Review: Nick Helm at the Engine Rooms, Southampton

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80%
80
Awesome

To quote Nick Helm directly: "Well done Southampton. Don’t know what to make of it. Truly terrible in places, but ended with an unprompted standing ovation."

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“Thank you Southampton, it’s been…a weird one.” These words perfectly closed the penultimate show of Nick Helm‘s Phoenix From the Flames tour. The significance of this tour was that it marked his return after six year to live shows, despite having worked on various sit-coms during that time. It did not disappoint but proved to be a hilariously truthful and hard-hitting venture that treats depression with the comedy so many use to hide it.

Before beginning his opening song, we were all ordered to “shut up” and then appeared Nick Helm on stage wearing a pleated wing cape, light up shoes, and sequinned booty shorts. It was the perfect image. From then on there was a perfect mixture in tone, adding playfulness to otherwise quite drab jokes, and injecting the room with the angry, dark and self-deprecating humour that best describes him. Within this humour were moments of true uplift in which Helm reminded us that it’s not all doom and gloom; happy moments are there to be found.

The show was spliced with songs and poetry written by him that allowed for a pause from the typical format of live comedy shows in a way that didn’t deter from the humour but enhanced it. Who know that a three minute song recalling as many film titles as you possibly can would be so entertaining? Aside from the jokes and songs that pervaded the show, every other word was either f*** or c*** giving an edge to the performance and inflecting it with Nick Helm’s gritty flare. Everything we know and love about Helm’s work was right in front of us.

Nick Helm does something interesting with this show that transforms it from being a run-of-the-mill live comedy show to instead saying something more and leaving you with quite a wholesome message. After the opening song, the one-liner jokes suggest the tone of the show but Helm is quick to subvert this by shouting at the audience that this show is actually about depression; a serious, hard hitting subject to tackle in any other context but here it is treated with humour, satire and tragicomedy thereby making it far more easily digestable.

He talks openly about suicide, depression, and the inability to complete basic day-to-day tasks in an extremely candid way, all the while making sure to keep the line of humour flowing at all the right points so we aren’t sucked into a completely sombre two hour show. There is never a moment of complete and utter sadness, maybe because he tells us from the start not to worry about him or look at him in a sympathetic way, and instead he gives us every opportunity to laugh with him and experience life whilst laughing, even though others would be crying. In this there is a strong tone suggestive of though you may suffer with mental health illnesses that isn’t a reason to stop you doing what you can do.

Amongst all this however was a very real moment that live performers have to deal with. A few hecklers in the audience gave the show a sense of reality and despite Helm addressing them directly and asking them to “shut up” so that he might be able to concentrate, there came a point where he demanded they be removed. This interruption was significant for a few reasons, most obviously for disrupting and warping the entire tone of the show. Removing these people was difficult and you could notice their affect on Helm’s face. He was worn out by them and from that point on a sense of disbelief and complete shock over what had happened pervaded the rest of the show.

Helm reiterated that in all his years of performing such a thing had never happed and during the entire run of this tour he has had no issues, until Southampton. It was a shame to see people interrupt and disrupt the show that in a completely sincere way deserved more than it got. Helm declares he was talking about mental health before it was cool and that was brought to the fore in this show, but for people to interrupt a show advocating for the sharing of individual struggles was tasteless. This was more than a comedy show.

Such an event was a minor gloss in proceedings but seemed to affect Helm as he admitted this to be the show that “broke him.” Despite this, he was able to close the show with the strength by delivering a message of self care, undercut by the claim that everyone is in some degree a c***, so as not to mask the soft inspiring message with the hardest of shells. To close the show in this way was to truly understand how this show and Helm’s advocation for talking about and tackling mental health issues works; any serious message must be deciphered from the dark comedy that pervades it.

Nick Helm performs with a sense of quiet vitality but extreme vulnerability behind the punchlines and comedy of every story he tells, making this show feel more real and like a truer depiction of him than we have ever seen before. We are given a precious clip of his work with Comic Relief after the shows end that is, in true Nick Helm fashion, flipped on its head as text reads “now go home you f***ers.” Everyone knows a Nick Helm in their life, the character plagued by troubles that uses comedy as armour to create meaning, and in this show we learn that that armour is impregnable.

Nick Helm’s tour is now finished, however you can stay in the loop with him here

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