Back of the net! Partridge is coming to Sussex
The one and the only Alan Partridge is back on stage with a show he describes as a cross between a TED talk and West Side Story. Muddy caught up with Coogan ahead of his Brighton shows in May.
A-ha! Who doesn’t love the hapless Alan Partridge? The pompous presenter and Norfolk’s most beloved son is back with a live tour to bring his musings to the masses. God help us.
The man that memes were made for has been busy lately – with published memoirs, a film (Alpha Papa), a web series (Mid Morning Matters), documentaries (his caustic look at Britain in Scissored Isle), a podcast and in This Time With Alan Partridge, a new TV format always skating on the thinnest of ices with his guests and co-presenter.
But now Alan is back doing it all live with a brand new stage show entitled Stratagem. Like Scissored it’s a word that feels like it could be made up, but if real, it’s certainly lesser spotted. “I like words that feel and sound slightly different,” says Steve Coogan, the man who has inhabited Alan’s skin for over 30 years.
“It’s interesting how the choice of words can make something funny or not funny especially in Alan’s world. We were just sitting around discussing what we should call the show and someone said ‘Stratagem’. It sounded slightly affected and pretentious so we wrote the word down. We knew the show would be some kind of a public address which would then give us enough leeway to chuck in other stuff.”
Wearing a head-mic favoured by motivational speakers, market hawkers and evangelists Alan combines all these roles and more – in a manifesto for the way we can move forward, a roadmap to a better tomorrow, an ABC for the way to be.
Coogan describes the live show as a cross between a TED Talk and West Side Story (“there will be singing and dancing to keep people entertained but there will also be a heavyweight element to it”) promising that each stage on the tour will be riddled with a whole heap of metaphorical mines which could explode at any second under the weight of Alan’s inappropriate musings or clumsy turns of phrase.
“Alan will be trying to impart his accumulated wisdom and put it into some form that has cogency, so that he can ‘help’ other people. It’s an all-encompassing, almost cripplingly broad attempt to cover all potential personal problems that people might have in processing the modern world, so Alan helps people navigate the rocky waters of gender, equality, diversity, sexual identity. Whatever the most precarious and dangerous landscapes that are out there, we’ll put Alan’s walking bits on and let him stomp all over them.” We can imagine.
The use of screens will be important to the show, with graphics being displayed whilst Alan will conduct interviews with some old friends. Having last toured in 2008, Coogan will need a moment to get himself fully embedded in the Partridge zone. “It’s about getting back in the saddle. I like writing drama and doing different things but I just need to remind myself that I can do this. There’s enough great stuff written that I can’t wait for people to see, and once it gets up on its feet it’ll be good. I know it’s good, because we all laughed at it.”
The ’we’ is Rob & Neil Gibbons, the twin brothers who’ve been part of the Partridge writing team since 2010, and who most recently had their own BBC2 comedy series, The Witchfinder. It’s fair to say that their arrival has prolonged the character’s shelf-life after the original writing team of Armando Iannucci, Peter Baynham and Patrick Marber headed off in different directions leaving Coogan to sit alone with Partridge.
“They all changed my life and I now realise how pivotal those meetings were; they had faith in me when not many people did, and working with them was literally an education. So they went off and did their thing but the curse for me was that I was Alan Partridge! They could go off and find another booming voice, but in this I was the booming voice.
Neil and Rob who worked for Baby Cow [the production company Coogan set up in 1999] submitted some material for Partridge and I thought they were amazing; they totally got it and could give it a different spin. I remember thinking that I wouldn’t have to pester Armando and Peter again because these guys will do it all.”
It could be argued that Coogan is a man who has, latterly in his career, done it all. While comedy may be the first thing people think of, serious drama has become an integral part of the package, starting with 2013’s award-winning Philomena, a true odd-couple story of one woman’s search for her son who she gave up for adoption and the journalist who helped her (Coogan here playing Martin Sixsmith in the film he co-wrote).
There was also his role in ITV’s drama about Stephen Lawrence where he played DCI Driscoll who reopens the case of the murdered Black teenager almost two decades after his death. And of course there’s Stan & Ollie, a pitch-perfect film about the most famous comedic duo of the 20th-century (Coogan as Stan, John C Reilly as Ollie), which laid bare their own bittersweet relationship. Now Coogan is appearing in Chivalry, a MeToo drama for Channel 4 and The Reckoning for the BBC, in which he plays notorious sexual predator Jimmy Savile.
For Coogan, even in the darkest corners, some chink of levity can still be found. “In all of the drama I do, I’ll deploy comedy; it’s more interesting to me as a tool than just an end in itself. With Partridge, you still have to be saying something at the same time as making people laugh, though a stupid joke is always welcome. When I come back to Partridge, it’s like a warm bath. I’ve got to a place now where I’m really comfortable with it; I don’t have to do it, I choose to do it. And that way, it will always be enjoyable. If the moment comes when I’m doing it because I have nothing else worth doing, that’s when you’re in trouble.”
It may have been a while since Coogan toured as Alan Partridge but he has a precise sense of what he is most looking forward to on the road this summer as well as a prospect he is definitely not relishing. “What am I dreading? Well, there’s a feeling I’ll get in the mid-afternoon, a slightly sick feeling in the pit of your stomach which disappears as soon as you’re on the stage. But that bit of anxiety is a necessary part of it, on the upside, there’s that feeling of relief and elation and camaraderie that you have with the team when a show goes well. I’m also looking forward to connecting with an audience. Despite covid and now the war which is depressing and tragic, people will always want to laugh. This form of interaction is as old as the hills. Social media is quite new, but standing on stage and entertaining people is very simple and pure. I’m craving that.”
So join Alan, live on stage, (though patrons are asked not to actually join Alan live on stage) as he brings STRATAGEM to a city or selected good-sized town near you.
Alan Partridge Live, Brighton Centre, 8-9 May 2022. Tickets available at alanpartridgelive.com