The seafront venue hasn’t seemed that packed out since a prime-time performance of Holiday on Ice and Flanagan was on the second leg of a huge tour which had previously seen him break attendance records during a nine-night run at the O2 arena.
A largely middle-aged but gender-split crowd were more than excited to see their man.
The anticipation was heightened by some lively pre-show bangers on the P.A. – Springsteen’s Born to Run and Chas and Dave’s number 1 classic tragi-stomper Ain’t no Pleasing You.
It was surprising to see how few people joined in with the Rockney d’amour, proof that the East London diaspora isn’t so strong in Brighton, and that Flanagan every-man persona strikes a chord well beyond the sound of the Bow Bells.
There was also a bit of David Essex and one twinkling-eyed Cockney charmer gave way to another as Flanagan strutted on to a suitably joyous response from one and all.
After congratulating the adoring mob for making it out on Thursday eve he moved swiftly into some material about Covid (‘a bit of aggro’).
Now most comics have mined this topic fairly heavily, and critics have been gunning for those who are still talking about it, but perhaps you can cut Flanagan a bit of a slack due to his infrequent touring schedule, illustrated by the fact he last performed in Brighton (at the Centre naturally) in 2018.
A fairly gentle take on the ongoing gender wars followed with some material which wasn’t a million miles away from the ‘take my wife’ variety. But Flanagan has mastered the art of keeping both sides onboard, and was never too sexist or boorish.
He was less steady when tackling topics like modern gender identity and cancel culture.
The latter is, understandably, a sensitive topic for any jobbing comic let alone arena-filling favourites, but there were times when he seemed a tad reactionary and playing subjects for cheap laughs.
Although there were still moments when, like watching Jerry Sadowitz, Bernard Manning, and more recently Ricky Gervais, you’d laugh in spite of yourself, and issues of fairness and sensitivity.
He seemed on more steady ground with a routine about P.E. lessons at school and (unsurprisingly) the 1970s in general (Olive from On the Buses got a good laugh but isn’t one for the teenagers).
The pre-show publicity noted that because of the adult material the show was for ‘over-16s.’ but perhaps ‘over-45s’ might be more helpful.
Elsewhere there was some good stuff on getting old (including ‘eyeballing tins’ for re-use).
His sense of timing and stagecraft are as good as it ever was, but the show didn’t quite compare to previous tours.
It was well received on the night but the lines weren’t nearly as sharp as previous outings, so let’s hope the next time around the material matches the charm of this extremely likeable comic.