It was only two weeks ago that we last came to the Black Prince to watch a comedy night in their back garden courtesy of The Comedy Crate. But two weeks is a long time in live comedy, so it was a delight to return for another show last night. I’m still working out whereabouts is the ideal position to sit, and, for this show we sat centrally but four tables back – and on reflection that was probably a little far from the performers for Optimum Atmosphere. Note to self: get closer next time. Still, our table was a riot, with Mrs Chrisparkle on the gluten-free beer, and Lord and Lady Prosecco together with Prinz Mark von Köln tucking into the drinks delicacies on offer from both bars. I, of course, was abstemious… ahem.
Our MC this week was Will Duggan, someone we’ve not seen before, but he’s a lively spark and an amiable chap who strikes up a great rapport with the crowd. He devoted his stage time largely to getting to know the people near the front, and they were the usual motley crew of out-of-work singers, retirees and apparent prison inmates (not really, I’m sure.) There was also a chap who took a couple of the acts by surprise by his incredibly boyish features despite being the grand old age of 23. Indeed, he really did look like this was way past his bedtime. Mr D kept things moving at a nice pace and set up a few cunning callbacks for the comics to pounce on later.
Our first act was Sarah Callaghan, who has a nicely confiding (and confident) style, letting us in to the secrets and undercurrents of her domestic life, with her close relationships with both her niece and her mother – and the wisdom of being a smoker under such circumstances. Lots of intelligent but funny family-type observations, and she’s proud to be a pessimist which creates some more good sequences. She has her own take on the #metoo movement, and I very much enjoyed her parting material about flying over the Grand Canyon. We’ve seen her a couple of times before including in Edinburgh where she mixed comedy with poetry – very successfully. Perhaps she didn’t think Northampton to cope with poetry! Anyway, her act was very enjoyable and nicely paving the way for what was to come.
Second up was the brilliant Bobby Mair; we’d seen him at a Screaming Blue Murder three years ago. And although his characterisation is the same – that of your friendly local psychopath who can be trusted to say the wrong thing if at all possible – I’m pretty sure it was all fresh new material and absolutely top quality stuff. I particularly relished his routines about mental health – a subject matter on which many comics might teeter perilously – but he totally smashed it. One member of the audience suggested that we all have some mental illness, which was the cue for him to do a perfect putdown using a brilliant analogy. I loved his observations about narcissists and Trump (yes, the two in the same breath) – and I didn’t want him to stop. Fantastic.
Our headline act was the sublime Paul Sinha, whom we’ve seen a few times before, and was indeed the recipient of the Chrisparkle Award for Best Screaming Blue Murder Stand-up for both 2010 and 2012. Ever since he’s been a big name on TV’s The Chase, he’s referred to the show as part of his act to some extent, and so he did this time too. However, you could say that a lot has happened in his life over the past few years – including getting married and being diagnosed with Parkinson’s – and he’s come up with a very creative way of funnelling all that personal material into the act; by telling the story of the past few years by means of verse and (occasional) song. If the prospect of that might make you cringe a little, rest assured it works superbly. It’s such a deftly-written and structured routine, full of wonderful side cultural references, with the full range of modern day heroes from Priti Patel to Gemma Collins (I use the word heroes inadvisably on purpose) – and we all absolutely loved it. Full of hilarity but also full of pathos – an irresistible combination. After it was all over, we left the venue on a warm mental comedy high.
One more Comedy Crate night at the Black Prince coming up on 8th October, including the Noise Next Door whom we saw at the Leicester Comedy Festival last year and are incredible. You have to come too!
As this wonderful year whirls its merry way into September, a few more live events continue to emerge from the mist. Hurrah that this includes the second visit of The Comedy Crate team to the extensive back garden at the Black Prince pub in Northampton, for another night of comedy. This time Mrs Chrisparkle and I were not only accompanied by Lord and Lady Prosecco, together with heir to the Prosecco estate, Prinz Mark von Köln, but also our friend Dr Eurovision (one of our few friends to have their own nickname and not one supplied by me!) Fortunately the rain decided to give us a break but in any case we would have been protected by that big marquee so your only chance of getting wet is queueing for a beer or a Sauvignon Blanc.
