Those lovely comedy lovers at the Comedy Crate had already resumed residence in the back garden of the Black Prince a few weeks ago, but this was the first show that we’d been able to catch – and my first non-Zoom comedy gig since their show last October. Such are the ways of the pandemic. The line-up had unavoidably changed a bit between being first announced and the show on the night, but that’s often the way with live gigs!
Our MC for the night was Jenny Collier, whom we last saw on one of the Comedy Crate’s online gigs earlier this year. She’s a sparky presence, with her charming appearance and cut-glass accent acting as a great juxtaposition to some ribald language. She’s been working as a GP receptionist for some of these Covid times, which was a source of some excellent material. However, I most enjoyed her account of giving a – I can’t dress this up in any other way – stool sample for the medics to explore. We were an occasionally unruly crowd, so she had a lot on her plate for the evening, but she was great fun and kept the show going at a great pace.
Our first act, and one of my all-time favourite comedians, was Olaf Falafel, whom we’ve seen many times in Edinburgh. In his trademark stripy blue sailor’s shirt, which makes him look like an extra from There is Nothing Like a Dame, he attacked us with some brilliant material, playing off the crowd beautifully, and ending up with his famous biscuitology routine. His comedy is a wonderful mixture of the absurd and the childish, but with lots of devastatingly clever observations and woefully funny puns. Great to see him again.
Next up, and new to us, was Toussaint Douglass; a naturally funny guy with a very relaxed style but with some strong punchy material full of surprises, including some challenging stuff about race. A very likeable personality, with some nice self-deprecating observations, he struck up an excellent rapport with the audience. Very enjoyable, and someone to look forward to seeing again!
For our headline act we had the rather wacky and unpredictable Tony Law, whom we’ve seen a few times before and sometimes he goes down a storm, and sometimes he doesn’t! I very much liked his use of accents in his act, and he’s supremely confident with dealing with the crowd; you either “get” his flights of fancy or you don’t and, personally, on the whole, I don’t! But the majority of the audience did, so I admit it’s my problem not his!
There’s another Comedy Crate in the garden of the Black Prince on Thursday 19th August. We’re going, are you?
Omid Djalili – Oxford Playhouse, 17th January 2007
One of the very first stand-up comedy shows we ever saw, Omid Djalili was beginning to break through on TV comedy shows and I have to say that, live, he is sensational. A great night’s comedy.
Cabaret – Lyric Theatre, London, 27th January 2007
Rufus Norris’ amazing production of Kander and Ebb’s brilliant musical, that continues to tour and to influence other productions to this day. Anna Maxwell Martin proved her versatility as Miss Sally Bowles, and a very affectionate coupling of Sheila Hancock as Fraulein Schneider and Geoffrey Hutchings as Herr Schultz. James Dreyfus played Emcee and I expect he was terrific, but the night we saw it, his understudy was playing and I regret I have no note as to who that was. An excellent production.
Hay Fever – Oxford Playhouse, 24th February 2007
I had always wanted to see a production of one of Noel Coward’s earlier sparkling comedies, but sadly I have hardly any memories of this show, starring Christopher Timothy and Stephanie Beacham as the heads of the theatrical Bliss family. I’m sure it was good though!
Spiegel – Ultima Vez/Wim Vandekeybus at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 2nd March 2007
This show could have been called Wim Vandekeybus’ Greatest Hits, with excerpts from several of his previous shows forming a new work as a whole. Again, very few memories of this show, I’m afraid.
Guys and Dolls – Milton Keynes Theatre, 7th March 2007
Breaking my usual rule about not including shows I’ve seen before in these blogs, this was a very brash production of Guys and Dolls by Michael Grandage, but my memory is that it was a little underwhelming. The four big roles were played by Alex Ferns, Samantha Janus, Norman Bowman and Louise Dearman.
Equus – Gielgud Theatre, London, 17th March 2007
A really big ticket at the time – Richard Griffiths as Martin Dysart with Daniel Radcliffe as Alan Strang; and Jenny Agutter as Hesther. A terrific coupling of two amazing actors, one slowly reaching the end of his career, one blossoming at the start of his – and both known for their work on Harry Potter. Young Mr Radcliffe was still only 17 when he took on this brave role. And it was every bit the riveting show that you would imagine.
