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!

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2019 – Foil Arms and Hog – Swines, 24th August 2019

Foil Arms and Hog – SwinesAs has become something of a tradition, we’ve left one of the top Edinburgh attractions till almost the end. This will be the fourth time we’ve seen these guys in Edinburgh, and they never fail to bring joy. They’re Foil Arms and Hog – Swines, at McEwan Hall @ Underbelly, Bristo Square, at 21:00 on Saturday 24th. Here’s the blurb (which stays the same, year in, year out): “Irish comedy, potato, potato, potato, potato, potato, potato, potato, potato, potato, potato, potato… you racist. Sold-out Fringe 2009-2018. Over 100 million hits on YouTube. Foil Arms and Hog return to the magnificent McEwan Hall with their brand-new show, Swines. ***** (Irish Times). **** (Times). ***** (Irish Examiner). ‘Very funny’ (Rowan Atkinson). ‘An effervescent hour of fast-paced gags, fizzing with energy, invention and great lines’ (Chortle.co.uk). ‘Quite simply, a sensation’ (Edinburgh Festivals Magazine).”

In 2016 I got roped into so many sketches with them, because we sat in the front row. I have to say, I loved every minute of it! Since then, I’ve managed to avoid such audience participation. Check back around 10.15pm to see if I got into trouble again. By then the next preview blog should be available to read too.

Fortunately, I managed to stay out of trouble, and this year the guys are back with an absolute bang. With some typical Micky-taking of actors, mime artists, Brexit, impossibly over-ambitious stag weekends, and so much more, they deliver an hour of high octane larking about and are funnier than ever!

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2019 – Basil Brush: Unleashed, 24th August 2019

Basil Brush UnleashedInto the final four of this year’s Fringe shows and here’s something I’ve been looking forward to for months! It’s Basil Brush: Unleashed at the Cowbarn @ Underbelly Bristo Square at 18:45 on Saturday 24th. Here’s the blurb: “Showbusiness legend, national treasure, fox. Children of the 2000s, 1970s (and everything in between) this one’s for you. As Basil makes his much-anticipated Fringe debut in a show for the adults! Fresh from appearances on The Last Leg (Channel 4) and Celebrity Juice (ITV2), join Basil as he gives his comedic take on everything from Love Island to Westminster in his trademark anarchic style, with different guests nightly. ‘Hilarious’ (DigitalSpy.com).”

What can you say about this superfox? Basil was always a big part of my childhood and, way back in 1971, he took me backstage at the London Palladium (well, with his friend and operator at the time, Mr Ivan) – I doubt that would happen today. Check back around 8 pm to see how much BOOM BOOM there was. By then the next preview blog should be available to read too.

A fun dollop of nostalgia brought up to date with a very entertaining partnership between Basil and Mr Martin, with a few last night running jokes between them to boot. Some sections worked better than others- the games and story parts were much funnier than the interviews. Slightly reshaped, this could be a great regular Fringe tradition!

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2019 – Garry Starr Conquers Troy, 23rd August 2019

Garry Starr Conquers TroyTime now for what should be one of the comic highlights of the Fringe. It’s Garry Starr Conquers Troy at Belly Button @ Underbelly Cowgate at 20:00 on Friday 23rd. Take a look at the blurb: “Having single-handedly saved the performing arts in 2018 with his multi award-winning debut solo show, comic wunderkind Garry Starr delivers another anarchic drama masterclass to remember. Acting was invented by the ancient Greeks. Before that, people were just pretending. With the release of his groundbreaking new book An Actor Pretends, Starr delves deep into his Greek ancestry to enlighten us all with the ancient art of Pretendism, thus saving the performing arts from the evil clutches of Method Acting. **** (Guardian). **** (Scotsman). **** (Evening Standard).”

We saw Garry Starr Performs Everything last year, for which he won the coveted Chrisparkle Award for Edinburgh – Best of the Rest – and it was an absolute riot from start to finish, and we can’t wait for this year’s Starr Factor! Check back around 9.30 pm to see how much fun it was. By then the next preview blog should be available to read too.

Garry back in absolutely top form in an hour long riot of silliness and hilarity. As usual he exposes the parts other dramatic actors fail to reach; it’s an indescribable act but about as funny as you can get. If you’re up in Edinburgh you just have to see his show!