Consistency is key but also surprising for comedy characters that often struggle to adapt to the times. Steve Coogan does not have that trouble and has managed to keep Alan Partridge fresh enough, like Häagen-Dazs left on a counter in a chilled room. A bit melted around the edges, especially when the likes of Jack Whitehall are brought up, but Stratagem: Live is in line with the Partridge effect and the conquering of the stage after a refreshed small-screen stint. Mid-Morning Matters with Alan Partridge is a lucid experience when watched under the influence of a life-threatening bout of scarlet fever. Personal experience dictates that feeling is not repeatable through other states, but a sober mind can still enjoy Alan Partridge: Stratagem.
Like the battered leather jacket this character has become for Coogan, Partridge is still a solid draw with plenty of life in him. Behemoth arenas do blur that line between failed broadcaster and mass appeal, but somehow Coogan displays the same fumbling, underdog charm Partridge’s outdated life personifies. Starship adapted to beating Germans, Spanish and French, all the empty pride. Where the Partridge character succeeds is in failing to realise what he says, even after he has said it. A little rough in the beginning, with some already dated pop culture references and cheap gags, the limitations of the live stage show themselves with dull and blunt force. Coogan powers through as best he can though and does well. Stratagem hopes to help with a perceived self-help guru talk.
It is a gambit that works for Partridge. It has all the accidental flubs and somewhat lazy gags that break the fourth wall, and they are as flat as it gets. Whether that is on the audience or on the writing is unclear, but Stratagem plays up the caricature on stage as well as it can. Some jokes land well, conviction and a well-intentioned performance from Coogan steer this one on through. Live shows are a way to fund things, and the impression Coogan leaves here is that the character riffs off of other individuals better than a jovial collective. Partridge is humorous through reaction instead of interaction. An hour and a half of set-up with a few lines and interactions with Lynn Benfield (Felicity Montagu) are of little hilarity and feel horribly clunky.
That’s that then. A comedy character who has thrived and survived for so many years through a surprising and handy restraint from the man behind the icon. Coogan has managed to pump life time and time again into Partridge, but his suitability for the small screen is showcased in this big-stage venture. Lacking the interaction and hoping reaction alone is enough to steer him through, Coogan struggles to pick up much momentum where it really matters. When he does, it is either bloated or fundamentally unchanged from the television format, just stretched out and unable to marry the consistencies of the character with the unpredictability of a stage show. Even then, that latter feeling of wildcard momentum is lost when Coogan tries and usually succeeds in having the audience eat out the palm of his hand. It just isn’t all that entertaining.