Review – Rory Bremner and Friends, Royal, Derngate, Northampton, 29th June 2011

Rory Bremner and Friends I was really surprised when it was announced that Rory Bremner would be appearing at the Royal. Firstly because I thought he was strictly a TV and radio performer, and secondly because it was the Royal and not the Derngate. If you don’t know, the Royal is a charming small Victorian theatre, that seats somewhere around 300 people and the Derngate is a much larger modern auditorium that seats around 1300, and that’s where the majority of big stand-up acts perform. So I got my tickets booked and bought good and early because I thought there would be a big demand for the seats.

And as the weeks went on, I was looking at the seating plan online and realising that not many seats had been sold at all. Is this an indication that Mr Bremner is past his best? Isn’t there much demand for a satirical impressionist anymore? I was getting a little worried. No need for alarm. I’m pleased to say that the comedy lovers of Northampton are late bookers, because last night there were hardly any seats left, and in fact it was the most packed I’ve ever seen the Royal auditorium.

It’s a very relaxed and enjoyable evening. Rory Bremner introduces the show with about a ten minute slot followed by Ian Shaw on the piano for about fifteen minutes, then Hattie Hayridge has a longer slot, and then Rory Bremner wraps up the first half. After the interval, Ian Shaw returns for some more music and then Rory Bremner does his main session. It’s very satisfyingly structured, just like you would have seen on a traditional variety show on television about thirty years ago.

Ian ShawSo what of his friends? Ian Shaw is a jazz singer but here he spends his time doing some comedy numbers and a couple of unexpected songs that involved the audience. He has a very warm and entertaining personality and a very good rapport with the audience. To be honest, the words “jazz singer” would normally fill me with dread but he was a breath of fresh air, and the time he spent onstage went very quickly.

Hattie HayridgeUnfortunately not quite the same could be said about Hattie Hayridge. Whilst her material was very funny, for some reason she didn’t establish a rapport with the audience whose reaction to her was rather embarrassingly quiet. She has a very dry and self-deprecating style, which will always tickle the laughter out of some people, it then depends if this laughter is catching or not. Last night, it wasn’t really. Sure, some were laughing hysterically, but it wasn’t the majority. If she had been performing in the Screaming Blue Murder club, I think she would have been heckled. I didn’t “get” her character, and I’m afraid that when her act was over I was a bit relieved.

Rory BremnerHowever, Rory Bremner was on top form. He has great material, a natural charm, full of charisma, and is a great communicator. His impressions are still top notch – although I found his Winston Churchill a bit too like Tony Benn – and he has plenty of topical characters too, like Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal. The satire can be biting, but it’s always a delight too. And the intimacy of the Royal was just perfect for his adult, intelligent humour. So, all in all, a most enjoyable night’s entertainment.

Martin Bell was in the audience! Yes, the reporter turned Independent MP. I’m sure it was him. It looked like him and he was wearing his trademark white jacket. Celebrity audiences invade Northampton! You heard it here first.

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