Belper – The Cross Keys: Tony Cowards, Becki Farrell, Lyra May, Will Mars (Edinburgh Preview) and James Wallace (MC)

Tonight I had a trip to Belper to James Wallace’s comedy night at the Cross Keys. This is a very nice pub, with the stage in the main room, to the left of the door as you come in. It’s not a huge room, but this lends it an intimate feel that is more than pleasant. Usually main room gigs are difficult to play, but the pub was only open for the comedy, so everyone who was there was invested in the show. The star of the audience was a lad called Jamie, who has Asperger’s. The effects of this manifested itself in him saying whatever he was thinking without a filter, but as he is a good egg, this was nice and never unpleasant. Before he went home, his occasional interjections were a bonus for James and Tony and his early leaving ensured that his presence didn’t dominate the evening. Numbers weren’t great, which made it trickier to build up the energy, but with a few more people there this gig would become a real belter.

James Wallace (MC)

Wallace had the hardest task of the night and is inbetween a rock and a hard place compering this gig. He has a residency, which means that his existing material gets used at a fast pace and also, he knew everyone present very well, which meant that working the audience was incredibly difficult, because there can’t be many things he can ask them that he doesn’t already know. The combination of these facets doesn’t give him a lot of room to manoeuvrer. He could perhaps square this circle by adding some topical elements to his material. Not so much the big stories in the news, but the quirky oddball stories that not many people are aware of. These may give him another string to his bow. Also he may benefit from doing the odd stunt to get everyone’s attention and build up the energy levels. One thing that I did note was that Wallace didn’t get the respect that he deserved as MC from his friends and this may be because they see him more as their friend being on stage and not as the compere, per se. Perhaps if he were to dress in a shirt and tie so as to show an obvious difference to usual it may help in this. Another thing that might benefit him, is if he were to stop running himself down whilst he’s on stage. Wallace’s comments about him ‘talking some shit’ or that ‘we’ll get some actual funny people on’ undervalued the good work that he was doing. There was some good material present, such as the one-liners and a very promising story about his appearance on TV, which would benefit if it were edited down for pace. Wallace was amiable, friendly and relaxed. With a few small changes he will be a stronger compere.

Tony Cowards

Cowards mixed established material, room work and new material. He opened with a solid joke to prove that he was very funny and never let up from there. This was a relaxed set, with Tony working well with Jamie, the chap with Asperger’s, even halting the show whilst he went to the loo and singing some hold music, before resuming. The callback to Wallace’s compering was good and it was nice to see him ask about Belper with genuine interest in a new location. What impressed me the most about Cowards tonight, apart from the writing and delivery, which he is superb at, was his affability. He managed to play the audience like a finely tuned piano, asking them questions and then riffing off of the replies into jokes without a pause for thought. This gave his performance a wonderfully fluid feel and watching someone do this without ever looking off balance or even being momentarily stumped is incredibly powerful. It requires a lot of skill and mental dexterity to pull it off so well. Having people pick numbers for the new material was a great way of ensuring that everyone was invested in that element. This was a very enjoyable set to watch.

Becki Farrell

We resumed after the intermission with Beckie Farrell, who was on her second ever gig. Naturally, as you’d expect, she is far from the finished article, but Farrell certainly has potential. Beginning with the debit side, it did take her a while to get to the first laugh and she’d probably benefit from saying something funny a little bit earlier in her performance as this would establish her credentials with the audience and encourage them to stay with her for the later, deeper, material. The neutral side: Her voice rose and fell, which whilst that kept everyone listening far more than a monotone, did lay the emphasis in odd unexpected places in sentences. On one level, this felt odd, but I think, given time, that it may actually work in her favour, as it is unique. Also, I’ve no problem with someone so new working from notes, or people doing new material from notes, but it may be better if Farrell were to drag a table over to the mic stand so that she only has to look down, or perhaps to write the odd note on the back of her hand, as her popping to the far side of the stage did hurt her building momentum, but that’s not the end of the world. The ginger material is good for a few quick laughs, but at the moment it’s not really anything different to what any other ginger comedian is saying (Alistair Beckett-King has some really in-depth stuff on being ginger), but until Farrell has had a few more gigs and developed her material further, I’d suggest keeping this as it is accessible and will still generate laughs. On the positive side: Farrell has a good mic technique already, which is unusual in so new an act, but even better, she has some refreshingly different things to talk about to a lot of other acts. The mainstay of her material was interesting and had a certain depth that is streets ahead of the vast majority of people on their second gig. For a second gig this was very good and I’ll be interested to see how Farrell develops.

Lyra May

Next was the low energy Gothic Lyra May who opened with a few lines of a Katy Perry song. May was a frustrating act to watch. She had some very nice ideas, Zombie boyfriend, being a weirdo magnet and Tenby. All of these were interesting premises which she could have taken in a number of directions, but all of which suffered from her consistently choosing to go for crude shock reveals. This could have been much improved by her adding nuance, or even after five minutes of this, something a little different, as very quickly you found that you could guess the direction in which she’d take the reveal. The haiku was good, but May could probably have cashed out after the first line, as everyone had gotten the joke from that and the rest just ate up time that she could have devoted to the next joke. This was a performance that would be a lot stronger if there was a bit of a rethink regarding the reveals.

Will Mars – Candid Cafe, Edinburgh Preview

Headlining was Will Mars, who was previewing his Edinburgh show, Candid Cafe. I saw Mars not too long ago and he had been very good then, so I was expecting a lot from him tonight and he didn’t let anyone down. This was an autobiographical show that could have been depressing, but which through quality writing was elevated into something that was easy to invest your attention in and to enjoy all the way through. It was also a show that seemed to pass very quickly. 50 minutes or so only felt like 30.

Mars began by establishing his authority over the audience and followed that up with brief bit of audience work to keep them onside; almost stick and carrot, if you like. His instincts were good and this settled the room for the duration of his performance, with everyone listening intently to him.

Candid Cafe is very well written and throughout demonstrates a consistent internal logic. There are no flights of fancy and every development in the story is mortared in with what has come before and what will follow on. This makes it very easy to follow and no one needed to waste attention trying to make leaps from one element to the next. The pacing is almost spot on, too, with a good balance between story and funny. Apart from America, where Mars went a bit out of sequence, there are no overly long lulls between the laughs. These come at regular intervals and land heavily. There may be room for an extra, physical, gag, when discussing Trinder if he were to go with a line concerning his face being in the middle of that particular Venn diagram. To me, an Edinburgh show has to be funny and this easily ticks that box. This is a very funny show that has you hoping for a heart warming happy ending.

Tickets for Will Mars’ Edinburgh show can be found here

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