Review: Mark Steel – Who Do I Think I Am?

[First published on Quays News 27/05/16]

MARK STEEL performed his latest comedy show ‘Who Do I Think I Am?’ at the Lowry last night. A rare stand up tour for the politically minded comedian, I was sure not to miss out…

‘Who Do I Think I Am?’ delves into questions of identity as Have I Got News For You star Mark Steel takes the audience on a quest through his family history to work out which is more significant, nature or nurture.

Steel was adopted as a baby. In the first half of the show he shares his endearment to his adoptive family. Steel always knew he was adopted, and says how he never really gave it a second thought until later in life. A picture of Mark as a baby, that he clearly holds dear, was displayed on a screen behind him. It was simply a cute photo, but later in the second half of the show it takes on greater significance.

Mark Steel at The Lowry, SalfordStories of his adoptive parents stick out as high points in the first half as he tells stories of his upbringing in south London. His character impressions and anecdotes about his dad are instantly relatable for the audience, so too his stories about his mum, referring to her as a ‘proper mum’.

The first half of the show also contains the political stand up that Mark is so well versed in. A former member of The Socialist Workers Party, a passionate rant about David Cameron is to be expected. Nothing is left behind in these rants, sometimes coming off as politically induced breakdowns. Steel also talks about the middle ground in politics shifting as previous revolutionary ideas become mainstream, and cites the acceptance of gay marriage as an example.

Steel took particular care in choosing the music during the interval, playing songs with a similar title to that of his show, including tracks by The Who, ACDC and Beenie Man among others. After proudly pointing this out, Steel slips into another cascading rant, starting with the difficulty of constructing this playlist on iTunes then reeling off his hatred of technology. Probably getting the biggest laughs of the night, this routine struck a chord with the audience.

The story of Steels biological family then follows on in the second half, however, politics is sometimes dragged back, not necessarily fitting with the theme. His political material is tried and tested, guaranteed to get laughs, but it muddies the water of the sincere, sad, and sometimes astonishing narrative that flows through the show.

Despite this, Steel’s journey into finding his family history is as enthralling as it is funny. At some points hard to believe, Steel is blessed with material to the guaranteed envy of other comics. His biological mother’s side of the story is quite sweet, but also littered with sadness as the reasons for why Steel was given away arise.

The life story of Steels father, revealed as an Egyptian Jew, is in total contrast. It’s here where Steel plays around with ideas of nature against nurture with revelations about his father matching up to Steel’s character. Laughs come with ease, but nothing hysterical.

As the story ends Steel concludes that he still doesn’t really know who he is, and the question of nature or nurture is left for the audience to ponder. There is a feeling of admiration from his audience, perhaps sharing in such detail allows Steel to appear relatable and genuine.

A rousing round of applause with a cheeky smile from Steel signifies an encore. A little light hearted to and fro with the audience, along with an anecdote about a ludicrous story from a local newspaper wraps up the show, but doesn’t necessarily leave the audience giggling in the car journey home. Nevertheless, Steel’s show is a fascinating insight into his extraordinary family with plenty of laughs along the way.

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