Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 22nd November 2019

Sally Anne HaywardAnother packed house at the Underground for our last Screaming Blue Murder of the year. Instead of our usual host, Dan, in the hot seat was Sally-Anne Hayward, whom we’ve seen many times before but never as an MC – and damn fine she was too. I loved her material about the whining office victim, which may seem cruel at first but then develops into a brilliant analysis of that kind of person. As she probed the audience for their interesting facts and jobs, she struck gold by first approaching Jasmine, with whom we all played a guessing game as to what she did for a living. You’d never guess it in a million years, btw. Her boyfriend, Winner, was also an easy target for some audience-ribbing.

Brendan DempseyIn what was always going to be a sensational line-up, our first act was the fantastic Brendan Dempsey, whom we last saw at Screaming Blue five years ago. He has such a commanding manner with the audience, so full of authority yet subtle and engaging. He has a brilliant sequence where he explains the reason why he and his wife can’t have children; plus some delightfully tasteless but extremely funny material on the benefits of having a disabled child. With his polite and well-mannered delivery, he’s able to sneak in some very challenging and often ludicrous material en route, and the act works brilliantly well.

Diane SpencerIn a change from the advertised programme, next was a welcome return to Diane Spencer, another comic whom we’ve seen several times and who surprises the audience with a delicious balance of posh Sloaney performer and some hard-hitting X-rated material to great comic effect. She offers some insights into the art of keeping stepchildren, and she goes into blow-jobs in great detail (apologies if you’re eating). I really enjoy her style and her unpredictability, and she went down very well with the audience.

Russell Hicks Headlining the evening was the magnificent Russell Hicks, who only has to come on to deliver a few lines, then allow himself to be sidetracked by whatever the audience throws at him – which usually results in comedy gold. This time we had a lady called Jo from Canada who had got steadily more inebriated as the evening wore on; and the audible plea from her friend during Mr Hicks’ set – “no, don’t get your tits out, Jo” – was all he needed. Added to this, there was an extraordinary tale from another (rather posh) lady who recounted the tale of her flashing her bosoms at a passing Virgin express train from a canal boat at Watford Gap. No one can weave such bizarre extras into their Screaming Blue Murderact like Mr Hicks, and he gave us half an hour of full-on belly laughs, so much so that we were still laughing (and hurting with it) the next morning.

In a word, classic. Screaming Blue Murders resume on January 10th with a superb line-up; we’ll be there, and so should you.

Review – Jonathan Pie, The Fake News Tour, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 21st November 2019

Jonathan Pie Fake NewsThere was much excitement in the Chrisparkle household at the prospect of seeing Jonathan Pie live on stage. We’ve loved his irascible, foul-mouthed diatribes against politicians of all ilks on his regular short viral videos. In these days, heaven knows we need some decent satire, and Mr Pie goes a long way to fill that gap. Lord and Lady Prosecco were excited too, as were my friends HRH the Crown Prince of Bedford, and the Squire of Sidcup, both of whom had travelled to witness the comic experience.

JoJo SutherlandBut I’m getting ahead of myself. Mr Pie had a support act, in the form of JoJo Sutherland, a formidable lady with a firm grip on her audience and a string of strong material to back it up. She doesn’t pussyfoot around sensitive subjects; in fact, in order to check on whether her daughter is having sex or not she checks the extent of her downstairs depilation before she allows her out. She delivers with great attack and confidence, and the majority of her stuff is extremely funny. However, and nothing against Ms Sutherland, I wasn’t sure she was the right choice to support Jonathan Pie. Her material concentrates heavily on sex – and by no means in a prudish way – whereas you associate Mr Pie with political commentary, and I felt there was no crossover where an audience revved up for JP would be ready for Ms Sutherland’s down-and-dirty observations of life. And, given the fact that the Derngate auditorium was pretty packed, with at least a thousand people in there, I felt that the audience’s reaction was a trifle on the reserved side.

Jonathan PieAfter a massively confused interval – where the ushers were suggesting we all go back into the auditorium because we didn’t break at the time they were expecting, and as a result no interval drinks were ready and we were all should we stay or should we go in our half-time dithering – we resumed our seats for Jonathan Pie. It’s called The Fake News Tour because – well, obviously really – there’s a lot of it about. However, I’m not sure fake news played that much of a part in his comedy lecture. And yes, it did feel like a lecture, which is no bad thing provided you’re flexible with everything you want to say.

