The Oaktree – Jack Topher, Simon Lomas, Alex Love, Danny Deegan, Barry Dodds and Stevie Gray (MC)

Tonight I was at a gig 2 minutes or so from my house, which makes for a lovely change. This was the new Funhouse gig at The Oaktree in Mansfield. As an opening night, numbers were small, but what the venue lacked in volume, it made up for in intimacy. Our compere for the night was Stevie Gray.

Gray put a lot of effort into making the night a success. He welcomed the audience, chatted with them before the gig, during the intermissions and afterwards, making everyone feel at home. He also began the night on time and kept the breaks under control ensuring that everyone got home at a very reasonable time. With his powerful voice, Gray didn’t really need a microphone and he mixed room work with material, drawing everyone into the show. I was particularly pleased to see him do the Pirate Song, as that always adds a lot to the atmosphere and there was an unexpected pleasure to this when the chap he picked was Craig, an old school friend of mine. Gray explained how the night would work, did the rules and remained a thoroughly affable MC throughout the night and all with no Kazoo in sight.

The opening act was Jack Topher, who although inexperienced, has funny bones. He made a bit of a quiet start and I think that this was largely due to the change in pace from Gray’s room work to his doing material, but before long he was getting laughs. Not everything landed as well as it usually does – jokes that I’ve previously seen do well seemed to score lower tonight; for example, ‘how religion started’ went over a lot of heads at first. As ever there was a nice time lag between the reveal of a pun about his brother and the audience twigging on. It’s good to see Topher gigging more frequently.

Some people look like jokers, others look as if they are purveyors of deep and meaningful poetry and this makes Simon Lomas the clickbait of comedy – he gets on stage and you simply won’t believe what happens next. He performs his set with his body facing right of the audience, with wonderfully slow pacing and fantastic timing on the pauses. Lomas is compelling viewing and he held the room masterfully. This performance was a mix of existing and new material and he hoovered up a lot of laughs. Chicken pox is a work in progress, but everything else was top notch. I’ve already tipped Lomas as a comedian who will have a very progressive year and this has confirmed my opinion that he is going to go far.

The relaxed looking Alex Love began with a joke about his appearance and then a string of three puns before moving onto short routines. Love delivered his material directly to the audience, at times addressing individual audience members. This helped to make his material look more like room work than actual material and he got a fair amount of laughs for this. However, despite a bubbly delivery, there was no one moment that really stood out and he would have benefited from a big climatic gag.

The impressive Danny Deegan was next, trialling a new arrangement of some existing material; seeing how part of his Edinburgh show worked as a ten spot. It is a work in progress and needs something at about the halfway mark to add to the humour. As it stands 60 seconds was a great line and the final reveal was very good. After Deegan had finished the new material he spent a couple of minutes chatting with the room and came out with some excellent ad-libs. These were great and just had the effect of making me wish he gigged around here more often.

Barry Dodds, with his cherubic face, closed the night. Dodds is a rock solid act whom I’d love to see on telly. Tonight he moved seemlessy from banter into material and although I only saw him last Friday, he delivered largely the same set with a freshness that made it feel almost spontaneous. Barry also demonstrated great adaptability in reworking his routines in the face of things that the audience had to say and the result of all of this was that he went down a treat. There was one moment that could have been awkward and this was where a chap in the audience ambushed him with an anecdote by way of reply to a largely confirmatory question, but luckily Dodds was wise enough not to cut the fellow down as this would have been very much against the mood of the room. I’ve got a lot of time for Dodds, he’s a fantastic act.

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