Things started a little late as, by 7pm, scheduled kick-off time, our headline act hadn’t actually left home yet – a mere 90 miles away. Therefore we had a couple of changes, but comedy thrives on the seat of its pants! Our MC for the evening was the irrepressible Archie Maddocks, whom we’ve seen three times before doing spots at the Edinburgh Fringe (ah, Edinburgh Fringe… Où sont les neiges d’antan?) and he’s always terrific fun. He sparked off the punters in the tables closest to the stage (I say stage, I mean patch of grass) and over the course of the evening kept us entertained with his quirky observations including how he resents sharing his name with a member of the Royal Family, the behaviour of his elderly grandad, and a wonderful new take on Toy Story.
Our first act was Lindsey Santoro, a new name to us, a Birmingham lass with pink hair and no inhibitions. She brims with confidence as she regales us with some terrific material, mainly about sex, including a brilliant physical performance of shenanigans in a jacuzzi. Very very funny and she got the evening off to a cracking start.
Next up, and in a change to the advertised programme, was local comic hero Ben Briggs, whom we last saw a few months ago at the Leicester Comedy Festival (let’s hope that comes back next year but I remain doubtful at the moment!) Coaxed back to perform for us with just an hour’s notice, he admitted he was completely unprepared but his natural sense of performance and back catalogue of brilliant material still provided a very funny set of tough-delivered, heavily ironic and biting comedy. He’s in his element when bantering with the crowd and did a terrific job.
Our headline act was Tom Binns, in his alter ego as Hospital DJ supremo Ivan Brackenbury. Although he’s been around for a while and has had a number of TV appearances, we’ve never seen either Mr Binns or Mr Brackenbury before – our bad. He had us in riots of laughter from the very start with his appalling tactless mix of revealing the patients’ embarrassing conditions and then playing a totally inappropriate record for them. But it’s a much more clever – and funny – act than those bare bones might suggest. Like the ghastly love child of Timmy Mallett and Jonathan King, Brackenbury is a brilliant comic creation – totally convincing, terrifically creative, and more excruciating than Matt Hancock defending Tony Abbott. I didn’t want him to stop.
We all had a marvellous time, and, guess what, there’s another one in two weeks headed by the magnificent Paul Sinha. See you there!
Not often I get the chance to start a piece of writing with the word “Review” nowadays, but, as we all know, gentle reader, these are strange times indeed. However, with commendable innovation and forward thinking, those clever chaps at The Comedy Crate set up a comedy night in the garden of the Black Prince last night, bringing live laughter back to the people and sticking two fingers up at the virus.
To be honest, we were a little nervous of how the whole thing would work. It was the first time Mrs Chrisparkle or I had been to a pub since early March, although our guests, Lord and Lady Prosecco, are already old-handers at the art of post-Covid public libation. The Black Prince has a big garden, almost completely covered by an extensive set of joined up marquees, with bench tables nicely socially distanced, and I must say it all felt pretty safe. One price for a table – £40 – and for that you could have up to six people sitting there. Your temperature was taken on arrival, with a kind of stun-gun affair, quick and effective, and fortunately we all passed with flying colours.
From where we sat, sightlines to where the comics performed were very good, and the sound system was excellent; everyone’s voices were just at the right volume and clarity. Plus the Black Prince has a good range of drinks – M’Lord and I knocked back the IPAs, M’lady had the Sauvignon Blanc and Mrs C enjoyed a few delicious gluten-free Wainwright beers (which are top quality in the world of gf beer!) All this and comedy too.
