Bluey’s – Pat Draper, Pete Selwood, Simon Lomas, Brian and Krysstal and Tony Cowards (MC)

Last night I was at Bluey’s in Alfreton for the FaF Comedy night. I like this gig and I like Bluey’s. I never fail to be impressed by just how up for comedy this venue is. The staff go out of their way to look after the acts and the audience always give the performers a lot of love. They are interested in what they have to say and get involved in following the show. This is in marked contrast to a lot of weekend comedy clubs, where 50% of the audience are only there because it is an outing of some sort. It’s also nice to see glasses collected regularly and a curtain across the bar, screening off the comedy area. Little touches like these all add up.

I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that Mr Tony Cowards was our MC for the night. This was for 3 reasons. Prior to walking in I only knew who the headline act was, every other slot was a mystery. Tony is a cracking MC, with a quick fire delivery of puns that builds atmosphere swiftly. And thirdly, by common agreement, he is regarded as one of the nicest people on the circuit (in Edinburgh he organised kick abouts, runs and a litter collection). I was interested in seeing how he would adapt to this gig after his recent Edinburgh Festival run – 105 gigs in front of 4000 people – and the answer was easily. He opened with a brilliant set of puns about blood groups, which I massively appreciated, as did the rest of the audience. From here, it was a case of chatting to people, discovering their jobs and then selecting a joke to match it. Cowards has a great general knowledge, a wide selection of puns and is very skilled in tying all of this together in a way that makes it feel natural. Audiences warm very quickly to a comic who can do this. Tony is a clean comedian; I’ve not heard him swear or tell anything especially blue or questionable, although I’m sure that if he chose, he could do some very nice stuff along these lines. Instead, he concentrates on jokes of a very high order and he isn’t worried about being too clever for the audience to follow. His Picasso and Proctologist jokes both worked very well. In addition to his puns, the highlight was either when he was asked whether Wiltshire ham actually came from Wiltshire – a question that no one expects – or his interaction with a Cockney on the front row. Alfreton is a small (ex) mining town and not the sort of place one would expect to find a Cockney. The football loving Cowards homed in on this chaps’ Spurs shirt and he very quickly painted a convincing portrait of him as a geezer, almost an exile from a Guy Ritchie film. This construct was wonderfully burst amidst big laughs, when the man admitted that instead of being the local king pin, he merely worked for the Co Op. This was very enjoyable compering.

Our opening act was Pat Draper. I’ve seen a lot of Draper this year and that is no bad thing. His style is dead pan, but with enough of a twinkle in his eye for audiences to know that he is very much tongue in cheek. Tonight he showed a lot of small improvements in his material, with, amongst others, an added line after his joke about the erection. This was a set that went down very nicely and for some parts, he received laughs for simply standing there looking at the room. I was impressed with his joke about the yawn. I had seen this first performed on a new material night a couple of months ago, where although raw, it held promise and it is very nice to see that that has been realised. Draper had a good night and received a lot of laughs.

The middle section began with Pete Selwood. As he made his way to the stage and indeed, during his set, he radiated confidence, far more than what one would expect for someone so new to comedy. This is a man with swagger and it isn’t misplaced, either. Selwood gave a very strong performance. He began by addressing a physical issue that he has, which was a clever move, as it dealt with both the issue of people being distracted by it and it also showed that if he can laugh and make light of it, then it is ok for everyone else to laugh during his set. In contrast to some comedians, he didn’t make his set all about this single issue and instead he talked about a variety of topics. I was impressed by his joke about magnums, his proving that his dad was correct about it and then getting a third laugh from this one area as it rolled along very nicely, building impetus. Although facebook and parents is something that is overused, he also had a decent section on it. Selwood wasn’t helped with the microphone cutting out during the set up to his finale, but it was definitely worth the wait for the reveal. This is a comedian who shows a lot of promise.