Madama Butterfly – Welsh National Opera at the Milton Keynes Theatre, March 2007
A beautiful, strong and sensitive production of Puccini’s opera – but mainly notable for me as it was the last time we took the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle to the theatre, before her dementia sadly took over. I’m delighted to say that she loved it.
Boeing Boeing – Comedy Theatre, London, 6th April 2007
Marc Camoletti’s wonderful comedy from 1962 was given a completely fresh make-over and bounded back to life in this brilliant revival by Matthew Warchus. A dream team of a cast, with Roger Allam as the Lothario Bernard, Mark Rylance as his bemused friend Robert, Frances de la Tour as the bolshie maid Bertha, and Tamzin Outhwaite, Daisy Beaumont and Michelle Gomez as the three air hostesses whom Bernard is controlling through close following of the Boeing timetables. Incredibly funny, full of beautiful period detail, and a total joy.
The Sound of Music – London Palladium, 9th April 2007
The production that followed Andrew Lloyd Webber’s TV search for a new Maria – Connie Fisher – this was a tremendous show that at times transformed the innocent Palladium into a Nazi conference with swastikas all over the auditorium – very scary and extremely effective. We went on the one night of the week that Connie Fisher didn’t perform – it was the only night that tickets were readily available – but Sophie Bould, who normally played Liesl, played Maria and she was absolutely brilliant. All this plus Lesley Garrett as the Mother Superior and Alexander Hanson as von Trapp.
Can-Can – Lost Musicals at the Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London, 15th April 2007
Another of Ian Marshall Fisher’s delvings into the back catalogue of Lost Musicals, Can Can is an old Cole Porter show brought to life in the round by the usual crowd, including James Vaughan, Stewart Permutt, Myra Sands and Valerie Cutko. Great fun as always.
BBC Proms in the Park – Hyde Park, London, 9th September 2000
I wasn’t sure if I should add this or not, but then if I’m including Proms inside the Albert Hall, why not include Proms in the Park outside the Albert Hall! The perfect alternative to getting those hotly contested last night tickets, we enjoyed a beautiful day in the sunshine with picnic and champers, plus great entertainment from Bjorn Again, The Chieftains, Georgie Fame, Julian Lloyd Webber, Willard White and Angela Gheorghiu. All topped off by the BBC Concert Orchestra, and hosted (of course) by Terry Wogan. Fantastic!
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – Milton Keynes Theatre, 12th September 2000
Every show by the Trocks is different, even if they do the same dances as before! This programme started with Les Sylphides; then after an interval, Cross Currents, Go for Barocco and The Dying Swan, finally ending up with Paquita. All as skilful and stunning as they are hilarious. The terminal fowl was executed, as usual in those days, by Ida Nevasayneva. Nothing more to say!
Defending the Caveman – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 15th September 2000
Rob Becker’s beautifully written one-man play was toured the world over by Australian Mark Little, at the time best known for his appearances in the TV soap Neighbours. Defending the Caveman is a really clever show that highlights the differences between men and women, presented from a man’s point of view, but always respectful and entertaining. Great stuff!
Rambert Dance Company Autumn & Winter Tour – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 6th October 2000
Back again for another helping of Rambert, with a slightly unusual programme of two longer dance pieces: Mats Ek’s She was Black and Christopher Bruce’s Sergeant Early’s Dream. Dream was performed to live music from the Sergeant Early Band. The fantastic (slightly smaller than usual) group of dancers included favourites Hope Muir, Glenn Wilkinson, Vincent Redmon, and Simon Cooper.
Graham Norton – Lively – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 8th October 2000
After seeing Victoria Wood a few years earlier, this was our second foray into the world of stand-up comedy on stage, and Graham Norton’s comedy gig was absolutely excellent. He had the also excellent Jo Caulfield as his support act. At the time he was just gathering success with his So Graham Norton TV show – little did we know how he would grow to dominate the TV and radio for decades!
Richard Alston Dance Company – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 24th October 2000
Our third trip to see Richard Alston’s annual tour, the programme featured a selection of Alston’s pieces set to classical musical. Waltzes in Disorder, with music by Brahms, was followed by Tremor, with music by Shostakovich, and finally The Signal of a Shake, set to music by Handel. The line up of dancers included Martin Lawrance, David McCormick and Diana Loosmore.