J PieHere’s the scenario: world-renowned political commentator and presenter linkman Jonathan Pie has been sacked by the BBC. Shock, horror. Mr Pie has gone on the road to explain to his faithful followers how it all went wrong. And this is the vehicle he uses to share all the political vitriol that you would expect. And there’s no doubt, the show is packed with horrifyingly accurate political insights and observations that make us all cringe and despair about the quality of our political leaders. It also asks interesting questions on how a public figure can fall from hero to zero with one misplaced quote, one moment where their guard was let down and they reveal an aspect of their personality that is unpalatable to the general public. The current discourse about the Prince Andrew Newsnight interview is a great real life equivalent.

Jonathan PDespite all these good intentions and a strong performance, I must confess, gentle reader, to feeling a little disappointed. What works incredibly well in a four-minute video, when delivered at a frantic pace for over an hour, becomes what Mrs C calls relentless. After a while you start to feel mentally tired, and you find you’re no longer concentrating on what he says. There’s very little light-and-shade to the performance, and Pie’s own personal anger at the world – even occasionally at his family – rather overwhelms the whole show. You also get the sense that the show is scripted to the nth degree, and that nothing would move him from his prearranged routine. That kind of lecture can feel imprisoning rather than enlightening. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this wasn’t quite it. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to enjoy and laugh at in this show; but we all were hoping for just a little more. There are four more shows left in his UK tour – in Peterborough, Bournemouth, Bath and Plymouth; go see for yourself and make your own mind up!

Review – Ardal O’Hanlon, The Showing Off Must Go On, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 20th November 2019

Ardal O'Hanlon The Showing Off Must Go OnArdal O’Hanlon is a name that isn’t necessarily always on everyone’s lips – but his face is, and his character of Father Dougal in Father Ted will live on until humanity is no more. Mr O’Hanlon’s problem is that he was just so good as Father Dougal that no one wants to believe that he isn’t Father Dougal. And that’s his opening bid in his new show The Showing Off Must Go On, currently touring. He gets irritated at being mistaken for Dougal – yet his first (extremely funny) anecdote illustrates just how like Dougal he really is. You’re gonna have to face the fact, Mr O’H; in the same way that My Lovely Horse will always be a possibility for next year’s Irish Eurovision entry, Father Dougal is the gift that keeps on giving.

Brodi SnookBut I’m running away with myself. First on, we had a support act in the shape of Brodi Snook, an Australian comic whose name sounds more like one of those healthy 1970s Scandinavian crispbreads. Ms Snook is a smart little powerhouse of strong contemporary material, but with a calm, gentle delivery that belies the savagery of her observations. The Derngate auditorium is a vast and lofty place and I think Ms Snook’s style would probably be more suited to an intimate venue. But she gave us a good show and it was an enjoyable hors d’oeuvres before the main course.

AOHWe last saw Mr O’Hanlon six years ago, where his soft, relaxed style oozed over you like a comfy duvet. Today, I felt his stand-up had more attack, and more bite, and was probably the better for it. Nevertheless, I still feel he’s exactly what the late Sir Terry Wogan would have been like if he’d gone for a stand-up comedy career. Jocular, knowing, confiding; relating many of his comic observations to his family life and noting how, once you reach 50, you really don’t care about what anyone else things. For example, I loved his sequence of how most people have a Bucket List of things they want to do whereas he has a F**kit List of things he has no intention of doing.

A O HOne fairly unusual aspect of his comedy is that, unlike most comics, his material hardly ever strays into the bedroom – apart from one teenage reminiscence of passing round the only dirty magazine in Ireland, with an unexpectedly whambam punchline. With an air of part-innocence and part-resignation, Mr O’H confesses his perfect night would be to stay up late watching TV and eating crisps, and I completely get where he’s coming from. He pushes tentatively at the door of Brexit, to see how we react; wisely he decides not to enter in too far.

Ardal O'Hanlon tourWith a stage backdrop of posters advertising his previous gigs, there’s a charming disconnect between the pizzazzy showbiz world of comedy and sitcom, and this mild, unremarkable middle-aged man talking about a range of domestic observations that we can all recognise. Technically, it’s a pretty fantastic performance, with a very rewarding number of callbacks coming home to roost at the end, a confident clear delivery and a very amiable persona doing the talking. There are a few terrific belly-laughs, but for the most part it’s simply an enjoyable meander through life’s idiocies. His UK tour continues through to next March and, honestly, why wouldn’t you want to see yer man do his stuff?

Review – Russell Kane, The Fast and the Curious, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 5th October 2019

Russell Kane in an armchairI can’t believe it’s been five years since we last saw Russell Kane, performing his Smallness Tour at the Warwick Arts Centre. That year he won the coveted Chrisparkle Award for Best Stand-Up in competition with such comedy giants as Russell Brand, John Bishop, Paul Chowdhry and Trevor Noah. He must have been good.