The next act was Simon Lomas, who was on a technical level the more interesting of the two (laughter wise, the middle section was equally matched). His appearance, unlike Selwood, doesn’t inspire confidence. He initially gives the room the impression that there was a clerical error when he was booked and that somewhere else there is a comedian taking his place in an Alan Bennett play. However, this is all a very clever construct that Lomas makes a lot of capital from. Rather than try to engage with the audience, he is deliberately aloof, staring off to one side throughout his performance, which given his intentional awkwardness, works wonders for his delivery. I was further impressed by his ability to make the most of a silence. If a comedian can get a laugh during the spaces between jokes, then he is doing very well. Lomas’ material involves him setting up an implausible scenario, some misdirection and then a wonderfully offbeat reveal. This went down a storm. Apart from the Xbox, where I got there just before he did, I had no idea what the reveal would be on any of them. My only (slight) criticism of this set was that Lomas broke out of his fixed position where he was staring off into the middle distance to one side of the room, 3-4 times to check either the time or his hand for material. I felt that this very slightly weakened the impact of what he was doing, but in truth, I was probably the only person who noticed. However, considering that Selwood has a good gag about not being able to write material on his left hand and that these two often gig together, I shouldn’t be surprised if there isn’t room for a very strong callback to be fitted in here. This was a set that was splendidly different and very funny.

The closing act was Brian Damage and Krysstal. I’ve never seen this duo have a bad night and very soon they were hoovering up laughs. Brian is a master of sarcastic and disparaging asides and Krysstal manages to play being 2 stages detached from proceedings very well. I think it is easy to overlook the strength of their material in the sheer joy of watching them deliver it. The manner in which Brian looms over the audience, looking slightly rum during the penultimate song really sells it, as does Krysstal’s looks of disgust to his advances. As ever, they gave a cracking performance.

Half Moon Inn -Tom King, Rob Kemp, Thomas Rackham, Andy Woolston, Hannah Silvester, Ben Briggs and Pete Phillipson (MC)

What happens if you have a pub that wants to hold a comedy night and then doesn’t follow the advice of the promoter? Instead, they make it a free comedy night on a bank holiday Sunday and have an audience that is dominated by a large party that have been drinking since midday. The answer is an uphill struggle.

Although this was a challenging gig, it wasn’t down to bad management by NCF – they had given a lot of good sensible advice. It wasn’t down to the acts as everyone did their best. The fault was down to people simply drinking too much and not giving the comedians the chance to entertain them.

It’s ironic, as this could have been a nice night. The line up was decent, the promoter runs great gigs and whilst the room didn’t have that good a layout for comedy, NCF had definitely made the best of it. However, the real problem was the audience, not all of them, but there was a large group, sat right at the front, that were very much a unit and who dominated proceedings. Whilst they are probably all sound when sober and nice individually when drunk, taken together they made this gig pretty much unplayable. Right from the beginning, our MC, Pete Phillipson, would have his hands full.

Phillipson began his compering by doing the rules, explaining that the audience weren’t to talk whilst the acts were on, but to talk to him, instead. He worked hard to impose his authority, but frankly it was a bit like watching a man shouting at a car that won’t start. This was no fault of Phillipson, it was just down to a crowd that didn’t want to be quiet and I don’t believe that any other compere would have managed to get a better result. He did some room work and then material, which went down well and then once he had got the room as settled as it would ever be, he brought on the first act. For his second stint, Phillipson concentrated on material and this went down very, very well. His skill with accents added a lot of life to this and the fact that the material was relatable without inviting shout outs helped a lot. He received good laughs for this and it was lovely to see him doing well – this was how the night should have been.

Our opening act was Tom King, who is consistently strong and reliable and was probably the best choice to go on point duty. He began nicely with some banter, accepted a free Jaegerbomb and then went into material. Despite getting some very nice material out (Elephant man was good), the audience remained talkative, wanting to join in. This came to the fore when he began to discuss comments from doctors, at which point the audience mistook a rhetorical question about giving a sample for a chance to have a free for all with suggestions as to what reason someone may have given a sample. The consensus was aids and to pretty much everything Tom said afterwards, some ‘helpful’ person would shout out ‘aids’. King riffed with this, as he could see which way the wind was blowing and in truth he did build up some impetus with it, but it was still like watching a man drown with the audience pushing him back under every time he tried to make something of the night.