Mark Baldwin Dance Company – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 14th February 2001
A four month gap till our next show, a Valentine’s night trip to the Wycombe Swan to see the Mark Baldwin Dance Company in a programme of works all choreographed by Baldwin: Danses Concertantes, The Bird Sings with its Fingers, and The State. This show was a collaboration with the full scale orchestra, Sinfonia 21. Among the dancers was Laurent Cavanna, whose work we had admired when he danced with Rambert.
Jekyll and Hyde – Northern Ballet Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 30th March 2001
Another trip to see strong modern ballet with the contemporary twist of the Northern Ballet, in a dance version of the famous story choreographed by Massimo Moricone. Jekyll was danced by Hironao Takahashi and Hyde by the late Jonathan Ollivier. I confess I don’t have too many memories of this.
Moscow City Ballet perform Swan Lake – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 1st May 2001
Classical ballet on a grand scale, the Moscow City Ballet’s production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece had all the little touches you would expect from this company that brings the atmosphere of the true Russian ballet on its regular tours.
Nederlands Dans Theater 2 – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 20th May 2001
Another visit to see NDT2 touring, at the time one of favourite dance companies – the youth department of the NDT. The programme started with Dream Play, choreographed by Johan Inger, to music from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring; then Said and Done, a new dance from Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon to the music of Bach; and finally crowd pleaser Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16, set to fun 1950s tunes. A brilliant and memorable night’s dance.
All good things have to come to an end. And even though it’s not a good thing, let’s hope the pandemic is one of them. But before that, Sunday night saw the last (allegedly) of the excellent online comedy gigs hosted by The Atic and The Comedy Crate through the unbelievably helpful Zoom. Once again our host was Ryan Mold, getting to know some of the online attendees, including part-time actor and recycling expert David, who may have to instruct our new local council in all things Green Bin – important work! Ryan also shared some of his new material relating to the pleasures of Facebook Marketplace, which is funnier than it sounds!
Five acts for our entertainment again, and first up was Laura Lexx, with a very sparky and confident approach to the world of zoom comedy, looking back on all the most dreadful moments of the lockdowns, including home haircuts and the unashamed purchase of a pricey dog. She also had some great material contrasting natural feminism with the need to be in comfy clothes. Very engaging and funny!
Next up, and new to us, was Philip Simon, who used a very showbiz backdrop to make us feel we really were at a comedy club. By contrast he has a rather gentle delivery, and enjoys clever wordplay in his material, giving rise to excellent observations about Geordie sheep-shaggers, withdrawal agreements, and how to make a man happy. He also had some entertaining material about home-schooling, which is something a lot of people can relate to!
After Ryan was concerned about one of the audience members who had gone off – only to discover he was doing the washing-up (such is the dynamic of a zoom gig), our third act was Nick Page, also new to us, who has a very wry and dour persona; the kind of comic that makes you laugh even though he himself never breaks into a smile once. I really enjoyed his material about posh relatives, and the joys of becoming a father at the age of 50. He communicated a lot with individual audience members which integrated really well into his act – that can be a risky strategy online, but his natural authority meant no one wouldn’t dare co-operate! Very entertaining, and someone we would like to see again when the world gets back to normal.
Then came Eshaan Akbar, whom we’ve seen a few times now and always mixes great observational comedy with food for thought. I really enjoyed his sequence about getting annoyed that people don’t pronounce his name properly – which has a nice sting in the tail, his struggle to get the attention and affection of his father, and why the Covid vaccine is the perfect Empire product. He always delivers his material with great fluidity and pinpoint accuracy, and I look forward to seeing him again sometime soon too.
Our headline act was Paul McCaffrey, who had appeared on one of the other gigs earlier this spring. He also has great style and attack, and I loved all his stuff about marketing clothes through what celebrities wear, and also his observations about Twitter. He did repeat some of his material from his previous gig – but, if you hadn’t heard it before, it was very funny!
So this has been described as the last of these zoom gigs as we start to emerge from the blur of lockdown – but I wouldn’t be remotely surprised to see more online comedy from this team in the future!
