Peter Serafinowicz as Brian Butterfield: Failure has seldom felt so winning

Peter Serafinowicz as Brian Butterfield
Peter Serafinowicz as Brian Butterfield - James Serafinowicz

If you told me you’d never heard of Peter Serafinowicz or his best-loved character Brian Butterfield before, I wouldn’t be too surprised. The veteran comic actor and impressionist is one of those figures recognised by many but known to few, despite a cultural footprint that includes Star Wars, the MCU, and every sitcom produced in this country since the late 90s.

Brian Butterfield stems from The Peter Serafinowicz Show, a one-season BBC sketch show from 2007. Played by Serafinowicz in a fatsuit with a stiff grey moustache and wig, Butterfield initially appeared in a series of adverts for his ludicrously ill-thought-out business ideas, eventually gaining a second life on YouTube and now making the jump to a live show, wherein he struggles panting onto the stage, defibrillates himself and delivers an extended seminar on how to get ahead in business.

Writing for Butterfield, Serafinowicz practices a droll absurdity delivered in a steady stream of setups and knockdowns. You get the occasional groaner, and there’s a sense that the rhythmic regularity of his jokes might be thwarting the comic principles of tension and release, but ultimately it keeps the audience rapt and ticklish through a long show.

After an introduction filling us in on his ignominious career as business advisor to Blockbuster, inventor of the Butterfield Sushi Sauna (“the smell is part of the experience”) and PR guru for Russell Brand, Butterfield brings the energy up with sections in which the audience pitch their own business ideas in “Brian’s Den” and a delightful interview roleplay that veers wildly out of control.

For a guy who isn’t known for live performing, Serafinowicz takes well to the stage, fluently inhabiting his character even when we get into unscripted audience interactions. As has been standard in his career, there’s no chink in the persona or deconstructionist peeling away of the fat suit. The stentorian, walrus-like voice remains in place throughout, with some of the more marble-mouthed asides (and a whole closing musical number) getting lost in the echoing hall of EartH.

There are one or two other ramshackle touches to the experience: the two industrial fans that are needed to keep him from passing out in the costume; the cheap digital images that he uses in his slideshow; the fact that he’s clearly reading large sections of the script off a monitor in his lectern. But failure fits this character like a glove, and the issues never derail the show conceptually. Serafinowicz brings the flavour of a low-budget Fringe character comedy show to a large stage, and keeps its charms intact in the process.

Touring until October;