We hadn’t encountered most of the performers before. MC for the night was Rich Wilson, a lively, ebullient chap who started off with all guns blazing and never let up the energy all night. Of course, everyone came to this gig from a position of not having been involved in comedy for several months – both audience and comics alike. As a result, there was a big emphasis on Lockdown Survival as comedy material – but that works well, as it’s something we’ve all experienced and can all recognise. Mr W had lots of great observations about life during and after lockdown, but also threw in a few other gems, like his experience at working as a straight man in a gay sauna, for example. He has a terrific rapport with the audience, and was great fun all round.
Our first act, and the only one we’d seen before, was the excellent Nathan Caton. More wry observations on Covid survival, including the pressures of having your girlfriend move in with you just before lockdown, which led to a very funny poem about dealing with said situation. Mr C makes some brilliant observations about latent racism and social distancing, and his winning personality makes his set just fly by. Seemingly effortless, but I bet it’s not.
Next came Kelly Convey, who was on cracking form, with her stories about being working class and therefore having relatives living in Spain, meeting the man of her dreams, her encounter with a famous sex pest and a brilliant take down of TV’s Take Me Out. She has a terrific delivery, fantastic timing with some killer punchlines and all-round excellent material. We loved her and want to see her again.
Our headline act was Garrett Millerick, who also came on stage frothing with energy and attack and instantly achieved a terrific rapport with us all. I absolutely loved his material about Gordon Ramsey – which was 100% spot-on – and he cleverly turns a sequence about imitating a native Mandarin speaker, which, if wrongly pitched, could be dicing with racism, into a really funny observation about the nature of language and accents. Very quick-witted and full of fun, his act was a suitable culmination to an incredibly enjoyable night, all of us celebrating having made it this far.
Congratulations to the Comedy Crate for setting this up – it might have been a disaster, but it was indeed a triumph, and a full house too. The future of live comedy for the foreseeable future? I think so!
We really enjoyed our day at the Comedy Crate Festival in Northampton last year, and needed no hesitation to book again for this year! As last time, we were unable to take advantage of the excellent weekend rate (£30 for both days, so that’s only £3 per show) because on the Saturday we were Otherwise Engaged. But we definitely up for the Sunday schedule.
Basically there are two shows on each of two venues all through the day – a show at 3pm, 4.30pm, 6.30pm, 8pm and 9.30pm – and you can mix and match your attendance at either the upstairs bar at the Charles Bradlaugh, or a swanky tent in the garden at the Black Prince. It was a gloriously sunny day (aren’t they all at the moment!) – in other words a perfect opportunity to combine top quality comedy with a bit of a boozy afternoon and evening. Well, you’re only young once. For the most part, the comics were all shaping up their current works-in-progress in preparation for their Edinburgh Fringe gigs next month. This is both a more relaxed way of seeing comedy, as it’s a very informal structure; but it can also be an exciting form of comedy if your comedian suddenly chances on just the right wording or just the right punchline – you can get that feeling that you’re at the birth of some comedy gold.
Originally I had planned to see all the shows at the Bradlaugh, because they were more Premiership comic contenders, whilst the Black Prince performers were slightly more Championship. But I also didn’t want to be packed in a room which was too full and too hot. So in a last minute change of plan we saw the first two in the Bradlaugh and the other three in the Black Prince. Let’s take them one by one.
Kiri Pritchard McLean (3pm Charles Bradlaugh)
Our organisers had kept us informed that Kiri was running late and she eventually appeared at 3.20, a little flustered from the car drive from hell following her brother’s wedding on the Saturday. I’m impressed that she made it all! Shimmering before us in the outfit that Gina G wore for Eurovision (well damn nearly) she explained that this was her third Edinburgh show and the first two had been easy to create, as they were about gender equality and paedophiles. Sometimes it’s hard to get inside the mind of a comedian! And just as she was concerned that she couldn’t think of a subject for her next show, her long-term boyfriend cheated on her; problem solved. So over the next forty or so minutes we heard all about Seymour (not his real name) and Brandy (not hers) with lots of excellent little side details, like the quality of her shoes, the racist tendencies of Kiri’s mother, and Beyoncé’s album Lemonade. Sadly, we didn’t get to see the full hour – and at the moment Kiri decided she had run out of time, she had divulged a big bombshell in her story! There’s definitely an end to that story, and we don’t know what it is! Kiri is a bright, friendly, warm person on stage and I can only suggest that her Edinburgh show definitely looks worth seeing.
