Review: Adam Kay, ‘Smutty Songs’ at Lanterns Studio Theatre

Adam Kay. Pic: Isabelle Adam

Adam Kay’s dark re-imaginings of rock and pop songs have gained him a cult following across the UK.

He first burst onto the scene eight years ago with the iconic ‘London Underground Song’, a pastiche of The Jam’s classic anthem ‘Going Underground’, which gained over seven million YouTube hits.

His style of musical comedy is as self-deprecating as it is outrageous. Taking centre stage at South Quay’s newest treasure, Lanterns Studio Theatre, as one of its first headlining acts, his persona was very much that of the likably eccentric guy who lived at the end of your corridor at uni.

University is a period in his life which finds its way into many of his songs. Kay continually bemoans his parents’ disappointment in him not sticking with his career in medicine, a decision he made after graduating from LSE and being met with success as both a doctor and a stand-up comic.

There was a loyal contingent of fans from his alma mater in the audience who particularly appreciated the medical element to songs such as ‘Anesthetist’s Hymn’, a hilarious take on Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, which ended with the line, “Cause I just sit here every day, And listen to blips of the heart”. Rejuvenating a Lionel Richie classic to discuss emphysema and calling it ‘Wheezy like a Sunday morning’ was a bold move, and one that proved highly popular with the eclectic audience.

But there was plenty on offer for those whose medical knowledge fell far short of degree level. He interspersed his set with approximately a dozen varied renditions of Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah, persuading the audience to join in on each chorus as the title lyric was changed first to ‘alopecia’, then to ‘Al Jazeera’ and, finally, and most bizarrely, ‘halloumi nougat’. He also touched on politics for ‘Gordon Brown-eyed girl’ and the re-written version of ‘Candle in the Wind’ entitled ‘Scandal in the Windsors’.

I couldn’t help but feel that a few too many of his songs relied on the same, fairly gratuitously puerile, humour that prompted Chortle’s one time description of his act as being ‘artistically bankrupt’. But these gags still got belly laughs, so maybe that’s just a taste thing. And certainly the joyful silliness of songs such as ‘Son of a Pizza Man’ is part of Kay’s unique charm.

This performance space was perfect for his act. With Kay banging out his revamped pop anthems from the grand piano, while his audience downed G&Ts around him, it felt like Monty Python had crashed John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ video. And it worked very well, creating an intimacy the like of which is hard to find at more conventional stand-up venues.

At the interval, Kay shepherded the entire audience into the bar and instructed everyone to order a drink on his tab. To a large extent, this summed up the kind of ambience he likes to create during one of his gigs and underscores how genuine a performer he is. “The way I see it, you’re financially down on the evening and I’m up on it, so it’s the least I can do”, he said, matter-of-factly.

During his decade-long career as a comedian, he has seen success at The Edinburgh Fringe,  on You Tube, and on the iTunes chart, which has featured the iconic London Underground Song in its comedy top ten continuously since 2008.

Adam Kay’s 34 date UK tour commences on March 31, and its success promises to reflect the huge fan base he has acquired across the country. His parents may not be thrilled that he didn’t choose to become a doctor, but it looks like a lot of people are.

For details of Adam Kay’s forthcoming tour visit:

For previous East London Lines articles relating to Kay and Lanterns Studio Theatre, see here.

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