18th August 2021, Soho Theatre, London.
Rob Auton isn’t a man who has to work hard to get your attention. The Yorkshire-born comic’s muted, naïve shuffle onto the stage, combined with a dishevelled appearance which puts one in mind of a deranged woodsman fancy dressing as a small-town geography teacher, both reveal a great deal of the comic’s naïve brand of ramshackle humour before he utters a single syllable. Auton’s appearance reclaims the word ‘dishevelled’, a long hair and beard combo bringing to mind a man who might’ve spent the last the last few months locked in his shed looking out for UFOs. This is no artisan hipster whose every coiffed strand and delicately placed follicle is a study in artificial scruffiness. Auton’s act, like the facial furniture he sports, is scruffy and dense. Fortunately. it’s also very much the real deal.
Auton’s ‘The Time Show’ is a rumination on the concept of the temporal, but the comic allows himself enough interpretative freedom to ramble and digress as often as he likes, the show a freeform jumble of ideas which manifest in surreal one-liners and freeform thoughts which rise and fall as naturally as bubbles in a stream. None of it truly has any right to work, and there’s always the worry that things will soon implode under their own weight as the circuitous ramblings begin to lose momentum, but Auton’s ability to pick up the pace when the slack starts to appear is remarkable. When things begin to get sticky, Auton has the ability to kick them back into gear, his charmingly shambolic persona a messianic presence from which one’s attention can never truly be severed.
A show relying on rambles and digressions lives and dies by its own meandering sword. Self-consciously ramshackle or not, there are some gags which don’t quite land, with Auton occasionally noting to himself that a certain joke or story could do with a better punchline, and we the audience are never quite aware if it’s being said with sincerity. The rewards when things do work, however, are immense, and there’s a delight in being sideswiped by a joke which comes out of left field rather than simply strolling its way over the finish line with all the predictability, aptly enough, of a ticking clock. When flashes of inspiration burst forth from the rambling, churning stream, seemingly at random, Auton is more than capable of knocking them out of the park with an emphatic comic flourish.
Auton, unsurprisingly for a man with a talent for spoken poetry, has a genuine gift for words, his ability to turn the mundane into the gloriously surreal all through a simple turn of phrase in evidence here. ‘A watch is the wristband to the festival of time’ he states with a deadpan stare. The laughter received is loud and continuous, the sort of joke which slowly unfurls in one’s mind like a slow-release comedy capsule. On the subject of water, meanwhile, Auton posits that ‘water is the smell of a pint of orange cordial before you’ve added the cordial’ in a gag which is so utterly nonsensical yet so blindingly self-apparent one can’t help but be delighted.
There are also moments of sincerity and surprising warmth amongst the surreal musings. No sooner has Auton finished deliberating over the time-free schedules of our early caveman brethren or describing how a dog ball thrower could instead be loaded with a dollop of tasty ice cream, he’s inhabiting the persona of his own new-born self and diarising the first hours and days of his existence. The hour is then wrapped up with Auton musing on his life’s events as bubbles in a length of bubble wrap, transient moments, both satisfyingly tangible and frustratingly fleeting. Funny, charming and with moments of unexpected warmth, The Time Show isn’t at all a bad way to spend 60 of your precious minutes.