, but his occupation of a prime Hove beach hut goes entirely unexplained. The alfresco setup creates numerous distractions – not least the wildly-flapping gold-lamé curtain which formed the backdrop to the whole thing – and it doesn’t contribute anywhere near enough to counteract that downside.
After watching the show, I discovered Chris Titmas’s YouTube channel, which delivers many of the same jokes in a slicker, punchier form. I find myself wondering what Hewlett’s aimed to add by jumping from an online presence to a live show. Answering that question, I think, is the key to building a routine which I can love as much as I want to.