Marlon Davis (4.30pm Charles Bradlaugh)
Amazingly, it’s been eight years since we last saw Marlon Davis at a Screaming Blue Murder show in Northampton. He really impressed me then with his intelligent and slightly quirky style. Eight years on, and he’s still intelligent and quirky, comparing his high pitched natural voice and his gently infantile language structure with his son’s basso profundo directness. It’s typical of Mr Davis’ almost anarchic style that he spends maybe five minutes explaining how work-in-progress shows are very important for a comic to gauge what works and what doesn’t in preparation for their imminent Edinburgh appearance – to then kill his whole explanation with his confession that he isn’t going to be in Edinburgh this year. I think I recognised some of his material from eight years ago, although there’s also a nice running joke about nicking towels from hotels, as well as a funny sequence about his neighbour using their trampoline, and also the rather dark humour of his driving into a tree and being forced into what he calls a pussy coma. His hugely likeable personality means he could get away with just reading the shipping forecast and he would be able to make it funny. Very enjoyable!
Tom Lucy (6.30pm Black Prince)
Next up was a name new to me but I can see that he’s already carving out a great reputation. At the age of 22 Tom Lucy is a very gifted comic with terrific stage confidence and an easy way with banter. He quickly struck up a great rapport, especially with the Ryanair Cabin crew man in the front row. Imagine a South London James Acaster, but less bitter. The main thrust of his new show is all to do with understanding what it is to be a millennial, and he took us through several aspects of this subject and his material was excellent. He wasn’t happy with how it ended though – which is asking the audience at what point they found out that their father wasn’t a superhero. This could work, depending on the person you pick on. If he’d asked me, I’d have to have said that mine died when I was eleven and then it would have been a gloomy end to the show – so it’s a risky strategy. Dating apps, a lovely sequence with a clairvoyant, what constitutes an icon – all played a part in the show. And I’m glad to discover he doesn’t understand the “no socks” thing either. Very enjoyable, and I predict a great future for this chap!
Lloyd Langford (8pm Black Prince)
Another completely new name to me, but what a find! Mr Langford is full-on attack right from the start, with his quirky delivery and incredibly creative and inventive material. He comes across as totally fearless and will stop at nothing to explore a comic idea to the full. I loved his material about the totally invasive massage that he wasn’t expecting; also the massage chair at Tokyo airport (massages seem to be his thing), his dad’s useless Christmas presents which consist of what he finds on the beach; and the innate danger of balconies. One of those comics where it’s really hard to remember the gist of what they were talking about because they carried you away on a sea of nonsense and you didn’t want to fight it. His Edinburgh show looks like a must, and I’d really recommend him.
Patrick Monahan (9.30pm Black Prince)
Top of the Bill at the Black Prince was Patrick Monahan, whom we’ve seen a couple of times in Edinburgh, always as a guest at Spank! He’s another comic with a terrific rapport with the audience; it’s very likely that if he catches your eye you’ll become part of the show but it’s never unkind and always hilarious. He spotted Mrs Chrisparkle for a quick chat and for the rest of his gig she was just the scouser. He wanted to know who thought they had married “up” and who had married “down” – and this got cleverly interwoven in his material about Goals, which is the subject of his Edinburgh show this year. He brings in quite a lot of material about his own relationships, both with his wife and his parents, and his hour just flew by. This was the most polished, and the least work-in-progress of the shows all day, and he’s probably the most accomplished and professional comic that we saw too. Very highly recommended!
