New Barrack Tavern – Morgan Rees, Freddie Farrell, Anthony King and Stevie Gray (MC)

Tonight I had an appalling time getting to the Funhouse gig at the New Barrack Tavern in Sheffield. I seemed to repeatedly get stuck behind people content to tootle along at 35mph in a 50 zone, with no chance of overtaking them. This was followed by the sort of mistake that only a nincompoop could make and that is somehow missing an entire ruddy motorway junction – yes, seriously. I wanted to come off at J33, but somehow convinced myself it was further up north than what it was and so went back to watching the cars around me and it came as quite a shock when I saw a sign for J34. The fact that this same thing happened the first time I went to the New Barrack Tavern didn’t make me feel any better, although it does help me understand why my wife thinks I shouldn’t be allowed out unsupervised. The end result of all of this was that I arrived late for the gig. Many comedy nights have a start time that is less a mission statement and more like a snooze button. However, tonight Stevie Gray and the landlord had started the night promptly on time, highly admirable, if only slightly inconvenient personally. As the door to the performance area was closed, I was unwilling to go in and interrupt the opening act (Harriet Dyer), as I find it unfair on the acts, something borne out 5 minutes later by 3 people who did bimble in, spoiling the set up of a joke. I was pretty gutted to miss Dyer’s set, because from the huge amount of laughter I could hear it was obvious that she was taking the place to pieces. These were laughs on the scale of someone headlining a gig where everyone had done well, rather than of an opener. Luckily after the first intermission I was able to enter, apologise and watch the rest of the show. Our compere was Stevie Gray.

I was especially interested in seeing Gray compere. I’ve found him to be a very personable comedian, whose crowd pleasing eclectic approach draws audiences in. Naturally, I wanted to see how this translated to the duties of an MC. Gray looked as if he was feeling the Christmas spirit, resplendent in a Santa Claus hoodie and trademark flat cap (for which he was heckled by the landlord, who has a great turn of phrase), he pulled Christmas crackers with the audience and had them put the hat on and tell a joke. As a way of getting people involved in the night, this was seasonal and also a nice touch. Considering that there looks to be a loyal crowd in this pub, it is probably far better than asking people what they do for a living, as the odds are it won’t be the first or even second time they’ve been asked. The cracker stunt was followed by a short piece of material that kept the energy levels up and then there was a version of the 12 days of Christmas, which shows promise and also helped everyone buy into the fun spirit of the night. I enjoyed watch Gray compere and I’ve a feeling that the more he does of it, the better he’ll get. He was also very good at the admin side of the night, doing the email list, asking the acts if they wanted introducing in a particular way and all of the little things that just helped it run smoothly.

Morgan Rees opened the middle section, speaking slowly and clearly during his low energy set. He utilised quite a few fairly short routines and was rewarded with a lot of small consistent laughs throughout. The closest he came to a knock out joke was with a rapper, for which he received an applause break. I personally preferred the ‘stepped on’ reveal, as I felt that that built more. This was an enjoyable performance, but he may have benefited from having a bigger closing routine, as the ending felt a bit abbreviated.

Next was the relaxed looking Freddie Farrell, whom I’d not seen since the Teknicolor Smoof Christmas gig last year. I’d been looking forwards to seeing Farrell, as when one doesn’t see an act for a year or so, you get quite curious about what new material they have been working on. Farrell began with established material and continued with more of his regular set for a while, getting strong laughs. It’s cracking material and went down a treat, but I was pleased when he began with newer stuff, so that I could see how he was progressing. I thoroughly enjoyed the more recent material, it is very good and what made it more so was Farrell’s delivery. He was totally at ease on stage and looked as if he was having fun along with everyone else in the room. This was a very congenial performance.

Closing was Anthony King, who reminded me of an older version of Stu Woodings. His format was to do a few jokes/short stories and to then sing a short love song and this made for a change of pace. I’m not a fan of musical comedians, but short songs I do like and King has a very good singing voice, which helps. There were a lot of very nice elements to this set, speed bumps was a wonderful short routine and Lady Jane Grey was a splendidly clever gag and ‘Loves me not’ which received an applause break. Having the audience join in on the death song was a lovely touch and this song was a definite stand out. I did feel, though, that favourite kid and Christmas parties for the self-employed, are both fairly well travelled tropes, although I did enjoy how much further King took his routine about working alone and this was a nicely novel twist. This was a skilfully delivered set, that was possibly a touch understated in tone, but no less entertaining for it.

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