Monday, 29 November 2021

Robert Webb
Baillie Gifford Marquee

A JOVIAL Robert Webb took to the stage of the Baillie Gifford marquee to discuss his first novel, Come Again.

He began by reading an extract from the book, which follows Kate, a widow who wakes up one morning as her 18-year-old self, who is about to meet her late husband at university.

With a wry smile, he described it as a “grief-stricken time-travelling rom-com thriller adventure” and informed interviewer Cesca Major that he had the idea for the story while waiting for some electricians to change the lights on the set of Peep Show.

Major praised the dialogue of the book and observed that it was a strength that had clearly carried over from Webb’s career as a sketch writer.

Webb said: “Dialogue is my sort of comfort zone. Coming from sketch comedy, I’m happiest when I get the characters talking. I’ve always liked books and plays and films where there is that snappy dialogue.”

He then opened up about his battle with alcohol addiction, saying: “I treat my body like a skip.”

He confided that he had been trying to give up drinking and smoking “for the last five, six, 10 years” — something that he only succeeded in doing after being diagnosed with a congenital heart condition during a routine medical for his Channel 4 series Back.

Reflecting on a hospital stay that he referred to as a “circuit breaker”, he decided to make changes to his lifestyle and described the lengthy recovery process. He had to be extremely careful and gradually progressed from walking to running again.

Now he is dancing as one one of 15 celebrities competing in this year’s series of Strictly Come Dancing and he gave the audience an insight into life in the ballroom.

Webb was an enigmatic guest and it seemed he couldn’t help but break out into little sketches — performing a bit as the two doctors that discovered his heart condition and eliciting plenty of laughs from the audience.

I have to admit, however, that I was slightly underwhelmed by Cesca Major’s interviewing.

Along with many prominent figures in the British TV comedy scene, Webb is a former Cambridge Footlight.

A great amount of time seemed to be devoted to recalling his days in the renowned student comedy society, which was a shame as I felt the time could have been better spent unpacking his novel or his memoir How Not to Be a Boy.

What makes him stand out among his contemporaries is his interest in gender roles and his frank explorations in his work of the harmful impact of toxic masculinity on society.

While some discussion of these topics was shoehorned in at the end of the hour, I felt that it was a little haphazard and prevented Webb from expanding on the subject in great depth.

Having lost track of time, Major was forced to skip the audience Q&A — a result which I felt was very disappointing.

Lucie Richardson

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