Tonight I was at the Canal House in Nottingham for the wonderful NCF £1 night. It is no secret that this is my favourite night of the comedy calendar. There is a large variety in act present and they can go from new acts to professional within the space of 2 minutes. Being well organised doesn’t do it any harm, either. I’m very happy that it is now on twice a month, as owing to my shift pattern I can’t get to all, so having two chances a month is a big bonus. Present in the room tonight were local comedy circuit figures, Brent Reid and Ben Macpherson, who had come to view the night. In a huge mea culpa, I was actually late and for no good reason other than the gig is that close to home I didn’t feel that I had to rush. Hence I had a leisurely tea, watched the Professionals and then an episode of Auf Wiedersehn Pet and I still thought I’d got enough time to get there before the start. Sadly not. I was lucky I was able to get in without disturbing the compere, Fran Jenking.
I’ve long suspected that Fran Jenking has a fine compere in him. He is at home chatting to people and folk are happy to open up to him (see also Wayne Beese). However, I’d never seen him MC before. Being late meant that I missed a portion of his work and this was a bit of a blow. Fran had a decent night, but the room seemed curiously cold. He’d do his stuff, get people laughing and then it would swiftly reset itself. I’ve seen this in a fair few rooms and it is no criticism on Jenking. He has a pleasant stage presence, looks happy to be there and this is all to the good. He was stronger ad-libbing than when he was using material, although Satin Out was a lovely line. Fran kept the night moving, name-checked all of the acts and I’m looking forwards to seeing him at the Admiral Rodney in Nottingham in a month or so.
The opening act was Stu Woodings who held the room’s attention nicely. I really enjoy his Paint it Matt song and the fact it gives me fond memories of the late night programme Tour of Duty is just a nice bonus. His routine about being a comedy doctor was very interesting and looks like it holds a lot of potential for development, but his section on mugging seemed to peter out a touch, which was a shame, but for new material it was still creditable.
Liam Webber made possibly the entrance of the night, chanting U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A, before getting the audience to join in. He had the balls (that is possibly the least elegant way of saying this, but the most fitting) to carry this, and a development of it, on for a good 90 seconds, which in a room full of people seems an eternity, before he broke it with the reveal. The mundaness of the reveal in comparison to the huge built up was such that it worked perfectly and he got an applause break. Webber is a fine actor and character comedian who is a real performer. He is also very well read and artistically literate. This gives his set a lot of depth, some of which I feel can be too subtle for a few audiences. I liked his porpoise gag and I enjoyed the performance, which was delivered with panache, but felt that whilst Sesame St had a nice ending, it was perhaps a bit over long. Considering how believable his performance is, Webber may get some nice mileage out of occasionally breaking the 4th wall, possibly in a different regional accent each time.
Following the intermission, we resumed with Jeanette Bird-Bradley who was doing new material. This is an act who is relatively new and it is nice to see her, or anyone for that matter, trying new material instead of resting on their existing set. The section regarding checking in wardrobes was nice, but the pet potato was very much a work in progress. The audience was receptive and appreciative, rather than enthused, but as this was a cold low energy audience this was probably not the best judge of new material. As it was, Bird-Bradley maintained her hold over the room and always looked plausible.
The very promising Jo D’Arcy was next. D’Arcy’s name on the bill was very pleasant to see. I’ve only seen her perform a few times and I’ve enjoyed it every time. D’Arcy began with a good opening and seemed to establish herself as a big presence within the first 20 seconds or so and the audience went with her on everything. ‘Hump’ was a lovely line and fitted in nicely. D’Arcy’s facial expressions, possibly honed by teaching, give her a real depth of expression, saying more with a frown or look of puzzlement than many people can get with a paragraph. She was the only comedian who had to deal with an audience member who wanted to shout out (over Shakespeare of all things), but she handled him well. This was a very, very good set and it is no wonder that she is so well thought of on the circuit.
Winter Foenander had a mixed night, or rather more accurately a night of one step forwards, one step back. He began well by injecting a bit of energy into the room by talking swiftly, but then he changed tack and started to reprimand the audience for being so consistently unresponsive during the course of the night. This received a laugh at first, but he made too much of it to sustain the good will and the feeling in the room turned. This was then exacerbated by an extremely ill-judged reference to the recent bombing in Brussels. From where I was sat, I could hear a lot of intakes of breath and a couple of low hisses. To his credit, Foenander did manage to get some people back on board, which was no mean feat, but then he squandered this by returning to the topic of the audience not being up to much. He did mention a couple of times during his set about him being a professional comedian, which seemed to alienate some of the room further. The Canal House attracts a mixed audience, but a lot are pretty comedy literate and I think a fair proportion may have been questioning whether there is a different definition of professional comedian down in that there London. Foenander was a frustrating act to watch. He would come out with something decent and gain a bit of ground (Such as the Game of Thrones reference), but would then shoot himself in the foot by complaining about the audience. This approach can work, one only has to see Ken Goodwin on The Comedians to see how much mileage he got out of having a gentle dig at the audience, but tonight it was highly counter-productive. I felt that this could have been a decent set, there were enough glimpses of decent portions to give hope, but the end result was not as good as it could or indeed should have been.
Katie Mitchell who opened the final section had her set partially derailed within the first minute by a spot of feedback, but luckily she continued. Mitchell is very much rocking the Goth look and whilst someone’s look or style isn’t something I tend to consider relevant, in her case it is. A lot of her material comes from this look, which is fine to a point. She did reference the lack of surprise about a Goth concentrating on ‘Goth’ topics, but I don’t think she went far enough with this to really get the most from it. The end result was that it did still feel like a Goth concentrating on Goth material, knowing wink to it, included. There were, however, some very nice touches and she did receive a deserved small round of applause, although I felt that the Jonas Bros nod was a bit on the niche side. The closing routine was a bit surreal and perhaps overlong for the return, but all the same Mitchell was an interesting act.
The ever impressive Jon Pearson closed the show. Like D’Arcy, he won the room round extremely quickly. Tonight he was trying a few improvements on existing material. This was a case of incremental improvements and everything was good, although the limerick did bear a second reading. There were many nice additions to the routines and it’s good to see a great act continue to hone material.