Russell Kane review – a cathartic shot of Covid comedy

<span>Photograph: Carla Speight/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Carla Speight/Getty Images

On Wednesday, the Rose Theatre, Kingston, finally reopened after seven months. On Saturday, the government said it had to close again. Such is the grim reality of UK theatre life in 2020. “We weren’t expecting this to be our last night out for a while,” says host Angela Barnes at this first edition of standup night Live at the Rose. And so the evening takes on an elegiac air, a bittersweet last laugh before the hatches of gloom are battened down once more.

Not that there’s anything elegiac about headliner Russell Kane’s turn, a barnstorming 40 minutes entirely about Covid. You spend your days reeling at what we’ve lost to the pandemic, and at the magnitude of the government’s incompetence in the face of it – and Kane’s is the first comic response to honour the extremity of that on stage.

Maybe it’s that, in this fatal global virus, his hyperactive, raw-nerve style has finally met its match. He’s buzzing around like a mosquito from the off, miming the handshakes he’s exchanged with people who’re “too cool for the pandemic”, then the furious surreptitious sanitising straight after. The new behaviours Covid has ushered in supply much of Kane’s material here. But it’s a political as well as observational set, cathartically deploring our hopeless PM and the endless contradictions that pass for his Covid policy.

The latter are drolly sent up as cartoonish Kane hymns the rigorous science behind, say, reducing two-metre distancing to “one metre plus”. There’s also a tragicomic cri de coeur about the pride before a fall Kane once felt as a prosperous freelance artist, and a fine routine about dating under tier-four restrictions. It’s blistering stuff, fuelled not only by dismay at what we’re living through but by love for what we’ve lost and a fierce refusal to normalise this “new normal”.

There’s little that Barnes or Nathan Caton in the support slots can do to measure up. The latter delivers reliable relationship comedy about his girlfriend’s domestic habits, and I liked Barnes’s riposte to those who advance Theresa May’s feminist credentials. But this is Kane’s evening, with the best set I’ve seen yet on Covid-19.