If it’s Sunday at 6pm then it’s time for the next comedy zoom gig courtesy of those nice people at the Comedy Crate and the Atic. For this show, usual host Ryan Mold handed the reins over to the excellent Rich Wilson, whom we saw MC’ing one of their shows in the garden of Northampton’s Black Prince last year. He treated the show very much as he would have a real live show, starting off by chatting individually with a lot of the audience to warm us up for what was to come. This isn’t always easy on a zoom gig but he committed to it perfectly! Amongst his introductory gems were the pros and cons of TikTok and why you never see ghosts in the nude. He’s truly a dab hand at this game, and he kept the pace going nicely throughout the entire show.
Apart from Mr W, all the comics in the line up were new to us, and it’s been many a year since I’ve been able to say that! First up was President Obonjo, the alter ego of comedian Benjamin Bello, who seized control of the Lafta Republic by means of an “election”. It’s a wonderful comic creation, with so much scope for the boot’s on the other foot comparisons between first and third world countries – especially post-Brexit. I loved the idea of a new Live-Aid; and the Good President’s address turned into an advert for tourism to his unfortunate nation. Very funny, and I’d love to see him in more natural surroundings sometime soon.
Next we had Gareth Berliner, clearly a naturally funny guy, whose cam angle made it look as though he was begging us for mercy from somewhere down below. No need to beg, as he had some lovely observations about life in lockdown. He conjured up a nice image – whilst missing real gigs, his wife MC’s him into the lounge to make him feel at home. I loved his alternative idea to being clinically vulnerable, and how he befriends burglars, just for company. There’s also a very funny visual punchline with his tattoo of Sweden – don’t ask. Very enjoyable.
Third up was Rachel Jackson – definitely not the Prime Minister’s sister as I originally feared – who risked her ten minutes on their being horror fans in the audience – which elicited just one voice of support! Nevertheless she strode courageously on with some material about the film Saw, (which we never did) – but a lot of people had, so at least they got the jokes! Despite our not getting some of the references, she’s a gifted deliverer of material, with a lively madcap persona and bundles of enthusiasm; and we also really enjoyed the idea of her sexting the government. Oh, and if you’re a fat guy – you’re in. Cue all the fat guys preening to cam.
Our fourth act came to us all the way from New York City – Gianmarco Soresi. What a brilliant comic he is! A breath of fresh air from the start, he had us in hysterics from the word go, with hilarious and effortless observations, all delivered with a truly adroit turn of phrase. Among his superb nuggets was the wonderful insight into why Catholic jokes never get old, his dating experiences with masks, and how you can date en famille. His humour has an element of self-deprecation (actually more of self-creepery if such a thing exists) and works incredibly well. I do hope we get to see him perform live in the UK, as he could be The Next Best Thing.
Our headline act was Brennan Reece, a very engaging chap who tells wayward and meandering tales, where the fun is more in the getting there than in reaching the final destination. There were some excellent sequences including the door to door vaccine salesman and the depressed dog, but the joy of his performance was more in the throwaway side observations and turns of phrase. He’s another naturally very funny guy, and a great way to end the show.
Only one more of these Sunday night gigs to come. Will you be there? We will!
The online comedy gigs courtesy of Zoom, the Comedy Crate and the Atic keep coming on Sunday nights, and last night we enjoyed another great show with top class comics. Our host Ryan Mold kept things fast and punchy – including a quick hello to us at the beginning, where I confused him over the details of my ex-career – it’s not an easy thing to explain in a sentence or two! A lovely introduction to the show included Ryan’s speculation on how Aldi staff get recruited, and what connects Abraham Lincoln to VE Day.
Our first act was the wonderful Darren Walsh, punster supreme, who made terrific use of the technical possibilities offered by Zoom – having seen him before I’d forgotten how much he likes to frame his material with a dash of multi-media. He has such an inventive approach to punning, that sometimes you have to play back his words over in your head to quite work out which bit was the pun! I particularly enjoyed the Whitney Houston moment, the dentist material, the Brady Bunch and the CAPS ON gags. Always a joy, can’t wait to see him live and properly again soon!
Next was Nick Doody, a favourite from many Screaming Blue Murder shows, with some great new and highly topical material. Zoom can make it difficult for a comic who naturally relies on all the things happening around them during the gig, but Mr D didn’t let his enforced isolation get in the way. I really enjoyed all his stuff about leaving a zoom meeting (first time I’ve seen an online call-back work!) and the fact that he can see himself performing. He’s always great value and was excellent as usual.
