Just the Tonic (Nottm) – Kate Lucas, Mike Newall, Andrew O’Neil and Tim Fitzhigham (MC)

Tonight I found myself with a rare Saturday night free to go and see comedy. Saturdays are nights I tend to reserve for family and friends, so this made a nice change. I fancied going to one of the clubs in Nottingham, as I’ve not been to any for a long time and most have their stronger line ups on the Saturday. Out of Glee, Just the Tonic and Jongleurs I settled on JTT, as they had both Tim Fitzhigham and Andrew O’Neil performing. These are both comedians of great attraction to me. I’ve seen Fitzhigham at a rather nice night run by Funhouse in Southwell and O’Neil had a really good series on the wireless last year (Fitzhigham is no stranger to the home service himself), so this settled it. This was to be my first trip to Just the Tonic in a long time. I’ve no antipathy towards the venue, they attract good acts; it is merely open on the wrong night for me. I wouldn’t say it was a full house tonight, but near enough to seem it. One lesson I’d forgotten, though, was to get there early enough to bag a seat in front of the partition. The room always seems to divide up between the people on one side of the railings who want to listen to comedy and those on the bar side, who have seemingly paid good money to sit and talk through the acts. I was sat on the wally side of the partition tonight, which wasn’t ideal. At times it was hard to hear what the comedians were saying above an almost constant hubbub of chatter. This is pretty much endemic for town centre nightclub/comedy clubs, though, as irritating as it was. In a surprise, the MC was Tim Fitzhigham.
When I saw Fitzhigham previously, he was doing a middle set, where he demonstrated an impressive, not to say vast, general knowledge, that his brain could tie in to anything mentioned within the pub. This was excellent, so tonight, I was hoping to see something similar, and had brought a friend with me on the strength of this. Fitzhigham in the role of MC changed this. Owing to the room not being so intimate, the crowd not so attentive and his job being to organise the night, keep things moving and warm up the audience he gave us a different style to that which I was hoping to see. This isn’t to say it was bad, because it wasn’t – he’s talented and did a good job. He just didn’t get chance to range over several topics with lots of clever bits of knowledge, allowing jokes to simmer as people got the references at their own speed. Tonight he came out with the front of his shirt tucked into his trousers, but sticking out elsewhere, which was rather striking. Equally striking was that he seemed to look younger than when I saw him six months ago. Neither is here nor there comedically, but these were my first thoughts as he bounded onto the stage. His compering was of a good standard. He did the basics, working the audience, asking where they were from and what they did there, but lifted it above this level by his actions. Fitzhigham makes full use of the stage. He’ll chat to a chap on one side of it, bound over to the other in a Cleesesque fashion and do a stage whisper. This may sound rather like panto, but it is very endearing and comical to watch. He also demonstrated some lovely quick thinking with a response to a chap who made carpet books. Owing to the lay out of the room and the people who were there to just drink, I’d say that he had about 80% of the room onside, which was a fair achievement. During the last session, I do feel that he could have perhaps kept it tighter, as I felt the room was reaching a tipping point regarding consumption of alcohol and attention span, but he was still lovely to watch. Fitzhigham has two great strengths: his splendid general knowledge, which gives him a huge reservoir of references for use with a more discerning audience and a great aptitude for physical comedy. Tonight, although I didn’t see the side I was hoping for, I still saw something very entertaining.
The opening act was Kate Lucas, a musical comedian. I’ve got to confess that musical comedians who sing full songs do very little for me, personally. This is definitely a fault on my side, rather than theirs. I’ll happily sit through five minutes of set up for a joke, but for some reason, after 30 seconds of a comedy song I seem to switch off. This is a shame, as Lucas had a good night. She gave the room 5-6 songs and they all went down to a great response from both genders, although some did resonate more with the ladies in the room. She has a nice voice, plenty of talent and unlike some musical comedians I’ve seen, she does have different songs. I’ve seen some acts before with one tune, but 5 different sets of lyrics to it and so she didn’t suffer from diminishing returns like that. Although I wasn’t keen on the songs, I did enjoy her work between them. The material on her relationship with God was a particular highlight, being clever and well thought out, plus very funny. Whilst not for me, this is no reflection on Lucas, who received strong laughs.
Mike Newall was the middle act. He has a very low key, low energy approach. In fact, I wasn’t sure of the precise moment he switched from saying hello to beginning his set. However, this style perfectly suits his material. His delivery was at a conversational level, but as the material concerns stuff that is very relatable to day to day life and relationships, it lands all the better for it. He won the room over very quickly with this solid material. He did have to deal with two shout outs, though. One he put down in a friendly way that made it impossible for the interlocutor to begrudge. The other was more involved and concerned a lady from Birmingham. This seemed to go on for too long and whilst Newall kept hold of the room, this did rob him of a lot of momentum. I enjoyed his set, especially his section on money well spent concerning a friend, with the second reveal a lovely addition. The full set was really well crafted, with scarcely a word that didn’t add value and Newall himself reminded me a lot of Alun Cochrane in tone and style.
The closing act was Andrew O’Neil, who I first came across last year with his excellent series ‘Pharmacist Baffler’. This was broadcast late at night on the home service, which was a shame, as it was extremely good and would have done well in the 1830 slot. Seeing his name on the bill was a real inducement to come to this show tonight and I wasn’t disappointed, either. O’Neil has a lively stage presence, with bags of authority, which was used to the full in delivering an eclectic set. He began with a short song which injected energy into the room and was a lot of fun. This was followed by some nice puns and then some material, involving the fantastic and un-improvable line about knowing where your clothes are. The singing was great, as O’Neil has a very powerful voice and only sang enough of a song to make the joke work – an approach I very much favour on a personal level. This was concluded with some good crowd work. There were some transphobic comments from the back of the room, which luckily weren’t audible from the stage. I’ve never understood transphobia and found it highly repugnant that a few audience members should indulge in it. O’Neil is a great performer and ended the night on a wonderful high.

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