When Sam Wills’ performed on America’s Got Talent as his alter ego, ‘The Boy with Tape on his Face’, Simon Cowell declared ‘A Star is Born’. Whilst hyperbole is the order of the day on such a show, Wills’ certainly is making waves across the comedy scene. He followed AGT with a stint in Las Vegas, toured the States and now has landed at the Garrick for a seven week run.
Wills’ show has been through a number of incarnations since it first gained the critics’ attention at the 2010 Edinburgh fringe, and the current set is a ‘best of’ compilation of his most loved and laughed at sketches. Judging by the audience’s reaction, oven gloves singing Lionel Richie and phallic tape measures have just as much appeal today as they did when I first saw the show in 2013.
With his stripy t-shirt, oversized jacket and beloved satchel, Tape Face is all innocent adolescence. His signature piece of duct tape over his mouth – Nafua 357 is his preferred variety – and large kohl eyes make him strangely like a cartoon version of a member of Busted, which is, perhaps, why audience members trustingly follow him to stand in front of hundreds. Once on stage, Tape Face engaged them in a series of childish and charming sketches. A diverse array of Londoners were made to thrust and shimey to Blame it on the Boogie, replicate that Ghost pottery scene with playdough and dance like ballerinas under the exasperated command of their silent director.
Tape Face also performed solo sketches, all relying on popular songs, mundane objects and his wild creativity. It is this simplicity, the nostalgia for childlike play that infuses the whole set, which lends it real charm. It is no surprise then that the famous oven glove scene came from an evening spent messing around with his nephew at dinner time.
Two hours twenty was, however, a long time for Wills to fill. Some sketches, especially those involving inanimate objects singing, became repetitive and one, slightly longer half would have sufficed. Whilst I didn’t roar with laughter – unlike a majority of the audience, it has to be said – I enjoyed the surrealist, whimsical nature of the evening. Wills is committed to making his audience forget about the real world, to giving them an evening of ‘nice fun silliness’ as he puts it. If that was his aim, then for this audience he certainly succeeded.