REVIEW: An Evening With Graham Norton, York Theatre Royal, 3/10/2022

Graham Norton: Forever Home and first ever away day in York

MAKE that An Entire Evening With Graham Norton and part of an evening with Konnie Huq that should have been the first half but became the second at this novel event of the week.

The first clue was the change of start time to 7.45pm and the accompanying note, “We Apologise For Any Inconvenience”.

The inconvenience, it turned out, had been caused to chatterbox Graham, BBC broadcaster, Virgin Radio presenter, own label wine & gin dispenser, agony uncle and novelist, and the late-arriving Konnie, TV and radio presenter, screenwriter and children’s author, once of Blue Peter (1997 to 2008).

Train delays. A problem on the track. Exit Graham from King’s Cross, taking the car to York, for his first ever visit. “What a lovely city,” he said, dashing hopes of a more waspish critique in the manner of his quizzical Eurovision quips.

Konnie would be taking a later train, he explained. From Peterborough. “Not going well,” he stage-whispered. Once a stand-up, always at ease on stage, and if part one should have been Graham in conversation with Konnie about his fourth novel, Forever Home, newly published by Coronet, instead it became Graham in conversation with the full house, roaming back and forth in a suit that tricked the eye at first. Not stains, surely, dapper Graham? No, some far trendier detailing!

Ask away. “Did you get the book we left for you in reception, Graham?”. Come on, York. Ah, here comes the excitable woman in the front row, the one in a group all (bar one) wearing T-shirts emblazoned with cherry-topped buns. Buns, geddit. “Did you get the cakes we left for you, Graham?”. Come on, York, you really can do better than such distractions, handled knowingly by gracious Graham.

York did thankfully do much better than that, mainly asking about his TV shows, the big interviews, one about his wines, another about the beard – should it stay or should it go? – but  not the books, leaving that to Konnie.

Favourite guests? The list kept growing. Worst guest? Very definitely, Harvey Weinstein, accompanied by an anecdote that revealed much about the jailed film producer’s sense of entitlement. Most wanted guests yet to appear? Brad Pitt. Julia Roberts. William & Kate.

Does he ever watch back old episodes? No, he said, the question prompting Graham to imagine himself sitting there thinking, “aren’t I marvellous”. Eurovision popped up too, reflections on Sam Ryder and Ukraine, and no, he couldn’t say where 2023’s jamboree would be held, Liverpool or Glasgow, until Friday. Liverpool, for the record.

Part stand-up, part Q&A, he held back his own excruciating Red Chair revelation to the last, ever the comedian with timing. In a nutshell. Gentleman caller. Departs. Next morning, stretchy item gone missing. Dog. Morning walk in the park. What’s that protruding from pet Bailey’s posterior? Graham stretched the story to the max. Just look at his face.

Time for a break, then Graham reading an excerpt from his new book on the screen, and… here’s Konnie. She’d arrived halfway through act one, watching from the wings, laughing as much as the rest of us. Time to discuss Forever Home, its themes, characters, locations, set in a small Irish town, where divorced teacher Carol’s second chance of love brings her unexpected connection, a shared home and a sense of belonging in a darkly comic story of coping with life’s extraordinary challenges.

Darkly comic. Why darkly comic, Graham? Small rural Irish communities, where they live outside rather than inside the villages, have that darkness to them, that mystery, that something to hide, even if everyone thinks they know everything but everyone else. That side comes out in Graham’s novels, rooted in his experiences of growing up (as Graham William Walker) at 48, St Brigid’s Road, Clondalkin, County Dublin, and leaving at 20, first for America, then London.

Not until three decades later did he reconnect, both physically and in his novels that he began writing as a new challenge on turning 50. His mother’s habits, the butt of his humour, but in affectionate way rather than the mother-in-law jokes of Les Dawson, feed into one of the characters in Forever Home. He has given her a copy, but not told her about the resemblance. No doubt he will delight audiences with an update as and when.

Graham, newly married in West Cork in July, turns 60 next April. A new decade, another new venture? To beard or not to beard? These are the questions. Can’t wait for the answers.