Our middle act was Dinesh Nathan, new to us; a friendly chap with some clever lockdown material about having to confess you’ve been walking with someone else, and preparing for a zoom call just as you would for meeting in person. I liked his comparisons between his Sri Lankan heritage and his Britishness. He’s a naturally funny guy and I’d like to see him again IRL when we can!
Next came Lindsey Santoro, whom we saw at the Black Prince only last autumn in a Comedy Crate garden gig. She has a wonderfully bubbly and madcap persona, and a no-holds-barred attitude to jokes about sex from all angles (literally). I thoroughly enjoyed her material about the Rock Climbing Wall and the profiteroles line is a great send-off on which to end the act. Her enthusiasm and enjoyment for what she’s doing really comes across to the audience and she encourages us to share in her fun. Hugely entertaining.
Our headline act, and also new to us, was American Dave Fulton, live from his garage as he introduced us to his collectable motorbikes. A lot of his material was pretty near the mental health knuckle, but he always got away with it very nicely – I particularly enjoyed his fantasising about Trump’s death, as well as his observations about life in Newcastle and Blackpool. He also talked about the unexpected aspects of adopting a child of a different race than your own; some incredibly funny observations there. But in the end, it was all about the motorbikes, as one of the audience members couldn’t contain his excitement at Dave’s collection!
It looks like there will be two more Sunday gigs before – heavens forfend! – we might be able to start enjoying proper live comedy nights come April! Here’s the details for the next one!
These online comedy gigs courtesy of the Comedy Crate and the Atic have proved very successful so the initial plan for four Sundays throughout February has extended into March, and I for one am delighted about that! It’s a great way to relax into your Sunday evening before preparing for another Monday of Big Business and Commercial Challenges… sorry, I mean, staying at home and not knowing what day it is from one day to the next.
Our regular host Ryan Mold welcomed us all on board with his bright, cheery presence and some great new material including an embarrassing remote conversation with people on a bus, and the joys of being colour-blind. It’s much more difficult to engage with a zoom audience than a conventional audience because there’s no hiding place in a regular club or theatre, whereas online you can pretend not to hear or indeed just switch your cam off whilst you go and cook the evening meal! But he does a great job at keeping us all involved.
It was a five-act show last night – virtually Shakespearean in construct. First off the block was Scott Bennett, whom we saw a few years ago supporting Rob Brydon at the Royal and Derngate and he was brilliant. Again yesterday he has a fantastic, lively presence with great, surefooted delivery and heaps of material to share. I loved all his observations about taking kids on an aeroplane, his printer being his mortal enemy and, most of all, those unromantic evenings when you’re “trying for a baby”. The jokes were overflowing as was the laughter. A really great start.
Next up was Paul F Taylor, whom we’d also seen at a Screaming Blue Murder seven years ago. He has a terrific zany approach to his comedy with a nice balance of the surreal and the stupid. Last night he did a great routine about how one of your hands is a reliable tool all your life but the other is a hanger-on – very funny. I also liked his exploration of which professions are suffering most during lockdown. I’m not sure the zoom medium works that well for his particular comedic style; you can tell he yearns for interpersonal stage connections to make things flow for the best. But he has great material and has a very likeable stage persona.
Middle act, and a last minute change to our schedule, was Jenny Collier. New to us, I liked how she uses her Queen’s English accent to shock with the use of the C word! In fact she didn’t hold back from discussing some of the seamier sides of life, but it was all done with great timing and a very engaging personality. She had some great material about doing the NHS clap in a Welsh village, and also the very recognisable observations about life as a GP receptionist. Very enjoyable!
Next came Jack Gleadow, also new to us, and clearly a naturally funny guy, with a great feel for language (I loved his malapropism for Covid) and silliness (as in his impression of David Attenborough). He was also responsible for my favourite joke of the night, concerning comments made on porn videos, and we were his brief, but very funny, participants in his Meet The Audience section. He’s definitely someone we’d like to see IRL (as the young people say) when this is all over.
