Despite an explosion in the size of his fanbase since standing out a country mile on a distinctly ho-hum Secret Policeman's Ball earlier this month, Tim Minchin is not quite yet at a level to fill the main auditorium of Sheffield's City Hall. As such, he appeared in the small memorial hall at the back of the building last Wednesday (and occasionally fought against the bass-heavy sounds of Level 42 playing next door), an unhelpfully semi-circular room which meant many audience members were looking at the back of his head whenever he was sitting at the piano. "I've done my hair really well so you have something to look at!" he said, with characteristic generosity, "and I'll keep swiveling round."
That bit of housekeeping out of the way, Minchin got stuck into the show proper, which, it has to be said, has come a hell of a long way since it was debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer. In its 60 minute form, Ready For This had a strong theme of humanist rationalism - and fate, religion and spiritualism all still get a musical (and poetic) kicking - but expanded to two hours, the sillier side of the Aussie maestro is allowed to shine through. The show, I think, now gives a more rounded view of the range of material Minchin has to offer, which, as a confirmed fan, is a good thing to see.
The centrepiece of the new show (which he performed on Secret Policeman's Ball and therefore was greeted with a ripple of recognition and excitement) is "If I Didn't Have You", and this song is the most wonderful coming together of those two sides. A parodic R&B power ballad, this song explains that if events in his life had occurred even very slightly differently, he may not have married the girl he met as a teenager, and, moreover, he probably would have met someone else and been perfectly happy. "It's obtuse to deduce that I met my soul-mate at the age of seventeen" he says, matter-of-factly. The genius of this song, though, is that it is not just an attack on the idea of fate, but also a veiled love song and includes a silly fantasy sequence in which he outlines the other life he may have lived had things worked out differently.
If I Didn't Have You hasn't changed a bit since Edinburgh, and neither should it have done, but other aspects of the show have evolved massively. In particular, Minchin has tweaked the performance of his technically stunning nine-minute beat poem "Storm" to make his attacks on a ditzy new-ager of the same name less direct, and to make "himself" as much a figure of fun as the hair-flicking hippy herself - less sure of himself, and, importantly, more pissed. On a selfish level, it's a joy to see this poem change in precisely the way I wanted.
It is a testament to Minchin that the highlights of this show are all completely new material, as along with If I Didn't Have You, the song I heard most audience members waxing lyrical about as they left the auditorium is "Prejudice", a song with a killer twist to rival any M. Night Shyamalan flick, and more puns than The News Of The World. This isn't to say, however, that it isn't a delight to see Darkside at the end of the show.
Minchin has clearly gained a lot of confidence as a performer over the last year, and the more audacious he becomes in the ideas he feels comfortable discussing and indeed promoting in his work, the better he is. In the So Rock show from last year, (and especially in the older songs he included) there was a lot of "I's" and "me's" but in fact the less Minchin talks about himself - the less he makes himself a character in his own songs - and the more he discusses things that clearly mean so much to him, the more, I feel, we get to know about him as a person.