Mark Watson’s got your Information: New Theatre Oxford

“We live in a cynical age” someone once said, probably. Evidence of this statement Mark Watson’s show was not: it was friendly, energetic and, importantly, funny – really funny.

The theme of the show was information, a theme that emerged in different ways. The internet gives us access to staggerng amounts of information. We can find out what a ‘futtock’ is, and that Shia LaBeouf has a Bacon number of 3. More worryingly our own personal information is often easily accessed. This was essentially the thrust of Watson’s routine, as he demonstrated with facts he had gleaned from the internet about members of the audience. A mobile number, Twitter handle, QR code and web address were projected on stage. Audience members were encouraged to send messages to these information inlets, and Watson read some of these out on stage. If users had tweeted that they would be coming to his show, he had stalked their twitters. One audience member, president of an Oxford college, had a Wikipedia page from which we found out his date of birth, the names of his parents, names of his children and their occupations. Watson is without aggression, and turned mild cyber effrontery into funny and charming interaction.

He acts like someone stumbling wide-eyed through life, taken aback by the world around him. He speaks quickly, panicky, attempting to come across as the most insecure person in the room to put us at our ease. Much of the comedy is conversational, and he seems to veer off-script frequently, but quick observational skill and endearing delivery mean that this is not a problem; in fact some of the funniest moments appeared through audience interaction. Nor is it tortured observation, but a simple, well-delivered commentary on the absurdities of life. The comedic mix is excellent: a couple of one-liners, well-timed reincorporation and a fifteen-minute rant about ham feature among texts and tweets. It is superbly written comedy mixed with highly effective, high-concept acquiescence in the digital age.

Above all, it is inoffensive and I do not mean the word negatively – far from it. Everyone had mobiles phones out during the interval, hoping their text would be read out; we all had a share in the performance. And a wonderfully funny script, a brilliantly clever interactive element and a high dose of frenetic awkward energy together enhance the profound fact that great comedy can be universal.

***** (5 STARS)