Tom Allen's Afternoon Tea Edinburgh Fringe Review
Tim Clark26 August 2011
Chat shows are tricky things to review because pretty much the whole shebang changes on a daily basis, standing or falling on the guests involved.
The edition of Tom Allen's Afternoon Tea we saw (Thursday 25 August) was a neat case in point. When the guests are up for a bit of a meandering chat about nothing more taxing than cake, then Tom Allen gets to be the consummate host. First guest Sarah
Millican was always going to be an easy win for Allen, but the appearance – which ended up running well over the average guest slot – was a masterclass in how to entertain a room while chatting about nothing.
When the guests are keen to talk about something specific – namely, trying to flog their show at all costs – then there's only so much a host can do. Jarlath Regan didn't seem very interested in talking about anything else, which would probably explain why
the audience seemed to be more interested in watching Millican go to town on eating her cake. Allen and Millican both attempted to bring some more amiability to the slot, but it's doubtful that Terry Wogan could have tempted Regan into joining in.
These are two opposite poles of chatable guests, but Allen is more than capable of chatting with anyone who is willing to play along. There was an all-too-brief chat with Deanne Smith about international audiences, and despite a slightly odd start with Benet
Brandreth (in retrospect, we reckon it could have just been two conversational tigers getting the measure of each other's chat) there were three great guests on offer here.
So that's the guests, what of the host? You would expect Tom Allen to have an early Graham Norton sort of vibe – and he does – but it is mottled with an unexpected streak of Eddie Izzard. That's partly in the delivery and mannerisms, but there's a willingness to vanish into his own little world ('all this social interaction is great. I didn't have much when I was younger. I told all the other children I was an emperor') and a real inviting warmth with his audience interaction.
The only quibbles are with timing – while no-one was contesting the triple-sized slot that Millican ended up having, trying to squeeze in three other guests just didn't fit – and with the enforced conversation starters. Allen is best when he is just having a rambling chat, and there was the odd conversational segueway that felt a tad clunky.
That, though, is really nitpicking: the standard of the guests being booked has been high and this feels like just about the most natural format possible for Allen. With a bit more consistency in drawing out the best of his guests, it would be great to see this show return next year.
Tom Allen's Afternoon Tea is at the Gilded Balloon until Sunday.
Your rating: None
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