Musical comedians The Horne Section may be among the most modest of acts. Despite being able to pack out shorter shows during their three Edinburgh Festival Fringe runs, they have chosen again to share their longer and high profile run at the Southbank Centre with two acts for each night of their recent run in the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room.
The show is mostly musical, streaked through and through by comedy, with variety being the name of the game. Backed by a wide assortment of instruments including keyboard, bass guitar, drums, trumpet, saxophone, a double bass and a banjo, leader Alex Horne’s role is chiefly to add laughs to an already entertaining repertoire of chucklesome songs.
Through a series of improvisations, music and jokes (there are three, officially) we get to know the five-piece band. By the end of the show, it only takes the raising of Horne’s eyebrow to make the audience erupt. Occasional skits find favour with the audience, like one playing off Horne’s strong aversion to jazz. A medley of London-specific songs concatenate hit tunes into what ends up as a capital affair. Later, the band string together stylised cover versions of Horne’s car playlist with the pianist standing out for his sheer versatility.
An apparently disjointed pair of acts join the Horne Section for short sets. Dave Gorman is well-known for his wacky adventures, finding his namesakes across the globe and meddling with the world’s favourite search engine. Gorman’s talent to make the banal look genial and interesting has not lessened over the years, so it is no surprise to see him indulging his geeky side here. After a discussion on the people who look like him (including Horne), he is accompanied by the band on a verbal collage which becomes a Fijian-based found poem.
The night’s other guest act Frisky and Mannish have played with the Horne Section before, combining their talents on a version of Rihanna’s Rude Boy in the style of the Bee Gees. The pop revisionists fully deserve the rapturous applause they receive for their highly informative performance explaining the rules behind duets. The duo are experts in collaborative creations: they were behind the recent high-profile Cabariot campaign, which brought together the cream of London’s performers.
Lengthwise, the Horne Section have finally created a show which strikes a happy medium when compared to past outings. Indeed, the current show’s structure and duration is a key factor in its appeal. The last Fringe production was an hour long, played straight through. While it served to whet the appetite, it was a petit chou compared to the multi-course fare that the Horne Section put on at the Lyric Theatre early last year. The West End production clocked in at almost four hours, but the shows at the Southbank Centre are of a more manageable size, markedly longer than in Edinburgh but sensibly split in half by a short interval and a guest act in each part.
The Horne Section now have a near-perfect production combining laughs, variety and music, all in a well-paced and fun-sized package. All that is needed from them is more shows. Come back soon, gentlemen.
The Horne Section. Written and performed by The Horne Section. Southbank Centre, London SE1 8XX. 30 October-2 November, 20:00. £15. www.thehornesection.com