Next into the mill was Rob Kemp, or the Angry Monkey, as someone in the audience christened him. He followed the mood of the room by asking for a cheer if you have aids, which brought him some goodwill, but unfortunately didn’t help settle a room that was probably beyond settling at this point. I’ve not seen Kemp in a long time and so I was especially looking forwards to seeing what new material he had. As it happens, I didn’t find out, because every time he began to get into a set up, the audience played up, although his Nuremburg reference went over a lot of people’s heads, which was no fault of his. Largely abandoning his set, Kemp went with the flow and bantered with them, looking at a tobacco tin that was passed up for his perusal and gaining laughs for pointing out fictional spelling mistakes. Not something you see on Live at the Apollo, I’ll grant, but under the circumstances, it went down very well. Kemp discovered that the more he insulted the room, the more they liked him and several told him so during the intermission. I will never understand how a room that can completely derail a person’s set to this point will then go and thank him and tell him how good he was when they never actually got chance to see just how good he could have been.

The recently wed Thomas Rackham opened the second session. He began by discussing drink, which is decent material, but was too subtle for a drunken crowd. However, he scored a good hit with his section on beetroot juice. It was at this point, though, that the audience’s attention evaporated and he struggled to get material out. His comments about bunting, merely starting a conversation about what it was. Instead, Rackham bantered successfully and although, like everyone else, he didn’t have their full attention, his charming manner kept them very much onside as he counted down the minutes of his set and he resisted attempts to get him to sing Bohemian Rhapsody.

Andy Woolston was next and unfortunately owing to the crowd he also struggled to maintain his authority. He did gain some when he did a section about building dens, but it always felt fragile and his line about is this actually real just led to calls for him to sing Bohemian Rhapsody. I felt that there was a set trying to get out, but every time he began to try to set something up, the drunken audience just shouted out something inconsequential and robbed him of a chance to entertain them.

In contrast, Hannah Silvester was the only person to get a gig out of this show. She simply climbed onto the stage and put her head down, launching into her set, largely ignoring the shout outs. Very quickly she was receiving good laughs and building momentum, which was no mean feat. Although the audience largely treated her with respect, she was the recipient of some bizarre shout outs that were totally inexplicable. Silvester had a good time and ended on a high with a song.

After a brief intermission and then some extra time out due to various circumstances the gig ended with the headliner, Ben Briggs. He began strongly by making some honest comments about the audience, the district and how happy he was to be there, all delivered with enough of a grin to keep everyone with him. From here he began to go into some material about old age and misery, but before he could make any real headway, he was receiving shout outs. At this point, Briggs went into attack mode and this was beautiful to see. He came out with the priceless line that this gig was like walking through the hospital in ‘One flew over the Cuckoo’s nest’, which gained a huge laugh from audience and comedians alike. From this he then worked his way through the audience insulting people as he announced how many minutes were left until he could go home. This took a lot of guts, but to do it, make people laugh and to hold the room for twenty minutes took intelligence and chutzpah and Briggs pulled this off mightily. The more he insulted people the more the audience lapped it up, getting an applause break for a knock-knock joke that temporarily silenced one chap. Even a bizarre heckle about how many fingers people find never made him lose his impetus. At the end of this wonderfully insult laden performance, Briggs announced that although him and the audience had started off on the wrong foot, he was now sure he had brought them round. This resulted in a massive laugh, a lot of applause and a small standing ovation. This was a remarkable performance by Briggs who broke a lot of the rules of comedy and pulled it off handsomely.

Emily Lloyd Saini – Is this part of the Show?

For my last show of the fringe I chose to see Emily Lloyd Saini’s Is this part of the show? (Cabaret Voltaire 20:30). I chose this one because the title sounded delightfully scatterbrained and this appealed to me. The show is located in a sauna at the bottom of a maze and with the possible exception of The Staff Room at the Free Sisters, it is the smallest performance area I’ve been in. Emily LS, who should probably change her photo on the EdFringe site, as it shows none of her warmth and charm, was very considerate in pointing out how hot the room would get and after appointing a monitor to waft some cold air in via the door curtain, advised people to get something to drink.

Lloyd Saini began the show by pointing out that the format would be music and songs, which set up a nice piece of misdirection, the first of a couple of these. From here, she moved into the narrative arc of the show, which was her young belief that she was being filmed and her mugging to the camera whenever there was a mishap. This show was technically sound, with callbacks and surprise reveals. It included some great stories, such as the tattoo; but the ones that struck home the hardest were the hot wax, where her acting out the reveal pretty much took the roof off and the two closing routines, which weren’t that far behind in creating laughter. In fact one youth ended up doubled up laughing and then as Emily’s words of comfort to him made him laugh again, he ended up spitting his drink out, which just made everyone else start laughing again. The only story that I felt had a predictable reveal was the list of shows, which would have been hard to do any other way and this received a laugh, all the same. Despite the horrible noise bleed there was constant laughter.

