Tonight I was in Sheffield at The Leadmill for a gig that wasn’t really on my radar until Red Redmond dropped me a line and made it so. Beyond a quick visit to their site to book a ticket and hearing that the seats are hard and uncomfortable (sadly true), I had no real idea of what to expect. I was very pleasantly surprised. The room is huge, with a big stage and there were well over 100 people present, mostly students or young enough to pass for them and very well behaved, too. I had been hoping to see Red, or Scarlett hosting the night, but instead we had Steve N Allen on compering duties.
Steve N Allen (MC)
Although you wouldn’t think it to hear him speak, the well dressed Allen hails from my home town of Mansfield. However, in place of the usual Northern accent, he has a cultured voice and crystal clear diction. This stood him in good stead when he was chatting to the crowd in the first section. I really appreciated him asking people for their name and an interesting fact about themselves – this is a definite cut above asking people what they do and where they live. Allen’s examples of his own interesting facts were good, even though there was an element of pull back and reveal in his answers. I enjoyed his chat with the bodybuilder sat at the front and his line about 140 being a nice distance was especially pleasing. For his second and third stints, Allen used more material, and this worked well, with Weinstein being a pretty up to date reference. Allen kept his compering tight during all three segments and this certainly helped the night finish earlier than many midweek shows. This was good compering that helped the show without threatening to dominate it.
I last saw Sutcliffe not too far from the Leadmill, at the Lescar and then I was pleased by his originality. However, tonight, I thought that whilst you perhaps couldn’t guess the exact punchline, if you had a stab at the direction he was heading in, then you were usually right. There were some good lines, like retired, a great running joke and some lovely callbacks. Structurally this was a fine set and Sutcliffe certainly looks interesting visually, with his bushy beard and big hair, but unfortunately his material didn’t really do it for me this time.
Allyson June Smith
We had a change of pace after the intermission with Allyson June Smith, who opened by informing the audience that she was Canadian. This was a shrewd move as it stopped people playing guess the accent and it led into some strong material. Her reaction to having her bag snatched was splendid and well acted out – you could really picture it happening. Smith’s delivery was pretty physical and she was never still for a moment, all of which added to what was a warm and endearing performance. I could have done without the inclusion of ‘still got it’ and ‘tell you a bit more about myself’ as both are overused, but this aside, there were a lot of very nice lines in this set. The routines about names (good room work to tie it in), horror films and the stalker were all well thought out. I was surprised that Kevin didn’t feature in the names routine, as that would have teed it up for a callback later, but never mind. The singing wasn’t really my cup of tea, but that aside, this was a performance that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Closing was Hollins, who came to the stage carrying a guitar. He began with some good local references that quickly brought the room onside. Hollins has a deceptively flamboyant delivery and was a lot more bouncy and cheerful than you’d have expected – I really liked his style. The material was good, too, with cancer being solid and Muslim weather a real beauty. Allyson June Smith had done material on marijuana and this could have hurt Hollins’ routine about it, but as they both took it in different directions the law of diminishing returns did not come into play. There was a lovely throwaway line of ‘look it up’. The better than routine was fun, but I felt that it sat a bit awkwardly with the rest of the set as it really slowed the pace down. To close, Hollins played his guitar, using it to frame short routines and this gave a nicely definitive ending to what had been a good performance.