Russell KaneAnd I’m delighted to say he still is! The Fast and the Curious is another full-on evening of entertainment (overrunning through sheer enjoyment by about half an hour!) where Mr Kane, in his inimitable manner, pulls apart the idiocies of life and the family dynamic into which he’s married. In his last show he talked a lot about his Mancunian fiancée; now they’re married, he’s got a whole host of other family members to contend with – Mother-in-law Yvonne, and new Auntie Christine in particular.

Russell Kane at full peltAmongst the other delights he has for us are his meeting with Prince Charles, a debacle in an Italian restaurant and what happened when he consulted a psychic. Mr Kane is still full of boundless energy, striding the length of the stage back and forth like a boundless rubber-band. He’s incredibly engaging, generating lively backchat with the audience, and very, very funny. Nothing more to say apart from if you can catch his tour, you really should! His tour continues into December and you can find tickets here. Spoil yourself!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 4th October 2019

Screaming Blue MurderYou wait months for a Screaming Blue Murder then, a week later, another one comes around… not that I’m complaining. There isn’t better value, great quality comedy to be had around these parts, imho. Once again, the Underground was pretty packed, although the front rows were a bit empty because of the cowards defaulting to the back of the room, which always creates a challenge.

Maureen YoungerFor one week only our host was the fantastic Maureen Younger, a feisty performer if ever there was one, whom we’ve seen on many occasions at Screaming Blues, in Edinburgh, and as part of an Upfront Comedy line-up. She likes to get to know the front rows (difficult if there’s hardly anyone there, but she persevered) and so we met big-hearted Big Tommy who threw himself into the whole evening, John the documentary-maker (we’re so metropolitan elite here, darling), posh Georgia (who wasn’t that posh after all) and the quiet couple tucked away at the far end who didn’t want to get in anyone’s way. Maureen’s a great MC, with the necessary quick brain and a host of hilarious responses, and by the time she introduced the first act, it was all going swimmingly.

Michael LeggeWe’d seen two of the acts before, so pretty much knew what to expect from them, but, unexpectedly, it turned out to be an evening of surprises. First up was Michael Legge, who was in a very in-your-face mood, delivering his quirky material with occasionally challenging faux-aggression; but all very enjoyable and you know you’re in very safe hands with the experienced Mr Legge. However…. a group of people towards the back started talking quite animatedly, clearly not paying attention to the show at all, and making it difficult for the rest of us to hear Mr Legge’s bon mots. He started to deal with it as though they were heckling him, but in fact they were simply ignoring him, and getting on with their own conversation. Mr Legge wasn’t having any of that; and then the room divided. Us nice people at the front had the show to ourselves, the ignorant idiots at the back who couldn’t be arsed to pay attention, were ridiculed and excluded. He was tempted to call a halt to his part of the act, but Mr Legge carried on with some very enjoyable material about Mrs Brown’s Boys (I’ll say no more) but the first interval arrived in an atmosphere of rather unsettling edginess.

Harriet DyerOur next act was Harriet Dyer, whom we’ve also seen before. Hers can be quite a divisive act, in that she has a very I’m mad, me persona which, depending on the mood of the audience, can either fall flat on its face or can soar the heights of surreal hilarity. Fortunately for us all, she was on brilliant form and managed to unite the divided audience in appreciation of her ludicrously funny act. She uses the physicality of her rather unruly, bendy body to great effect, as well as having some totally way-out routines, such as her brother taking an interview covered in spiders. Brilliantly funny; and for her ability to unite an unruly crowd, I think she should become the new Minister for Brexit.

Matt WelcomeLast up, and in a change of programme, we had Matt Welcome. We’d not seen him before, and he has a very different style. Laid back, inquisitive, personal; as his name suggests, he welcomes you into his world to explore a sequence of odd observations where he takes ideas to way-out, bizarre extremes. It’s all very nicely judged and cleverly thought through, and is entertaining rather than belly-laugh-triggering. If I’d been programming, I’d have put Mr Welcome on first and Mr Legge on last… although how that would have worked out with the unruly bunch at the back I don’t know.

So, all in all, a very good night, if a trifle odd one! Next Screaming Blue Murder is on 25th October, but in a triumph of comedy clashes, that’s also the night that Ben Elton has sold out the Derngate Auditorium…

Review – Rob Beckett, Wallop, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 3rd October 2019

Rob Beckett WallopWe’ve seen Rob Beckett once before, performing his Mouth of the South show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015. I became an instant fan of his self-deprecating warmth and total lack of starriness. Now he’s back with a new show, Wallop, giving us more insights into his madcap family life and bizarre exploits.

