It’s a very different atmosphere watching a comedy act in Northampton’s beautiful Royal Theatre than when you see the Screaming Blue Murder acts in the Underground or the big-hitters in the Derngate. It’s a little more formal and slightly more reserved. Nevertheless, you still feel nice and close to the stage, so it doesn’t preclude a little audience participation; and if you’ve been lubricated with the old Chenin Blanc, you can still let your comedy hair down.
Who doesn’t love Father Ted? When we saw that Ardal O’Hanlon was touring we thought we definitely had to see what his stand-up routine was like. I don’t think I’ve seen him do it before, even on television. So I really didn’t know what to expect.
I certainly didn’t expect to see a warm-up comedian before the interval. No problem; Mrs Chrisparkle and I always like to see new comics. On for the first 25 minutes came Pat Cahill. He was all wide eyed and enthusiastic, with an engaging persona and a nice sense of the ridiculous. In many respects, I found his act extremely old-fashioned; I don’t mean this in a pejorative sense, but it was a bit like watching a star comedy TV show from the 60s or 70s – introductory patter, a few comedy songs, a smattering of physical mime; a bit of everything really; and, for the most part, pretty clean. With adverts in the middle, this would have been perfect for the half hour show on London Weekend TV at 7pm on a Friday night. His material was somewhat hit and miss; a little like the Parable of the Sower, quite a lot of it fell on stony ground, but that which fell on good ground was very nourishing and entertaining. However, I wouldn’t be truthful if I said that we went into the interval feeling thoroughly warmed up. I’m sure in the environment of a comedy club he would come across much funnier.
So what of Ardal O’Hanlon? I guess Father Ted is history now (gosh yes, it finished in 1998 would you believe) because he looked much older than I was expecting. His style is very relaxed and informal, very inclusive and private – you feel like you are having a one-on-one chat with him in the pub. Superbly self-deprecating, he is easy to identify with – for example he asks the women in the audience why they always prefer the slick guys to the awkward ones (rather sweetly, one lady shouted out, “we don’t!” – but I know she was lying).
He gives you a nice insight into life in rural Ireland, including a really funny routine about why people might leave their little town or village. His excellent material includes an examination of Catholicism, anecdotes about his wife and family, and even the fact that he came 3rd in a Father Dougal lookalike contest. His funny observations lasted almost 90 minutes, which is pretty good value, and the whole thing was very charming and relaxing. But when you think back on his set, it’s hard to identify any particular themes or structure to the show. He wasn’t quite as laid back as Shappi Khorsandi, but not far off. A very neat, precise performer; at the end he bowed to the audience very formally and gracefully, almost like a ballet dancer would. A class act, for sure. His tour continues to December – if you think he’s the kind of act you’d enjoy, then you’d be right!