The Remains of Tom Lehrer (Performed by Adam Kay)
Tom Lehrer, Adam Kay
Amateur Transplants and Seabright Productions
Gilded Balloon Teviot
From 03 August 2016 to 29 August 2016
Review by David Chadderton
Tom Lehrer remains one of the greatest ever satirical songwriters, greatly influential decades after he retired from showbiz.
For this show, Adam Kay has put together a programme of Lehrer's well-known songs and some that were never recorded with some interesting biographical information about their creator. Like Lehrer, Kay accompanies himself on piano.
He gives us plenty of favourites such as "Be Prepared", "We Will All Go Together When We Go", "I Hold Your Hand In Mine", "The Masochism Tango" and many more. Some of these have been updated by Kay. While the new lyrics work reasonably well, they aren't necessary to understand the songs and seem to just be a way of Kay injecting some of his own work into the show.
These are all played and sung perfectly well, but what is missing is the connection with the audience; this isn't helped by the fact that he is reading the words rather than singing from memory.
There are some attempts at audience participation—he throws condoms into the audience for "Be Prepared" (those foil packages have sharp corners when they hit you) and tries to get the audience to shout the answers to the "L-Y" song—which weren't entirely successful when I attended.
But it's those little elements of comic timing and audience interaction that are missing. In the live recordings, you can hear Lehrer pausing after a funny line while the laughter disperses, or sometimes to increase anticipation for what is to come, but Kay just ploughs through them from beginning to end with little more than an occasional glance at the audience, as though to check they are still there.
We keep getting the introduction for "The Elements" to tantalise us, so this is clearly going to be his finale number. Oddly, he asked for someone from the audience to sing it for him; when I saw it, it was sung very well indeed and was the best-received number in the show.
Kay clearly knows his subject well, has done his research and can perform the songs, so perhaps all he needs is a director to make this into a performance that does the wonderful material justice.