Rob Auton: The Face Show @ The King's Arms, Salford, 19 Feb
When comedians strive for a narrative for their hour-long shows, there is often a time when they go all serious, earmarking a section as such; and it’s usually punctuated with a throwaway gag at the end. The relief of a joke after so much seriousness leads to a bigger laugh than it might normally be afforded, coming as a welcome release after the subject matter that preceeded it.
In Rob Auton’s Face Show there is a similar ‘serious bit’ but instead of the throwaway joke, and return to more frivolity, it is what the whole show has been leading to: a crescendo of tears, love and, most importantly, faces that leaves the audience aghast and the performer physically drained; emotionally spent at what is an honest portrayal of what we really do with our faces.
This is not to say the show isn't frivolous to begin with – starting, as it does, with Auton silently offering crude sketches of audience members (replete with pasta sheets to mimic one woman’s sandy coloured hair), taking on the mantle of a facial Mr Motivator. The show is about faces, and for anyone who has a face. It's an innocent approach to the world with Auton’s deadpan performance eking out a childlike wonder about what it is to have a face, and the many things we can do with them. As he brings out a world cup sticker book he has filled with his own memories (including his nephew playing centre midfield for Brazil), the show twists organically into a moving treatise on the beauty of human beings and the ever changing wonder of our faces – what can be done when they are used correctly, freely and with love.
As the tears fall down the performer's face, and more than likely those of some audience members, it becomes clear that what could have been a silly show about faces is actually something far deeper. Something beautiful below the surface, or in the carriages of our train-like past (led by Thomas the Tank Engine-like faces at the front) inching toward the future. Auton has crafted something with honesty, passion and care. Something so funny, but ultimately so moving and unexpected, that it leaves one floored at the climax. Comedy could use a few more Rob Autons – unafraid of sincerity and all the better for it.