Ahir Shah – Dress at the Soho Theatre review: feels like he’s not quite finished dressing it


    hir Shah is one of stand-up’s deeper thinkers. He rarely takes an easy path towards a punchline. When he mentioned Hobbs onstage, it was no surprise that he was referring to Thomas Hobbes, the author of political treatise Leviathan, and not the clothing retailer, despite his new show being called Dress.

    And yet his latest work is actually a remarkably straightforward, largely unpretentious piece. As the double Edinburgh Comedy Award nominee explained, he is essentially chronicling his last eighteen months, which, he is the first to admit, have been similar in many ways to everybody else’s last eighteen months.

    The challenge is to achieve the right balance of the relatable and the insightful. On opening night, occasionally glancing at his notes between crafty puffs on his vape, he did not always manage it.

    There were certainly plenty of laughs, but Shah never really drilled down into his subject. It was often a case of energetically delivering an anecdote, briskly barking out the pay-off and then moving on to the next anecdote.

    As he was acutely aware, many of his experiences were universal. Loneliness. Anxiety. Challenging relationships. The juiciest moments came from the differences rather than the similarities, such as Shah succumbing to scurvy at one point due to his eccentric eating habits.

    He was stronger, however, on the nuances of class. How there is a certain kind of rich person – him one day? – who hopes their children will grow up to be communists. His heartfelt topical rant about lobbying had a freshness other routines lacked.

    Elsewhere though his stories touched on well-trampled terrain, from lockdown cookery to brooding over Boris Johnson’s blundering and sniggering over Matt Hancock’s snogging. Ottolenghi helped to keep him sane when events nearly drove him over the edge.

    I was not sure if we needed a brief history of the origins of the virus in Wuhan. And his critique of banking – they are nice to you because they want your money: quick, stop those presses – was wryly amusing without being earthshaking.

    The pandemic did at least turn out to be a positive learning curve. Shah no longer sweats the small stuff, such as his name turning into something smutty on predictive text. Instead he has realised that while he might be insignificant in the cosmic scheme, he can do things to make his life significant.

    Hug the ones you love and do not waste a second, he tells us. This is part of an affecting, upbeat conclusion to a show that still feels a little like a work in progress. The basics are good, but this should improve with every performance. Dress does not entirely impress. Not yet anyway.

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