Rob BeckettRob Beckett is one of those truly gifted performers – he’s a naturally funny guy throughout and you never get the feeling he has to force a laugh, or wrack his brain for a response. He never shies away from making fun of his own appearance, whether it be his unmistakably toothy smile (he doesn’t have a resting bitch face, he has a resting happy face) or his ridiculously disproportioned body (as you’ll discover at the end of the show – no worries, it’s not X rated.) He’s also alarmingly honest with sharing his moments of utter personal stupidity, like the time he went to see Kinky Boots and thought he’d never seen such a beautiful array of sexy women – OK, to be fair, I did that too. I didn’t, however, confess it to the rest of my family…

Rob Beckett 2019He strikes a great rapport with the audience, although, for some reason, last Thursday night, our usually quite rumbustious Derngate audience appeared a little reticent to join in. Even late arrivals Curtis and Jill, who missed the beginning because Curtis wanted to watch the Manchester United game, didn’t follow up their initial boldness. Only upbeat Alex, a disembodied voice from a stalls right box somewhere, played along and became the authority for the night on whether Rob’s jokes and observations were sufficiently PC for a Thursday evening in Northampton.

Rob BMr B has such a bright, positive style and delivery, that it’s impossible not to laugh and smile at virtually everything he says and does. This show is jam-packed with absolutely brilliant material, some of which he goes into a great length, other parts are virtually thrown away, but they’re all fantastic nonetheless. There’s an extensive routine where he looks back at Mary Poppins 2, which I’ve not had the….good fortune?  of seeing, and had me in hysterics. But it was his material about what do you want to get out of going to the gym, including his experiences in Lake Bled that had me literally sobbing with laughter. Not fair for me to say any more, you just have to go see him. The show proved so popular that there is another date scheduled at the Royal and Derngate, on 22nd March 2020. Otherwise his tour continues right through till next June – all the info is here. Tummy-quiveringly funny – if you miss out, you’ll only have yourself to blame!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 27th September 2019

Screaming Blue MurderWe were sorry to miss last fortnight’s Screaming Blue Murder but Mrs Chrisparkle and I were still lounging on the Costa del Northumberland. Back with a vengeance this week though, and it started with me unexpectedly helping host Dan Evans to rearrange the chairs as they’d prepared the room to a really odd and totally un-comedy-friendly layout. The things one does as a reviewer….

Dan EvansDan was indeed back on fine form, mining comedy nuggets from the front rows with the deft ease of a top-class surgeon isolating an unwary organ for removal. Through his auspices, we got to know the staff of Simply Business Insurance on an office outing, some geezers from Carlsberg, an army Commando and a manufacturer of corrugated boxes. You couldn’t make it up.

In a most unusual turn of events, we hadn’t seen any of the three acts before – and it’s been a very long time since I could say that! Our first act was Joe Jacobs, stressing his Jewishness quite a lot which didn’t quite make sense to me, but following it up with some excellent material including rap through the ages and a terrific little routine about mansplaining. He treads that fine line between slightly underperforming and performing with superb subtlety, so when his style pays off, it really pays off. A very good start.

Zahra BarriNext up was Zahra Barri, half Muslim, half Catholic, which was a comedy gift for her school career advisers. She’s tremendously funny with some terrific spiky material which she delivers with subtle panache rather than aggressive wham-bam, and it really works. So many brilliant little stories kept us in hysterics the whole time, but we particularly loved the material involving her mother keeping yogurt in the fridge and the most appropriate mascara for a Muslim. Absolutely first-class and we would love to see her perform again.

David WardOur headline act was David Ward, who looks and sounds like a mouthy wideboy down the pub but actually has one of the quickest brains in the business and had so much apparently off-the-cuff material that related directly to the audience members that he genuinely took my breath away. My favourite joke of his was about subscribing to a sponsored walk without reading the details, delivered beautifully with a throwaway climax line. Quite the comedy genius! A brilliant way to end a perfect evening of comedy.

And it’s on again next week!

Review – Daliso Chaponda, Blah Blah Blacklist, Royal and Derngate, 20th September 2019

Daliso Chaponda Blah Blah BlacklistOne of the great finds over the past few years has been the brilliant Malawian comedian Daliso Chaponda. Although he’s been working away and building up his career over many years, he first came to my attention headlining a Screaming Blue Murder night a couple of years ago where he absolutely ripped the place apart. Then last year he brought his first ever touring show, What the African Said, back to the Royal and Derngate. Since then, he was a wow on Britain’s Got Talent, and now he’s touring with the show he took to Edinburgh this year, Blah Blah Blacklist.

