Venue: Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Performance Reviewed: Sun 22 October

When reviewing Doreen ‘The Lazy Cow’ Tipton’s ‘Grand Night Out’ last Summer, it was easy to champion the wit and synergy of writer-producer David Tristram and actress Gill Jordan on the work they had done with the character thus far. It was clear that, unlike many viral sensations, Doreen had legs… even if she was too bone idle to ever use them.

Fast forward a year, and a celebrated run in the Wolverhampton Grand’s pantomime under her grey hoodie (including a return this December for ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ alongside Gareth Gates), a brand new DVD of her tour of the Black Country out on the (online) shelves and even a shiny award or two in the cabinet… and one really has to question just how she’s managing to keep all this out of the auspices of the DWP.

Joking aside, though, the real challenge for ‘Rise of the Yam Yam’, the latest in the character’s one-woman tour, it seemed, would be how it would keep that flame of originality and freshness kindled. Could the concept of Doreen sustain another show? Would the inherent simplicity and focus of the character - a razor-sharp satire of the bemoaning work-shy, a heightened parody of the ‘Benefits Street’ ilk - become distorted and lose its impact if pulled too forcibly in a new direction?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, ‘Rise’ allays any such fears almost immediately, and, through another inspired, barmily eclectic evening of frequently hilarious variety entertainment, cements both the character and the creatives responsible for her as some of the Black Country’s most formidable and joyous ambassadors. 

It helps tremendously that ‘Rise’ refuses to play it safe from the off. Political Correctness is decidedly (and very welcomely) left in the foyer, and the show bounces from one unprecedented, high-concept offering to another. There is no coasting or rehashing done here by Tristram - almost the entirety of this show (bar a very welcome, in-the-flesh return appearance from a certain ‘Black Country Girl’) treads hilarious, crazy new ground.

The central premise, for instance - Doreen challenging the fundamentals of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution - is so gloriously daft and out of left field that it makes for a wholly original and unpredictable evening. Who would have seriously anticipated a Doreen show being framed around debating Scientific theorem?

It also highlights just how versatile Tristram and Jordan have moulded the character to be. To spoil any specifics or go into excess detail on the various sketches, vignettes and moments of ‘Rise’ would be to ruin the wonderful kaleidoscope of comic invention that the show represents, but nevertheless an ease and confidence with the character has been reached such that she is equally inspired hosting the world’s least impressive audience participation gameshow, performing a musical duet with her new simian accomplice, fronting a brand new, bedroom-based reality TV show, or just sat on her stool munching on a bag of crisps and highlighting some stranger-than-fiction snapshots of modernity and the media.

Once again, the on-stage antics are intercut with a variety of video productions and edits, and these too run the full gamut of inspired madness. Particular highlights include an opening parody of Dolly Parton’s 'Jolene', a pun-laden riff on the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are, and a delightfully silly Act I closer that takes aim at Strictly Come Dancing. They don’t all land evenly; the aforementioned two-parter detailing a bedroom-based reality competition is a little one-note in execution, with most of the laughs confined to the second part, but overall the quality in terms of both production and impact is a marked step-up from the more hit-and-miss video offerings of last year’s ‘Grand Night Out’.

Perhaps what ‘Rise’ represents most confidently, though, is its blueprint for the future of the character. By taking Doreen off of the reins of predictability, and so assuredly taking her in such non-typical, subversive directions, all whilst never losing the core heart and ‘Yam-Yam’ charm and heritage of why she has become so beloved, Tristram and Jordan prove quite effortlessly that their creation could seemingly be applied to almost any situation or concept, and likely turn it into something entertaining. Doreen does America? I'd buy it. Doreen on University Challenge? Who wouldn't want to see that. This is a character that audiences laugh with, not at, a character that somehow both satirises and warmly represents a broad swathe of society, whilst the whole local Black Country angle and ‘lazy cow’ persona provides a disarming ruse for the clever and insightful writing that underpins her success.

Of course, enormous praise must be lain at Jordan herself, who disappears not only into Doreen, but in fact an entire ensemble of faces, voices… and wigs! Little remains that needs to be said about her inspired characterisations, impeccable comedic timing and craft as an actress, performer and comedienne to carry such a complicated and varied show entirely on her shoulders, but last year’s comments about the rare fusion of writer and talent that is evident with Tristram and Jordan here once again holds true entirely.

With its fittingly Lucas-esque title, ‘Rise of the Yam Yam’ is truly the Empire Strikes Back of Black Country viral superstar showcases. It doesn’t idly rehash what has come before (and, let’s face it, if any character could justify lazily wheeling back out last year’s offerings, Doreen would be it) but instead builds upon what worked whilst simultaneously taking the character and her inspired madness into new, unexpected directions. All whilst never sacrificing the simple, irrepressible appeal of why she became so popular in the first place, and ensuring that the local Black Country roots and heritage resonate out of every nook, cranny, pore and turn of phrase.

It’s silly, unpredictable, laugh-out-loud lunacy that belies a keen satirical edge, all framed around a truly masterful comic creation that by now could go toe-to-toe with many of the greats who have trodden the boards of the Wolverhampton Grand and beyond.

The lazy cow, it seems, has only just gotten started, and whilst there will always be an added immediacy and relevance for those here on her native home soil, and of course the ever real threat that the Job Centre could eventually cotton on and call time on the whole thing, Jordan and Tristram have crafted a distinctly 21st Century British hero whose knack for funny is so knowingly written and impeccably performed that her one-woman shows, of which ‘Rise’ is hopefully only the latest of many, deserve to be seen far and wide.

Except Brum. 

She wouldn’t be caught dead in Brum... save for a couple of shows at the Crescent Theatre next month, but we reckon they're just community service to avoid any further benefit sanctions.

The Yam Yam has risen. Long may she doss.

RATING - ★★★★★

Tickets: 01902 429 212  / Official Website: click