Emily LS performs her show with glee and sparkle and everyone warmed to her within the first millisecond. She has bags of charm and is one of those people who don’t look as if they should swear. This meant that every time she did swear it was automatically humorous, even before she began going into her material. In addition, like Barry Dodds, she thinks aloud and this means that all of the little asides were audible. These added to the feel of intimacy of this show and as ad libs go, they were all pretty decent. I’ve a suspicion that Lloyd Saini is one of those people persons, for whom one’s time passes quickly when you are in their company. When she is performing this little gem of a show, time flies extremely enjoyably and this is an hour well spent.

Edinburgh – twelve shows to see and why

I’ve enjoyed being in Edinburgh and whilst a week isn’t nearly enough to see everything, I’ve had a great time and I’ve even managed to resist the urge to shout at pretentious street performers. It’s a shame that a lot of shows start and end on the hour, as this makes it very difficult to get out of one and then get into the next one before all of the seats are gone or the show is in full swing. I’d be in favour of more of the times being staggered. Also, the noise bleed in a lot venues is appalling, especially the tent at the Free Sisters, where comics seem to have to work hard just to compete with the noise. I was going to do a list of ten shows to see, but I’m damned if I can whittle it down to ten, so instead in no particular order, here are twelve shows to see and why:

Kev’s Komedy Kitchen – this is a superb show and the best thing I’ve seen up here. It’s hilarious, see it, tell your friends to see it, but don’t miss it. I loved it.

https://nottscomedyreview.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/kevs-komedy-kitchen/

Doug Segal: I can make you feel good – magic, mind reading and comedy. This is different and good fun and a great show.

https://nottscomedyreview.wordpress.com/2016/08/16/doug-segal-i-can-make-you-feel-good/

Peter Brush: Dreams with advert breaks – supremely well written and very, very clever.

https://nottscomedyreview.wordpress.com/2016/08/16/peter-brush-dreams-with-advert-breaks/

Thomas Green: That’ll Teach You – a great performance, good material and all round fun.

https://nottscomedyreview.wordpress.com/2016/08/17/thomas-green-thatll-teach-em/

Scarlet SoHandsome and Fiends: a combination of great audience work and material.

https://nottscomedyreview.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/scarlet-sohandsome-and-fiends-also-feat-declan-kennedy/

Geoff Norcott: Conswervative – well written, well delivered and very enjoyable

https://nottscomedyreview.wordpress.com/2016/08/17/geoff-norcott-conswervative/

Tony Cowards: Daft Pun – great one-liners from someone who should be more famous than he is.

https://nottscomedyreview.wordpress.com/2016/08/18/tony-cowards-daft-pun/

Robyn Perkins: (is a) work in progress – lots of charm and fun

https://nottscomedyreview.wordpress.com/2016/08/16/robyn-perkins-is-a-work-in-progress/

Roger Swift: Punderstudy – it’s silly, it’s daft but it is also gloriously funny.

https://nottscomedyreview.wordpress.com/2016/08/15/roger-swift-punderstudy/

Hell to Play: a panel show that has a real spectacle feel about it

https://nottscomedyreview.wordpress.com/2016/08/20/hell-to-play-the-bad-taste-comedy-game-show/

Jay Islaam: Travels with Autism – for a show that is less about the comedy than it is about the tale, this is still very funny.

https://nottscomedyreview.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/jay-islaam-travels-with-autism/

Emily Lloyd Saint: Is this part of the show? A little bit quirky and different, with plenty of laughs.

https://nottscomedyreview.wordpress.com/2016/08/21/emily-lloyd-saini-is-this-part-of-the-show/

Fat Head and Big Dog – Dave Elliott and Aaron McCann

My show this morning was Fat Head and the Big Dog (Newsroom 11.05), which had a title that gave nothing away. The actual format of the show was two comedians from Northern Ireland, Dave Elliott (Big Dog) and Aaron McCann (Fat Head), who took turns to do their set. I quite like arrangements like this, as it can be hard for up and coming comedians to fill an entire hour without resorting to padding. It also keeps the show fresh when there are two differing styles in play. Initially there was no atmosphere, but that was due to the early time spot. The venue is a cellar and whilst it could have been anytime outside, I think it still felt a bit unnatural to be watching comedy just before dinner and this explained why it took a while for the audience to relax into the show.

