New Barrack Tavern – Pat Draper, Tom Rackham, Josh Pugh, Sean Percival and Dave Bryon (MC)

Tonight I was at the New Barrack Tavern in Sheffield for the Funhouse comedy night. This involves a trip that is the best part of two hours there and back, but one which is eminently worth it. The pub isn’t a trendy town centre bar, but a proper boozer and as such it has character and this manifests itself in an audience that enjoy comedy. Numbers weren’t as great as they were the last time I was there, but for a Mothering Sunday they were still respectable. The actual performance room is fairly small, so a moderate audience still leads to a decent atmosphere, which was all to the good. This was my first Funhouse gig, where Spiky Mike has been absent. In his place, Dave Bryon was compering.

Bryon began well by asking people what they had bought their mums for mother’s day. This was highly welcome for two reasons. One, it led to the discovery of a chap who had sent an E-card at midday, whom Bryon then ribbed to the delight of the audience and provided some lovely call backs later. Two, it was something different to an MC going around the room and asking people what their names are and what they do for a living. In a room where all but six people have been before, the chances are fair that a lot of the crowd have already been asked this before and some perhaps more than once. However, after the fun with mother’s day, Bryon then went on to ask people what they did for a living, which despite what I’ve said above, still worked well. I like to see other questions asked, as I feel taking a census has become a convention that is ripe for being tinkered with. Bryon had some enjoyable exchanges and as he’s an outgoing person who doesn’t alienate audiences, people were happy to chat to him. I did feel as he may have done a little bit longer than was necessary, as he raised the atmosphere, but then it had dropped a notch when the first act came on. His compering after the first interval was the stronger of the two, as he seemed to come on with a lot more energy and gained good laughs for his chat with a late arrival. On the admin side, Bryon kept things tight with the breaks and kept the night moving nicely.

The opening act was Pat Draper, who had several new bits of material in his set. I really enjoyed these and it is always a joy to watch him on stage. The audience were a bit muted at first, which was odd. The feeling in the room seemed to be one of good will, but it wasn’t a particularly showy good will. He got laughs, but things that on any other night would have got a huge response, just didn’t seem to get the same result, although he did still get 2 applause breaks. By the end of his set the audience were more demonstrative and this was a good performance with a lot of positives.

Resuming after the intermission, we began with Tom Rackham, who made a nice start by referencing the photos of famous comedians on the walls. He then did a short ten set with a mixture of established material and some new sections. I wasn’t too surprised at seeing him do new material as he has a reputation for writing a lot of new stuff. The joke about the jacuzzi received a great reaction, but I did feel his line about owning a hoover deserved more than he received for it. I have seen Rackham gain stronger responses from audiences, but this was still a good performance from a talented up and coming act.

Josh Pugh was next. Rackham and Pugh make a nice pairing as their different styles compliment each other nicely. On the face of it, Pugh’s style would be perfect for a student or arty venue and so it was going to be interesting to see him perform in a northern pub. I was very confident that he would have a good night, because Pugh has mastered the tricky art of doing off beat material with reveals that are totally out of the left field, but which still remains funny and accessible. This proved to be the case, as the room really went for him. Pugh had a splendid night and it is no surprise that both him and Rackham are on Funhouse’s radar.

The closing act was Sean Percival whom I’d seen 3-4 times before I began reviewing. Every time I’ve seen him, Percival has smashed the room. His material is sound, he delivers it with perfect timing, laying nuance in exactly the right spot to gain the best return and he builds up no end of momentum. It was no surprise to see him closing the night and sending everyone off on a high. However, this is a set that is now quite mature and one that I could tick off most of the routines of as he went along – mostly it must be said because a lot are memorably good. It’s fun to watch a room reacting to Percival, but I’d love to see what else he has to offer. The set he has is extremely strong and I’m hoping that his well of creativity can help him to craft more material of the same standard. As closer, he gave the audience a bumper 45 minutes of stand out entertainment and I enjoyed it, as I’ve enjoyed it every time I’ve seen him. Rather unfortunately I was sat in his eye line and him asking me about why I was writing could have derailed his set, which to be fair was my bad for not sitting off centre. As it happened, he used me as a foil for setting up some routines which landed all the better for it.

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