And our headline act was the marvellous Troy Hawke, Milo McCabe’s brilliant Clark Gable lookalike comic creation, and probably the only person on a zoom call who’d naturally don a smoking jacket. Again, he’s another comic who thrives on the interaction with the audience – we’ve seen him do Spank! in Edinburgh a few times – which is a challenge on zoom but he rises to it superbly, remarking on people’s living rooms, camera angles, lighting and so on – a perfect alternative to teasing them in person. His unexpected accents – such as that of the Glaswegian audience member – are terrifically funny as they’re so at odds with Troy’s own voice and demeanour. I really enjoyed his material about impostor syndrome and nurses versus influencers. An excellent way to end the evening.
I’m already booked for next week’s show which has the promise of some terrific acts – are you?
It was the fourth of the February Sunday gigs last night – which was to be the last of the series, but they’re continuing into March, so hurrah for that! Back in the driving seat was Ryan Mold, making us all welcome with some fun material about car boot sales and selling on Facebook Marketplace – I’d already concluded I’d never do that and he proved me right.
Our first act was James Cook, who admits he suffers from having a common name so that you can’t find him on social media! He was new to us and I really loved his throwaway style of delivering a punchline, which can make a joke last twice as long as you expect. Some great material about the least appropriate site for a Sea Life Centre, what a communal teddy bear can get up to at the weekends, and a wonderfully funny take on the Shamima Begum situation, which could have been iffy but was actually brilliant. Would really like to see him again “when everything gets back to normal”.
Next up was Esther Manito, whom we’ve also never seen before, and, of all the comics that we’ve seen plying their trade through the medium of zoom, she’s the one who’s absolutely nailed the technique, using the camera to great effect – most notably during her material about having sex with Matt Hancock (no, really). Some excellent comic observations, including how you can misunderstand the word Lebanese, and a terrific presence – she’s someone else we need to see again before too long.
Five acts this week (you spoil us, Mr Ambassador) and in the middle slot was Mike Cox, whom we saw in another Comedy Crate/Atic gig a couple of weeks ago. Some of his new material didn’t quite hit the mark (but that’s always the case when you try new things out, otherwise how can you find out!) but I really enjoyed his shopping at Aldi material, and how cruel a trip to Chessington World of Adventures can really be. He’s a naturally funny guy with great delivery and a strong presence – and he has great interaction skills with the audience.
Another new name to us was next, Yuriko Kotani, Japanese but based in Britain – which must be a source of great culture clash comedy. I particularly liked her observations about the differences between the nature of the Japanese and English languages, and she has a very warm and winning personality that shone through. There’s also a rather delicate use of the surreal, evidenced by her slightly bizarre material about creating dried flowers. Very enjoyable!
Our headline act was Larry Dean, whose star has been in the ascendant for some time but we haven’t seen for about seven years, and I confess when I first saw him I wasn’t certain how much I liked his material. But seven years is a long time in comedy and last night he was bright, self-deprecating, insightful and hilarious. He uses his range of accents to terrific comic effect and has such fluidity in his delivery that it just washes over you, so you bask in pure comic refreshment. Very nice material contrasting British and American elections, and also some very funny asides about his new chap. Really enjoyed his set and will look forward to seeing him again.
Having enjoyed the first two of these free online Sunday night gigs there didn’t seem much point not booking for the third one! And it was a very wise choice, as this was *possibly* the funniest of the three. This time Sally-Anne Hayward was in the MC Hot Seat – we’ve seen her many times before and she’s always incredibly funny. She kept last night’s show going at a terrific pace, and also chipped in with loads of great material; we particularly enjoyed her observations on Morris Dancing!
The running list featured five comics, although that’s slightly misleading, more of which later. But first up was Alexis Dubus, new to me, a delightfully dour presence with a hangdog expression that belies some ace observations and a penchant for extremely funny comic poems. He offers a great line in comically mixing up two totally different but similarly sounding words – sometimes it elicits a groan from the audience but it’s always very funny. I particularly liked the punchline of his Wookey Hole poem. We’d definitely like to see him for real sometime when we’re all allowed! This wouldn’t be last we’d see of Mr Dubus that evening.
Next up was Josh Pugh, whom we saw only last October at a Comedy Crate gig – how long ago that feels now! And once again, he’s full of brilliant and quirky observations about lockdown life, relationships and everything else. I particularly enjoyed his ideas of why he wouldn’t want to be Prime Minister and why he’s useless at bedroom role play. He uses his quiet, unassuming persona to great surprise effect, and his time went very quickly.