The softly spoken Elliott opened with a couple of timely observations from the Fringe. Whilst I could readily sympathise with wanting to chin a pretentious southerner, it was the story of the homeless lady that got the bigger laugh of the pair. This made for a decent enough opening, but chatting with the audience for a bit would have helped them engage more with the show at this early stage, as the atmosphere was still a bit flat and disconnected. This probably explained why the first routine (girls) didn’t strike home as well as it might have done under other circumstances. However, after the audience had warmed up a bit, this set went along very nicely. The story about him playing a game with his mum and her wonderfully over the top threat was delivered well and received a big laugh. The pie had a long set up, but worked out nice in the end and parents as friends was also good. The final routine was a bit of a strange one. The set up was quite involved, but the reveal, whilst it got a good laugh, felt a bit low powered and I think he could have perhaps made more out of it. This set suffered a bit from the atmosphere, but it had some nice subtle lines and was delivered well.

Aaron McClean, took full advantage of the warmed up room when he launched into his set. He began with talking about his mum and facebook. Whilst parents and social media is a well used trope, he still managed to get some mileage out of it, which was nice to see. He was definitely on better ground, though, when discussing a gorilla and facebook comments. His line about Dr Doolittle was great and the follow up really raised the laughter levels. This was followed by a good routine about remembering names and the momentum continued to build until we reached the end of his set. McCann delivers his material with energy and managed to build up a lot of impetus during his set.

This show featured two comics, of differing styles and whilst the time slot wasn’t to their advantage they both provided good entertainment.

Superhero Secret Origins: Special Edition – Andrew Roper

I went to see Andrew Roper’s Superhero Secret Origins: Special Edition (Bar 50, 20:30) because it sounded different and I felt that with having seen a fair few films I’d get all of the references (in marked contrast to a show I saw the other day). Beyond the title, I had no knowledge about the show and my preconception was that it would be a show poking fun at people being bitten by radioactive spiders, caught in atomic bomb tests or seeing their parents bumped off after walking down a mugger infested alley. Instead it was part stand up and part lecture about the real world origin, as opposed to the fictional inception of a superhero. There are different superheroes being discussed each night, but tonight it was Wonder Woman. This is a very timely show, as not only is it riding on the crest of a surge of interest in this genre, but also there is a new Wonder Woman film coming out next year.

To begin with, Roper discussed the casual misogyny contained within the early comics, showing how Wonder Woman was given the role of Secretary to the Justice League. However, he then placed this in context and it began to be seen as something more progressive. Roper then discussed the amazing amount of times WW ended up in chains, or roped up, pointing out how suggestive this all looked, before again providing the context of women breaking the chains of society. We then had a look at how WW had evolved in sartorial style and as a superhero through the ages, showing the ups of her shorts and the downs of her powers. This was then followed by a very entertaining section on female superheroes and their fates (fridging) and the contrast in how male characters are drawn, showing how ridiculous a lot of the poses are.

Probably the most interesting section was the talk about the inventor of WW, William Marston, who had an unusual domestic arrangement, featuring two and then three women in the same relationship, all of whom had influence upon the direction that WW took. Marston appears as the sort of cove for whom the internet was invented all too late, but if it had been invented sooner, then he would probably never have left his room and this production wouldn’t have been possible.

This show was certainly something different. There was no banter, no real routines, but instead the laughter came from the idiosyncrasies of the subject matter itself, with Roper pointing out the various ironies. It was highly accessible as opposed to niche and nerdish and with the exception of having to talk over some of the louder bits of music (as opposed to the theme tunes), well delivered. It erred on the side of informative over comedy, but that is just the sort of show it was and it’s unfair to criticise it on that ground. I’m glad I saw it and I’d certainly see any of the other secret origins stories.

