SUGGS: MY LIFE STORY IN MUSIC AND WORDS Enmore Theatre, April 20
The kid who was Graham “grey ham” McPherson sneaks in and out of the autobiographical story told by Suggs - the name that boy took on at 14 and the persona he grew into - across two hours of talk and song.
He is there briefly in the adult who on the morning of his 50th birthday sees his cat Mamba take a fatal fall from a bathroom shelf, and amidst the shattered glass and cooling body of the short-haired British blue, feels suddenly displaced.
He’s there later in the story of the night before that fall, at the elaborate music hall-themed party thrown by his wife and two daughters – where he got to be a wide-eyed innocent excited by the titillation and humour again.
And he’s definitely there in the original version of that innocent, the reminiscence of wandering through a Soho nightclub where his mother was singing, with him short enough to be just below the fug of cigarette smoke that hovered at bar level but knowing enough to feel the excitement of the outre and the defiantly lived life.
Sure, Graham is only part of the Suggs story, a proto-version of the confident Mr Entertainer who falls in league with a bunch of fellow extroverts and discovers that being in a gang-cum-band like Madness is family and work and life rolled into one.
But he’s worth keeping in mind as the show, which leans heavily on a music hall tradition of knockabout charm, “I’m here all week/try the veal” boom boom gags, and stage business like bits of dancing, breaking into song (his own and timely ones such as Ray Davies’ Lola), and mock-drama with his pianist/guitarist accompanist, has you laughing frequently.
That boy makes the poignancy of the show’s through-line, his search for details of his long-missing father’s life and death, both touching and sentimentality-free as Suggs argues the absence did not define his life but rather informed/coloured it in almost peripheral ways.
It’s an interesting and arguable position: his gags less tears of a clown and more celebratory; his respect for his mother stronger than any absence of father; his adjustment to life with his daughters moved out, his cat gone and 50 years on the clock achieved smoothly on the basis of “it must be love, nothing more, nothing less, love is the best”.
This is sometimes a little too contrived: the first half in particular has moments where the “writing” shows through instead of his natural delivery and things feel stilted in that staginess.
But most of the time you feel you’re in the company of a bon-vivant who knows how to keep the night, and the lines, coming while letting through enough of the heart – and that kid Graham - beneath to hold you on multiple levels.