Then we welcomed James Dowdeswell, a Frequent Flyer at Screaming Blue Murder gigs of old, a master of the self-deprecation gag, and with great recognisable observations about subtle class distinctions – I loved the “two pints of lager” gag revisited in a craft beer environment. His relaxed style works very well for the intimacy of a zoom gig and he was fantastic as usual.
Our fourth act was, also new to us, the fabulously French and superbly sarcastic Marcel Lucont; also known as the alter-ego of Mr Dubus, whom we met earlier. As laconic as his name would suggest, he derides everything that isn’t French or has French aspirations. He also has a fantastically French sex life, for which social distancing doesn’t prove too much of a problem, has a wonderful sequence about discovering that your partner is a Covid denier, gave us a fine poem about stupid people, and ended with some of his Imbible material – discussing the problems that arise from Jesus turning water into wine. I was laughing pretty much hysterically all the way through.
Finally we welcomed Mark Simmons, whom we saw on this very online gig only two weeks ago, and I wondered if we would get a repeat of some of the material. I should have known better from Mr Simmons – he told us he had thirty new jokes to crack through and work out which ones worked and which didn’t. With a couple of notable exceptions, they were all up to the usual Simmons Standard! Our favourites included the diabetic ginger cake and his girlfriend’s request for how he could improve his sexual performance. It was a totally top notch way to end the show.
Same again next week? Oh go on then. Book here – it’s still free!
Dance Bites – The Royal Ballet at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 19th March 1996
Over a few years the Royal Ballet did a mini tour every Spring to certain selected theatres – and because the Wycombe Swan was managed by the balletomane Stuart Griffiths (who went on to manage Dance Consortium, amongst other ventures), our local theatre was always amongst the first to get good contemporary and classical dance. So Dance Bites became a regular show until the 1999 season. Never before had we seen such well known and well regarded classical dancers. The programme started with Signed in Red, choreographed by Emma Diamond, which included Deborah Bull, Adam Cooper and William Trevitt (of Balletboyz fame) amongst its line-up. Then we had the world premiere of Ashley Page’s Sleeping with Audrey, music composed by Orlando Gough, which I remember being thoroughly unusual, Souvenir, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, Odalisque choreographed by Tom Sapsford, a pas de deux by Ashley Page entitled …Now Languorous, Now Wild…, danced by Darcey Bussell and Jonathan Cope – a real crowdpleaser casting there, and finally William Forsythe’s Steptext, danced by Deborah Bull, Adam Cooper, Tetsuya Kumakawa and Matthew Dibble. Truly a night to remember.
Swan Lake – Adventures in Motion Pictures at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 30th March 1996
Matthew Bourne’s ground-breaking production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece is still packing them in in theatres all around the world (that is, when theatres all around the world are allowed to reopen). It had opened at Sadlers’ Wells the previous November, and we saw it on one of its very first out-of-town performances, a Saturday matinee in High Wycombe. For me, this is the most impressive dance production I’ve ever seen – and I’ve gone back to it again and again over the intervening decades. Perhaps because this was our first time, we still look back on this production as featuring the dream team of casts: Scott Ambler as The Prince, Will Kemp as the Swan, Fiona Chadwick as the Queen, Emily Piercey as The Girlfriend and Barry Atkinson as the Press Secretary. If you haven’t seen it – mark it down in your diaries as soon as theatres come back to life. The Original and Best.
Dial M for Murder – Mobil Touring Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 13th April 1996
Frederick Knott’s classic thriller was given a smart and stylish production with Peter Davison and Catherine Rabett as Tony and Sheila Wendice. Best known as the Hitchcock film starring Ray Milland and Grace Kelly, it’s an intriguing story that goes to prove that the perfect murder just doesn’t exist. Very enjoyable.
English National Ballet – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 24th May 1996
I have to confess that I remember very little of this programme of dance from the English National Ballet. I can see from the list of dancers that it featured Principal Dancer Josephine Jewkes, Senior Soloists Angela De Mello and Kevin Richmond, and Soloists Rebecca Sewell and Paul Lewis. The programme was Mauro Bigonzetti’s Symphonic Dances, Kenneth Macmillan’s My Brother, My Sisters, and David Lichine’s Graduation Ball. I’m sure it was all terrific. But I can’t remember a thing about it.