So that was it! With a bit of over-running we didn’t leave the Black Prince till after 10.45. There’s great commitment from the organisers and it requires a great commitment from the audiences too. And it really repays the hard work – five excellent performers gave us all a terrific day’s entertainment. Huge congratulations to everyone and I hope we can all do it again next summer!
I was idly thumbing through Facebook the other day and saw, as you do, that a friend was interested in a local event: The first ever Comedy Crate Festival in Northampton, thirty acts over two days in three venues: The Lab, The Charles Bradlaugh and The Black Prince. How fantastic, and innovative, to create such an event where comics can take a slot for work in progress towards their Edinburgh shows in a month’s time. We’d already booked to see Miss Saigon on the Saturday, but that left the Sunday free… £16 for a wristband allowing you access to see five shows seemed a bargain, although £27 for two days works out at just £2.70 a show if you see everything you can, which is, indeed, top value.
First, some feedback about the venues – we saw two shows at the Bradlaugh, two at the Black Prince and one at the Lab. The Charles Bradlaugh has an excellent upstairs room capable of accommodating a big crowd for a comedy gig; it’s comfortable, has a well-stocked bar, and excellent sightlines; my only criticism would be that it can get too hot, but that’s a common problem in well attended comedy venues! The Lab is a much smaller venue with a nice intimate feel, but the hard chairs are, well, ouch! The bar is rather poorly stocked and when the barmen natter to each other during the show, the noise interrupts the act (just a friendly piece of advice for the future!) The quirky Black Prince was probably my favourite; a medium sized venue with an array of different types of seating from hard chairs to sofa, to stools, so you can take your pick for comfort. It also has a lovely garden for pre- or post-show drinkies.
Each venue had five shows a day, all at the same time, so you basically have a choice of three shows for each comedy slot. We’re lucky enough to see quite a bit of comedy so we’d already seen a number of the acts on show; and I thought, in best Fringe tradition, that it would be a good opportunity to catch some acts we didn’t know. That meant no to Stephen Bailey, Larry Dean, Geoff Norcott and Ed Byrne (and from Saturday’s line up, we would have missed Stuart Goldsmith, Pippa Evans and James Acaster. Didn’t they have some good names?!) So I made my choices in advance, and very nearly stuck to them. Let’s take them one by one.
Tom Toal (3pm Charles Bradlaugh)
Well this is where it gets difficult. Tom Toal’s Edinburgh show is Better Than Before, a rather intricate narrative show about following your dreams. It’s extremely clever, but, after a very welcoming and enjoyable first few minutes, including one great joke, I can’t say that either of us found the rest of it particularly funny. There’s a big setup for a significant callback which relies on the audience recognising, or not recognising, the name of an apparently infamous figure in history. Neither of us knew who this person was, and as a result we felt that we had totally misunderstood the punchline of a long joke. Disheartened, it made us feel a bit stupid, took us out of comedy-mode, and as a result the routine never regained traction with us. Mr T is clearly a likeable guy but this really needed to be a lot funnier than it was. Hey ho, there’s still time, that’s why you have work-in-progress try outs!
Ian Smith (4.30pm Black Prince)
Ian Smith seems to have a quiet, unassuming personality, until he lets loose on a flight of fancy, and he’s off like a racehorse! A naturally very funny man, with a great understanding of those bizarre things people do, with which he then confronts you, so you absolutely recognise yourself in his comic scenarios. His Edinburgh show is called Snowflake, and is all about uniqueness – and how it is that we’re all unique yet we’re all the same. Over-running by fifteen minutes (with subsequent knock-on effects for the next show!) he has way too much material, but what to cut out? Because it was all brilliant. Reflections of Tromso including marvellous mental images of shitting huskies, (he found out we’d been there, so at least I added a little something to his act); words that don’t translate into English, but really ought to; googling people with your own name; and getting dismissed via the medium of poetry. The show was frequently interrupted by people wandering in and just standing alongside the stage and Mr Smith did a brilliant job of weaving them into his routine. Extremely funny and I would definitely recommend catching his show.
