Duke Special suited the Theatre Royal and the Theatre Royal definitely suited the theatricality of this young performer who has built a growing reputation on narrative songs and persona performances.
I went expecting to find him a tad pretentious but the sheer energy and inventiveness of him won me over. A thumping great finale encore had the audience on their feet in adulation and appreciation – This is Where the Story Ends.
He had a fine backing band of keyboards, drums, bass fiddle and a virtuoso on clarinet and saxophone and he plays keyboard and thumps a side drum for theatrical effect as he clashes two cymbals.
He opened with a story within a story with pretend commentary on screen about a supposed 1920 silent movie maker, Hector Mann who disappeared. I don’t know if there ever was such a Mann but American author Paul Auster used the character in a 2002 novel The Book of Illusions. Within that book is another fictional character David Zimmer who was in a previous book.
This illusion is very topical when you think of the finale of Lost. The songs are Mann movie titles for the most part with really clever lyrics like Double or Nothing, I’ve Had it was Quarters and Halves. Another song – You’ll Be Detective invites the audience to see the artifice – I Will Be The Show For You. Who is watching who, who knows?
Even in Prop Man there’s the repeating image – There will be theatre here, tonight, for you….
After the interval he returned with a set of songs based on the Brecht play Mother Courage, with lots of drum crescendos, a wicked drinking song and a Jesus crucified song – The Chaplain’s Song.
He encored up a storm with a first draft of a new song and went into Catfish, based on Huckleberry Finn and then he had the audience up and rocking with his familiar hits Sweet Sweet Kisses – This is Where the Story Ends and the Digging Digging An Early Grave. The crowd went crazy and it was wild and happy as Love Goes Deeper Than This. What a night.