Victoria Wood on Tour – Apollo Theatre, Oxford, 25th June 1996
At the time, you probably couldn’t have gone to a more on-trend and must-see comedy show than Victoria Wood’s tour, when she was at her height of creativity. She knew exactly what her fans wanted – a mixture of old and new, so there was plenty of fresh stand-up, but still time for The Ballad of Freda and Barry and other old gems. Demand for tickets was very high and all we could get were two seats right at the very far end of the second row. It was great to be there; but I think I remember coming away with the idea that she was better on TV.
I Have Been Here Before – Middle Ground Theatre at the Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 29th June 1996
I remember that this show was booked for just half a week at the Swan – from the Thursday to the Saturday, so they couldn’t have been confident that it would have attracted those early to midweek bums on seats. One of J B Priestley’s more mysterious Time Plays, I remember it being absolutely gripping, and a thoroughly decent production to boot. Starring Nicholas Smith (Are You Being Served’s Mr Rumbold) and Frederick Pyne (Emmerdale Farm’s Matt Skilbeck) and directed by David Kelsey, Artistic Director of Middle Ground Theatre Company, who sadly died during the play’s tour.
Barnum – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 12th July 1996
Breaking my rule about not including shows in these blog posts that I had already seen, this production of Cy Coleman, Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s fantastic musical was notable for a few reasons. I think it was the first national tour of this show since it left the Palladium years previously; secondly, it drew very little attention from audiences and critics alike; thirdly it was also directed by the late David Kelsey who had died during the tour of both this show and the one I’ve just written about above ; and fourthly it starred a big name on TV at the time, game show host Andrew O’Connor, who was surprisingly superb in the role. I really enjoyed it – and was shocked at how few people there were in the audience on a Friday night!
There’s a Girl in my Soup – Apollo Theatre, Oxford, 27th July 1996
Continuing to break my rule about not including shows in these blog posts that I had already seen, I was so excited at the prospect of a revival of Terence Frisby’s 60s smash hit that I had seen as a little kid and loved every minute of. So I was massively disappointed – but really shouldn’t have been surprised – that the touring production which we saw in the enormous Apollo Theatre Oxford on a Saturday matinee had one of the tiniest audiences I’ve ever seen. Whether it was the casting – with Love Thy Neighbour’s Jack Smethurst as Andrew (at a time when everyone believed that the content of that show was no longer something to be proud of) or whether it was just that the Swinging Sixties were an outdated concept, I don’t know. Despite them closing the circle and asking everyone in the Stalls to bunch up into the front five rows, this production had no hope of raising the tiniest of laughs and it was an embarrassment to be there. Not because it was bad, because it wasn’t. But because it was just wrong. I felt very sorry for Mr Smethurst – he was hoist by his own petard by being so good in Love Thy Neighbour that the general public couldn’t see that he was in fact an actor, rather than that bigoted character.
High Society – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 20th September 1996
Moving past that year’s offering at the Pendley Festival – The Merchant of Venice – our next show was a production of Cole Porter’s so-called champagne musical, High Society, which we saw with the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle as we thought it would be her kind of thing. The musical version of the successful film, The Philadelphia Story, this excellent production was enormous fun, boasting a splendid cast including Tracey Childs, Michael Howe, Roland Curram and the one and only Miss Jackie Trent. We all had a swell party.
Rambert Dance Company Autumn Tour – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 10th October 1996
At a time when we simply couldn’t get enough Rambert, this was another superb programme. First was Christopher Bruce’s Moonshine, set to the music of Bob Dylan, and danced by Didy Veldman, Christopher Powney, Steven Brett and Sheron Wray. Next came the world premiere of Kim Brandstrup’s Eidolon, with Laurent Cavanna, Sarah Warsop, Simon Cooper, Daniel de Bourg, Rafael Bonachela, Patricia Hines, Elizabeth Old, Fabrice Serafino and Didy Veldman. After another interval it was Veldman’s own Kol Simcha, with the cast including Paul Liburd, Simon Cooper and Rafael Bonachela. Such great names, and such great performances.