Review – James Acaster, Zebra Xmas, Playhouse Theatre, Northampton, 23rd December 2016

James AcasterI know what you’re thinking. Why on earth is TV, Radio and Fringe star James Acaster playing two nights at the 80-seater Playhouse in Northampton? It’s not even listed as a gig on his website. I believe it’s his way of saying thanks to his local fans – he’s famously from Kettering – and I think it’s an amazingly generous way of spending two evenings in the run-up to Christmas, larking around for two hours on stage (a teeny weeny one) for just a fiver a ticket. We’d seen him 14 months ago, when he performed his Represent show at the Royal in Northampton. I remember him as being delightfully laconic, eerily whimsical, and controlled by a brain the size of a small continent. Mrs Chrisparkle, on the other hand, couldn’t remember him at all. I don’t know if that says more about him or her.

James AcasterWe had been encouraged to sit in the front row on entering the auditorium, and after a summer of my being involved in countless comedy acts at the Edinburgh Fringe, the front row of a comedy gig no longer terrifies me – that much. I accept, I was expecting to be picked on, but Mr Acaster only picks on you if you really deserve it. Behave well, and you’ll be fine. His opening gambit was to point out that people only sit in the front row because they want to be picked on, so he refuses to pander to their pre-rehearsed interjections. Very fair point. But he did fix me with his stare every so often, and did choose me to explain what a DM is in Twitter terminology. What did he take me for? Obviously my grey hair suggests an advancement of years that I personally choose to ignore. Also my downbeat chuckle put him off on one occasion. But the star of the show turned out to be the fork lift truck driver recruitment consultant, and the girl he was with who isn’t his girlfriend. His noisy need to go to the gents during the first half was more than Mr A could resist. Be warned for future gigs.

James AHe’s one of those comics that you’ve got no idea how much of the show is scripted, and how much isn’t. He gave us an evening of brilliant material, including the repercussions of Lindsay Lohan’s post-Brexit tweet about Kettering (how dare she), the trials and tribulations of the conga, postcode wars, iffy celebrity gossip, and the true meaning of the Christingle. Admittedly some of this wasn’t new to us having seen him before, but I realise that you could watch him deliver the same material many times over and he would express it with different emphasis each time – so he’s really good value from that point of view!

j-acaster-2We were advised in advance that there was to be “no support act”, but that wasn’t strictly true. He was joined on stage by a Christmas tree – one of those five foot plastic affairs that the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle so valued because they weren’t messy on the carpet. The tree ended up playing a vital role in proceedings, as Mr A decided to “operate” it from behind. It’s funnier than it sounds, believe me. There was some Q&A at the end, where someone from the audience asked for the tree’s opinion on some vital subject – cue Mr A returning to his alter ego of Tree. During the melée that followed, I ended up asking the tree what was its favourite bauble. Honestly, I’d only had two Strongbows.

A great way to start the Christmas season!

P. S. I didn’t know why his last tour was called Represent, and I don’t know why this show was called Zebra Xmas. Few things are that black and white, surely? The man’s clearly an enigma.

10 thoughts on “Review – James Acaster, Zebra Xmas, Playhouse Theatre, Northampton, 23rd December 2016

    • It will be interesting to see if he has to change his intimate style at all in order to “come across” to the back of a large venue. I kind of hope not, but one mustn’t stand in the way of progress! PS My Playhouse man is on the case…

      • That’s good. I’m James’ dad by the way – not fair to be incognito. He resisted bigger venues this year, chose to tour the same venues as 2015, but sold out at nearly all of them.

      • Hi Mr Acaster Senior! Thanks for your comments and insight 🙂 it must be tough to work out the best way forward. Selling out your venues is obviously the dream result, but James’ quiet style is not like those shouty comics that we all know and who adapt to those big stages apparently effortlessly. I wish him best of luck in finding the right path 🙂

  1. Hello Mr Acaster Senior! I am the Playhouse man that Mr Chrisparkle has referred to, however I may not at this time be able to fill you totally in on details, having only been with The Playhouse for about four months (grand title of Press and Publicity).
    I currently know the history line that we peddle the most, being that the theatre as you see it today was created in the early sixties from a building that was previously a shoe factory and rather more theatrically, a coffin storage building.
    There is a member of The Playhouse who has been trying to compile the history more as it is all, as it often can be, lost in history. Sadly they are now too poorly to continue, so I will try to make it a project to get this back into action soon as it would be great to have a more detailed history.
    As for Mr James Acaster’s show, it was as you all saw a huge success, and is part of The Playhouse’s plan to bring a greater variety of shows to the venue, which we now title Playhouse Extras. These with our six in-house shows have made 2016 genuinely one of the theatre’s most successful years ever.
    There was talk in the bar on Friday about potential comedy nights at The Playhouse, and certainly this would be great to incorporate if we can into our already packed 2017 season.
    However thank you for the interest, and feelers are out for for more history, so I will post as and when I get hold of anything else.

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