In Mulberry, Tim Key – ‘a celebrity shorn of his fame, reduced to government-issued pyjamas’ – recounts his experience of lockdown-life via a series of surreal poems and stories. ‘I decided to spend some time in the hall bit, in-between the bathroom and the bedroom. It was not a bad area.’ It is this strange liminal space into which we are invited for the following hour, trapped with Key in his flat as he wanders around the stage in a stripped Velour tracksuit, sipping from a can of beer and reading the occasional poem. One describes Harry Kane, gaping, struggling to comprehend the notion that the football has been cancelled. Another imagines a sweary Queen raging at the people who refused to get vaccinated.
The poems, dotted throughout, form the spine of the show as we watch Key drift through the various lockdowns and berate the audience when they struggle to respond to his banal but threatening questions; ‘So, Lockdown. Where did you spend it? Home? Of course.’ While I personally would avoid the front-row at all costs, Key’s improvised interactions with his crowd are some of the best points of the show. One moment he is the everyman – grinning and drinking, asking a man in the front-row to hold his pint – before he switches suddenly and becomes rude and dismissive. He asks a few people which of the lockdowns was their favourite, but when someone gives the wrong answer Key becomes enraged: ‘Two? Blink and it was over. Arsehole.’ This constantly shifting demeanour adds to the surreal nature of the show – while discussing bulk cooking, Key recalls pouring forty cans of baked beans into a freezer-draw during the first lockdown, before spending the second one chiselling them out. His loneliness becomes so bleak he sows his Alexa speaker into a teddy bear, so as to have someone to speak to.
The unavoidable paradox facing any comedian dealing with the lockdown is that it feels both impossible to avoid a topic which consumed all of our lives for two years, but almost equally difficult to find anything original or interesting to say about it. You get the feeling that as a country we are perhaps undergoing a collective period of repression or denial about the years lost, still coming to terms with all the things we missed; the graduations cancelled, the school years skipped. It is a testament to the show, therefore, that it never feels tired or clichéd. Indeed, Key circumvents any potential danger by utilising the main quality that distinguishes him from his audience, in the form of his (relative) fame. He is aghast that the government extended the lockdown measures to celebrities; ‘you guys, I understand. Stop the spread. But Us?!’ Ultimately, Key’s show is a funny and absurd recounting of a period many of us might want to forget – but it really is worth the watch.
Tim Key, ‘Mulberry’ is at Queen’s Dome, Pleasance’s Dome 10-17th Aug, Pleasance’s Courtyard 18th-28th Aug, times may vary.
Image: Jonathan Birch, provided by the production company as press material.