When actor-comedian Ben Watson promises the history of everything, he really does mean exactly what he says. His fast-paced, laugh-a-minute act opens with the Big Bang – then careers at breakneck pace through the whole of human history, culminating with a relatively comprehensive summary of the events of the last hundred years. It’s a visually rich show, with a host of costumes and even a glitterball, but there’s clever wordplay and thoughtful comment too. So at the end of 60 full-on minutes, I was a little shell-shocked, slightly better-educated… and most of all, thoroughly entertained.
Fittingly, for a show that tackles the “history of everything”, Watson employs a fair mix of performance styles. We learn Greek mythology through the medium of chap-hop, while a relatively serious history lesson is delivered in the persona of Michael Caine. There’s a riff on Jurassic Park, a whole lot of bad puns, and a ludicrous re-enactment of David Attenborough’s Life On Earth. There are also songs, some more-than-passable Charleston… and a cameo from the Queen. OMG, you’ll love the Queen.
The cultural references come thick and fast, and a lot of the fun lies in trying to second-guess them: on more than one occasion, there was audible delight around me as the crowd anticipated an impending joke moments before it was unveiled. You’ll enjoy it best if you’re old enough to remember the likes of Quantum Leap, but the clever pastiches of well-known songs will work for everyone, and there’s plenty of visual humour to latch onto too. The pace barely dips for the whole 60 minutes – and I tip my hat to a performer who, towards the end of a visibly gruelling routine, still has the stomach for a full-speed parody of It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).
Needless to say, though, human history hasn’t always been a barrel of laughs. The First World War is tackled sensitively and appropriately – the only way it possibly could be – and while colonialism’s treated with a rather lighter touch, it’s good that Watson’s view of the world isn’t exclusively a European one. And just when you think the show is over, it turns out that there’s more; the finale is given over to a sweet, piquant, spoken-word epilogue, which promises that despite all our faults, the human race might just be OK.
This Watson’s debut solo show, but he’s clearly already a highly accomplished performer – and he’s put all that experience into a slick, pacey, and highly enjoyable routine. Packed with laughs from start to finish, yet delivering a subtle emotional impact too, this superb performance is worth 60 minutes of anyone’s day.