Daliso ChapondaFrom the moment he walks on stage, you take Mr Chaponda to your heart. He’s so immensely likeable, in a cheeky, naughty way, with a wealth of slanted observations that you immediately recognise. He’s so approachable, in fact, that audience members feel totally at ease asking him questions or commenting (positively) on his material during the show, sharing their own experiences back at him; and it never throws him. Actually, he instead weaves the audience’s observations into his own patter, to the extent that he even does call backs on the audience’s contribution! There’s obviously a very quick brain at work here.

DalisoBlah Blah Blacklist is a game of two halves; in the first, he reflects on all those heroes of our shared past who no longer cut the heroic mustard, from Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris down. In the second, he creates some terrific stories relating to the political experiences of his own father, George Chaponda, who was Minister for Agriculture in the Malawian government. But there’s a whole heap of other comical asides and funny garden paths up which Mr C leads us. I particularly liked his account of the difficulties he faces with the current girlfriend and her wayward son. It all feels effortless; I’m sure it isn’t.

Daliso CMr Chaponda is one of those incredibly bright sparks who shines happiness whenever you see him. He doesn’t shy away from a challenge; nor does he ever make you feel uncomfortable. In fact, one of the most appealing aspects to his work is a feeling of respect for his audience. The show is very much a shared experience – and one I can definitely recommend sharing! His tour continues through till March next year and you can get tickets at his website. Spoil yourself!

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2019 – The Man, 25th August 2019

The ManFor our last show of the Fringe this year, we’re sneaking an early afternoon show before heading home; and it’s only because we enjoyed last year’s Camels so much that we’ve decided to stay for this one. It’s Patrick McPherson as The Man, at Underbelly Bristo Square, Jersey, at 13:05 on Sunday the 25th. Here’s the blurb: ” The Man is a sketch comedy and one-man performance piece from the side-splittingly funny Patrick McPherson, returning to Edinburgh after 2018’s five-star, Fringe sell-out Camels. Coming off a run in London’s West End, The Man showcases Patrick’s brilliant characters for an hour of brave and thought-provoking comedy. Supporting The Movember Foundation, the show discusses what it means to be “the Man” in today’s society. Mentioned in Edinburgh Evening News’ Ten Shows That Are Wowing Edinburgh Audiences 2018. ‘Inspiringly and intimidatingly well-written’ (Lucy Moss, writer of SIX, the Musical). ‘A rare treat’ ***** (PlaysToSee.com).

He’s got a lot to live up to with the excellence of last year’s show, but I can’t wait to see how he does. Check back around 2.15pm to see how much we enjoyed it. And that – as they say – is a wrap! If you’ve been following our reckless pursuit of entertainment over the past eight days, thanks very much for your loyalty! If not, I can’t blame you.

And what a way to end our Fringe! Beautifully constructed, challengingly hilarious, gut-grippingly emotional. First rate ability to involve the audience but never cruel or alarming! Mr McPherson is a complete star. Can’t wait to see what he does next!

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2019 – 2 Girls, 1 Cup… of Comedy, 24th August 2019

2 Girls, 1 Cup... of ComedyNearly at the end of the day now, but not before seeing 2 Girls, 1 Cup… of Comedy at Just up the Road @ Just the Tonic at The Caves at 22:40 on Saturday 24th. Here’s what the blurb has to say: “Award-winning comedian Samantha Baines (Lee Nelson’s Well Funny People) brings you a supersized cup of comedy with TV names, the very best new comedians and brilliant guest MCs. ‘The gift that’s keeps on giving’ (Huffington Post). ‘Hilarious’ (BroadwayBaby.com).”

We saw this show for the first time last year and thought it was absolutely brilliant – so I’m hoping for another dose of terrific late night stand up. Check back around midnight to see how much fun it really was. By then the next preview blog should be available to read too.

Last year Samantha Baines hosted the show in a rather elegant upstairs room. This year we’re in a basic dungeon at The Caves, but it’s no less funny. Our hostess for the evening was the inimitable Maureen Younger, whom we always love to see in gigs closer to home. She introduced the smart and hilarious Natalie Sweeney, the laid back and eccentric Gary Trow, and an engaging and entertaining comic who’s half German half Bulgarian but I missed her name… Great fun for an hour; and as a result we decided that we’d had all the comedy we needed for this evening, so cancelled our final show!