Jack Barry (6pm The Lab)
With Stephen Bailey in one venue and Larry Dean in another, I guess Jack Barry was always going to be the least attended gig in this slot – and indeed, there were just seven of us in the audience. Sometimes it happens. But that’s an opportunity for the comic to draw on their resources and keep going, ensuring those seven have a good time – and that’s exactly what Jack Barry did. His Edinburgh show is High Treason, a comedy lecture about the benefits of legalising drugs. This is always going to be something that divides an audience, but Mr Barry does a very good job of keeping everyone onside, and actually he comes up with some clever (and funny) arguments to support his case. He has a very engaging style and a confident, fluid delivery and I thought he was extremely good. I hope his show gets a much better turnout in Edinburgh, because it certainly deserves it!
Ed Gamble (7.30pm Charles Bradlaugh)
We had originally planned to see Glenn Wool in this slot at the Black Prince, but for some reason got sidetracked by the prospect of crisps and alcohol at the Bradlaugh as we were walking by. I’d only seen Ed Gamble on TV before so he still counted as “one we hadn’t seen on stage before”. A huge crowd obviously had the same idea, and by the time we’d gone upstairs to find somewhere to sit, our only option was standing at the bar. Still that did give us an excellent view of the stage, and also the opportunity to observe a very serious looking Mr Gamble prowling around the back of the room like an anxious cat, waiting for his moment to pounce on the stage. Once on, he presents a really slick and confident act, absolutely jam-packed full of laughter. Much of the material stems from his running a marathon – including the natural show-offishness that it engenders – and a really funny, if essentially simple, routine on holding in a fart whilst being massaged. There are some wonderful flight of fancy moments, such as treating a tethered priest as if it were a family pet (you had to be there) or how the boys at his posh school would have talked to each other. And there’s a brilliant explanation of how you can tell you’re in a spa. He was cheekily challenged by a guy at the front and I thought his subsequent put down erred on the cruel, so beware of sitting in the front row! But he’s naturally a brilliant comic and this was probably the show during which I laughed the most. Maybe, ever so slightly, a little safe? He’s not one of those comics who will examine a serious situation in an attempt to change the world through the medium of observational humour and surprise revelations. He’s far more likely to make fun of a burp. But he does it so very, very well. His Edinburgh show is called Mammoth and I predict a riot.
Phil Nichol (9pm Black Prince)
It’s interesting to arrive early at a venue when the comic is still setting up and if he doesn’t mind having a chat with you whilst he’s getting ready. Phil Nichol is one such chap. You can tell right away that he’s a perfectionist, and you suspect that if the show goes wrong he’s really going to beat himself up about it. He looks down at his notes for the show, sighs, makes a few comments about how it’s all designed to find out what works and what doesn’t, looks at his notes again, sighs, and looks at you as if to say, “please don’t hurt me, I’m a lovely puppy.” He has no need to worry. His Edinburgh show, Your Wrong, deliberately, I’m sure, spelt grammatically incorrectly, talks about making mistakes, but primarily gives Mr Nichol a chance to rail against the world with all the power invested in him by his hard-hitting, energetic, excitable style. Much of the material stems from his relationship with his family, where he gives us a vivid and hilarious picture of being brought up in a Brethren household – praise God and pass the butter – and the account of the tragedy that befell his beloved older brother. En route, you get an insight into how Anne Robinson refused to be upstaged by him, and a new explanation for why the chicken crossed the road. “Some people say I should slow down my words a little”, he confessed, shortly before the show began. They’re probably right. But what you come away with is an impression of a man possessed by passion, desperate to drive home his points, and creating a comedy craftwork that both satisfies your desire to laugh and juxtaposes personal tragedy in the context of humour. It really makes you think, and it really makes you laugh. I loved it, and I’m sure it’s going to be an Edinburgh smash.
And that was our day! What a great day it was. Huge congratulations to the organisers and I hope we can all do it again next summer!