Knock Knock – Damian Kingsley

I was interested in seeing Damian Kingsley’s show, Knock Knock (Bar 50 15:30), because I’ve heard a lot about his charity work. He has travelled from Lands End to Edinburgh, performing gigs all of the way, to raise money for the Homeless. Despite knowing many people who have supported him at these shows, none had been convenient for me to see, so I was in the position of having heard all about his show, but not having the faintest idea as to the content.

It began with a short video playing once everyone was seated, including the corporate ladies who had to sit on the floor at the front as he ran out of chairs. Unfortunately the acoustics weren’t great and so it wasn’t easy to hear all of the words of this video, but the general tone could be made out, which was useful.

Kinglsey, who is a relaxed and genial comic, started with a bit of room work, asking the usual questions and bouncing back from the answers. This included some nice lines about previous gigs, such as the philosophy student. He then explained the premise of his show, which sounded bleak. However, rather than dwelling upon his misfortune and the worst of the effects of this, he gave us a congenial show full of anecdotes and stories. These were of a good standard; the delayed laughter in response to the Tennents line showed who was fully awake and who had to think a bit more about the reference, the email from a friend was fun and although loyalty card went over a few peoples’ heads at first, this was another good line.

I wasn’t that keen on Kingsley pointing out his dodgy childhood haircut on an old photo, as this felt a bit pedestrian and is done with almost any photo more than ten years old. I was very interested in his material on relationships being like a computer game and I feel that he could have developed this more, as there is a lot of mileage in this notion. The highlight was his big finale, which was the tale of his ex, his father and the stone that went in her ring. This was a splendid story that drew everyone in and made for a satisfying climax to the show. Although there weren’t a lot of huge laughs, this was a show where there was regular laughter and it made for a consistently amiable and pleasant hour.

I came, I saw, I complained – Alex Hylton

Although I’m trying to see comedian’s whom I haven’t seen before, I’ve no objection to going to shows of people whom I have a lot of confidence in, provided I’m not double-booked. Alex Hylton, who is promising to be a very good comedian, falls into this category. His show, I came, I saw, I complained (Mash House 14:20), looked interesting. Not many people can keep a Galea company in Edinburgh and still keep their integrity – Hylton manages to do this without looking like an arts type on a gap year. Possibly because it was a Saturday, perhaps it was due to people wanting to get out of the rain or maybe he is an excellent flyerer, but this was a show that was sold out. His room probably holds 70 people or so and the venue staff had to turn 20 people away, promising those with tickets either a refund or that they could go tomorrow. It’s nice to be in a well attended gig, as the atmosphere can be electric and I counted myself very lucky to get in.

Hylton, who (slightly disappointingly) didn’t perform wearing the Roman helmet, began with a few quick jokes to get the audience onboard. At this point, he did a bit of a double take at the front row and asked an audience member how old they were. It transpired that they were 11. Hylton pointed out in a bemused tone that it was a 14+ show, which got a nice laugh. After confirming that they would be ok with any language used, we resumed.

The narrative arc to this show ias Hylton’s journey, literally and metaphorically. He had material on literal journeys, such as his car being like a woman, which is a bit of a well used trope (the Betty breaking down line was both funny and clever) and a far stronger story about why he is banned from Virgin trains. This last tale was gripping and drew everyone into it. There were a number of pleasant side stories that he explored before returning to his journey, such as the tale of Britain First coming to Leicester, although not everyone got the irony straight away. The Too Easy material was very good and resulted in a nice applause break and later call back. The running gag of announcing his name was nice and well pitched with him not tearing the arse out of it. Hylton’s final story, that of his work with Lad Bible and how he dealt with a troll started off slowly. His description of Lad Bible and how regressive it is was perhaps a bit heavy handed, but the call back to Too Easy was good and the story of how he was avenged upon the troll was more than worth the build up. The only aspect that I wasn’t too keen on was him telling us that he was not a manly man, as this is getting to be almost an endemic line. However, this did set up a great routine and there was a good twist on Dodgeball.

Hylton ended by discussing the metaphoric journey of how he has successfully followed his dream and performed a show in Edinburgh and encouraged everyone present to follow their dreams, which made for an upbeat ending to the show. This was a packed out performance that was very satisfying and contained more than enough laughs to justify attending.

