Robert White: InstruMENTAL

Wed 2nd – Sun 27th August 2017


Neil Suchak

at 10:40 on 13th Aug 2017



Although a self-proclaimed opera, 'Robert White’s InstruMENTAL' has shades of so many genres of performance within it: from musical theatre, to comedy and pantomime. For this show presents a kaleidoscope of many whimsical and eccentric facets of White’s humour as he presents a self-deprecating and lyrical exposé

of all that life can throw at him: humorously chronicling societies responses to his autism and homosexuality. In doing so White crafts a comic (if sometimes hard to follow) performance. The latter quality of the show ought to have been remedied by the fact that he had handed out a leaflet prior to the show, hoping to explain its premise. However, the plot moves messily at breakneck speed which is both endearing and confusing at the same time. It manages to confuse the audience almost as much as some of White’s more esoteric humorous references. While his singing may be intentionally sketchy, his delivery of punchlines is charmingly whimsical. This delivery ensures that he is able to keep the audience’s attention in a performance that is grounded in sheer preposterousness.

White utilises several humorous flourishes to add more colour to what is an already idiosyncratic performance. For instance, he supplements his one man electronic orchestra with his own playing of the trumpet and makes hilarious use of props: namely the dolls that he uses to portray characters in his backstory. Much like the rest of the performance these props are knowingly ramshackled and this simply endears the audience more to him. Furthermore, he has a pantomime-esque grip of a slapstick sense of humour that is very much at home within a production such as ‘IntrsuMENTAL’. This is aided by White interspersing his humour with cutting topical references that really are the stand out of his material - ensuring that his routine does not fall into the trap of becoming meaninglessly absurd. In this way White manages to ensure that issues that are of great social-importance - the way society handles issues of mental health and coming out as gay - are handled with humour.

This show will not be for everyone. The humour is heavy on puns and deadpan punchlines. Some of which do fall flat and evoke the odd groan from the audience. Similarly, some jokes are laboured not in their delivery but in their continued repetition - losing the charm of what was originally a witty moment. White’s humour will also be grating for many people who will find his eccentricity overpowering or immature: something made all the more easy by the likelihood of audience members getting lost in the winding and swift moving plot. 'InstruMENTAL' is definitely an acquired taste.


Eleanor Lawson

at 15:24 on 13th Aug 2017



Pitched as part comedy, part opera, ‘InstruMENTAL’ is the labour of love of comedian Robert White, using the form of musical comedy to narrate a difficult period of his life. Struggling to recognise social cues because of undiagnosed autism, White is arrested and imprisoned while awaiting trial. While the show deals with incredibly poignant themes, it is also relentlessly hilarious.

As both a comic and a musician, White is clearly talented, balancing the two aspects of his show with ease. Each joke hits the mark, and there are some wonderful gags including his father’s reaction being more confusing than Jeremy Corbyn winning but losing, and a particular crowd pleaser about a bear and his bathroom that I refuse to ruin for potential audience members. Music is clearly White’s passion, and he utilizes this with his comedy, rousing some of the biggest laughs of the performance by tweaking the lyrics of ‘There’s no limit’ to ‘No comment’ when considering the weakness of his legal representation, and a pun based on ‘The sun will come out tomorrow’ was a particular crowd favourite.

It is interesting that White classes his performance as part ‘opera’ when it feels more like a comedy musical than anything. White explains this in his musical notes which are handed out after the performance, saying his first and greatest influence is George Gerschwin: “not so much stylistically, although it sometimes is, but more in ideology, in the use of fusion and all music.” It may be perhaps misleading to advertise the performance as a comedy opera, but this does not appear to have dashed many expectations. The audience laps up his jokes and frequently howls with laughter.

Reading the musical notes reveals the sheer amount of hard work and love that White has put into his performance, having written the book and lyrics alongside performing. White never loses the audience’s attention, maintaining a high-energy performance that elicits howls of laughter. It is, however, a poignant piece, and it is painful to watch White’s self-depracatory remarks and struggle with interpreting others. An important detail to note is the ambiguity surrounding certain aspects of the arrest. Make sure to get seats early in order to read through the synopsis of the production before seeing the show, although the majority of the plot becomes self-evident throughout the production. In short, this is an emotive hybrid of music, narrative, and comedy, that touches the heart as well as the funny bone.


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