Puppet Fiction

This morning I’ve been to see Puppet Fiction (Newsroom, Noon). I was a bit concerned about whether or not they would have an audience, as the venue is located at an awkward distance away from the schwerpunkt of the festival. However, I needn’t have worried, as the Newsroom cellar was packed to bursting, with probably more people than could comfortably obtain a good view of the action. This explains why a lot of people at the back left before the performance started. For a show where the main selling point is the recreation of a cinematic masterpiece through the actions of marionettes it is an appalling venue. There is a 3′ wide pillar right in the middle of the room, with chairs arranged to each side of it. However, this pillar, which has all of the imperviousness of the Great Wall of China and seems just as huge, dominates the cellar and I’d estimate that whilst 40% of the audience had a good view, 50% had an iffy view and 10% no view. I was in the 10% who could see sod all.

However, not being able to see the marionettes in action wasn’t a total disaster. This is a film I’m familiar with and the real entertainment isn’t actually in the 15” high dolls doing their thing. Instead it is in the performances of Jon Coddington, Anya Tate-Manning and James Nokise. Dressed in the suits of Reservoir Dogs (or at least the one whom I could see ¼ of was), as a shorthand for Tarantino, these three created the first part of Pulp Fiction (the latter parts are in later performances). All of the famous lines were delivered well. However, what made this show so enjoyable and where the biggest laughs were had, was in the ad libs, cross cultural references to other films such as Grease and Die Hard and when they broke the 4th wall. Someone had, amazingly, got a signal and their phone beeped as they received a text. This was incorporated into the show without anyone missing a beat, before they went back to Butch talking to his wife. The monologue concerning the watch dragged a bit and would have benefited from more laughs, but that was the only section where this was an issue.

Although I couldn’t see the actual marionettes in action and for me it was like listening to a show on the wireless, everything was amply described and just by sitting and concentrate on what was being said I had a good time. This show is fun and well realised, but could do with a better venue to get everything out of it.

Hell to Play, the bad taste comedy game show

Being on at 22:20, Hell to Play, the bad taste comedy game show (Liquid Room Annexe) is timed to give people enough time to get there from other shows without having to rush, as all too often one show finishes on the hour and another starts simultaneously, making life awkward. However, this was far from the only attraction that this show has to offer. The concept itself is sound. The idea is that two comics in purgatory are put on the spot, having to ad lib answers during various rounds involving things that leave a bad taste. Whilst the level of bad taste wasn’t quite set in the gutter, the topics for each round were enough to be in keeping with the theme of the show.

The performers were all excellent. Alexander Bennett, with his flowing locks and dapper dressing was a convincing Satan and his polished execution of this role played a large part in making this show. It was also true that the devil did get all of the best lines. Paul Savage was something of a revelation. In a lot of ways he didn’t have a lot to do and the number of lines he had could probably have been written on a postcard. However, where he scored big was in the little touches that he added, such as playing, in context, Hitler as a cross between Woody Allen and Jackie Mason, the totally despondent wilting of his body during psychological buckeroo and his slimy Coulson. A lot of what he did was subtle, but every little thing mounted up. The only character that I thought needed more was Princess Diana (Andy Burr); a few subtle extras here would have been nice. Joe Hart had a good show. His characterisations, whilst broadly drawn, were instantly relatable and his superb accents added a lot to them. His cocky Chad Jockerson strongly reminded me of Darius Jedburgh in the early episodes of Edge of Darkness and the saluting and conducting of an invisible brass band whilst playing Peter Wright added a lot to the feel of this show. The inclusion of Peter Wright and the Hillsborough cover up reference served as a nice introduction into police malfeasance, which whilst somewhat niche, didn’t feel out of place.

With a format and performances as strong as this, the actual contestants are less crucial than on other game shows. Tonight we had Kiri Pritchard-Mclean and Rachel Fairburn and whilst they were a bit constricted with what they had to do, both were entertaining throughout the show.

This was the first show I’ve been in that felt like it was an event; it was almost comedy meeting rock and roll, or at least Iron Maiden, going with the ambient music. The lighting, the size of the venue, the height of the stage and the performances given, all contributed towards this being raised into something that had an element of spectacle about it. In a small room, this show would be good, but something of a curio. In the big venue and with a full house this would be a show with a massive atmosphere. It is definitely something with an element of razzmatazz about it.