Review – British Comedian of the Year Semi Final, The Comedy Crate at the Charles Bradlaugh, Northampton, 19th November 2023

Comedy CrateOnce again the Comedy Crate put the laugh into Bradlaugh with another fun-filled evening of top quality comedy. And once again they host a round in the British Comedian of the Year – progressing from a heat last year to a semifinal this year – next year, surely, they’ve got to host the Final! There’s always a great vibe at the Bradlaugh for Comedy Crate nights, but for this show there was a tangible sense of occasion too; everyone was really up for a great night of comedy – and the eight contestant comedians rose to the challenge.

Jake SteersOur host, new to us, as were all but one of the acts, was Jake Steers, Hemel Hempstead’s finest export, and he had plenty to contend with; second-row Lee sending him a series of curveballs and the accountants’ night out in the front row not being the easiest bunch from whom to coax comedy gold. He explained the set up would be three comics then an interval, then another three, and an interval, and finally the last two comics and the voting. We could all download a QR code which would take us to an online voting form, where we could select our favourite two performers. Northampton’s comedy scene is nothing if not high tech.

Currer BallThe winner receives the numerically palindromic sum of £10,001, which I note hasn’t gone up with inflation. If I were this year’s winner, I’d complain. Each contestant gets approximately ten minutes to deliver their best short sharp routine, and despite the lineup being a little short on diversity (eight white men, but that’s no one’s fault) the variety of material and styles was truly impressive.

Dean-CoughlinFirst up – and in a change to the advertised billing – was Currer Ball, a genial Glaswegian with a likeable personality and a confident manner, who based his routine on his girlfriend who doesn’t exist, and on the consequences of playing games, including an agonising round of Twister. Very good delivery, although some of his material didn’t quite land properly. Act Number 2 was Dean Coughlin, a Liverpudlian with a deceptively laid-back manner and presentation, who had the audience in fits of laughter many times during his short set, with a combination of excellent material and spot-on delivery. michael_shafarAct 3 was Michael Shafar, who has a more sophisticated and cosmopolitan air to him, and whose set revolved around his survival from testicular cancer and being Jewish. Some fairly hard-hitting jokes there, and you have to be right on top of your material to get away with holocaust humour, but he went down well with the audience and nailed most of it.

Mike CoxAct 4, and the only comedian we had seen before, was Mike Cox, who delivered a great, confident set about his domestic relationships; some fairly familiar subject matter but spun in a completely different direction which was absolutely brilliant. Stephen CooksonAct 5 was Stephen Cookson, a slightly more mature kind of guy who has a stock of one-liners and tends towards the absurd. He has a very warm approach to the audience though, and the one-liners that worked were fantastic. We won’t mention the ones that didn’t. Fred FerencziAct 6 was Fred Ferenczi, a quietly spoken, dour chap whose humour is based on the difference between the persona he presents and his subject matter. He laments that he is from Aylesbury and slags it off mercilessly. It makes a change from comedians coming to Northampton and slagging our town off. However, I lived in and around Aylesbury for decades and it really isn’t that bad.

Garrie GrubbAct 7 was Garrie Grubb who has an excellent presence but never quite hit his stride; and when he suggested that some of the audience might be homophobic that was a bit of a turn-off for all of us. Northampton audiences are all sorts of things but homophobic is not one of them. Our final act was Dane Buckley, a fascinating mix of Indian, Irish and gay, with a sprightly delivery and some excellent and inventive material, including possibly the best joke of the night involving his coming out to his Indian grandmother.

Dane BuckleyWe had five minutes to vote and the runner-up was Dean Coughlin and the winner Mike Cox. It was a fabulously entertaining evening and the audience clearly loved every minute of it. Good luck for Messrs Cox and Coughlin for the rest of the competition and commiserations to everyone else. Normally if you were to see a mixed bill of eight comedians you might expect to see at least one dud amongst them – but not last night. The standard was very high. If I were to choose a third placed comic it would be Dane Buckley – I think he was unlucky to have such high quality competition.

Our next Comedy Crate gig will be back at V&B’s bar on Tuesday 5th December. Should be another great night!

Review – Do I Love You? John Godber Company at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 14th November 2023

Do I Love YouJohn Godber’s Do I Love You?, currently touring until early next year, is primarily a love letter to Northern Soul. Confession time: I don’t know much (anything, really) about Northern Soul. I can’t say it ever permeated to the Chiltern village where I was brought up. I knew Skiing in the Snow by Wigan’s Ovation and Footsee by Wigan’s Chosen Few, but that’s it; unless you count The Goodies’ Black Pudding Bertha (she’s the queen of Northern Soul) – but I don’t think you can. It’s a musical subculture that is clearly deeply loved, and maybe its general secretiveness is a major part of its appeal. Certainly, the very full audience at the Royal last night was packed with Northern Soul admirers who swung along to the various tracks that are scattered through the show.

DILYIt’s a deceptively simple play; three twenty-somethings who all grew up together in Hull find their chosen career paths halted by Covid and end up all working at the same fast food drive-through. Sally and Kyle have been besties since playschool, and Nat joined them not much later. One night, they chanced upon a club – the Beachcomber – Cleethorpes for an all-nighter of Northern Soul music, only £3 to get in, where they were amazed to find they were the youngest people there. In a beautiful realisation of the arrogance of youth, they ask themselves how the heck did all these old people learn these dance routines? Their aim is to take their Northern Soul dance act to the Tower Ballroom Blackpool, but only if Sally thinks they’re good enough; it’s as though she’s her own Craig Revel-Horwood. I had no idea that Northern Soul had its own dance style by the way, apparently a kind of sliding gliding that relies on talc and balance.

DILYAt the interval, I was feeling this was a modest, underachieving little play. It has a very in-house feel about it, being the John Godber Company production of a John Godber play, directed by John Godber and with John Godber’s daughter among the cast of three. Rather than using a Paul Mathew style pantechnicon, you can imagine them transporting the set and props from venue to venue using a local man with a van. There was no programme – at least not at last night’s performance – so I can’t name and shame whoever was responsible for the totally inadequate lighting, with members of the cast performing in shadow during some scenes.

I was also underwhelmed by the script which I found repetitive, rather dull and lacking that usual John Godber wit. There should be a legal limit on the number of times the phrase do you want fries with that can be repeated in a play. Yes, we get the drift that it’s designed to show that their jobs were repetitive and dull but is it fair to subject the audience to the same level of repetition with such diligence?!

DILYHowever, the scene just before the interval started to show some promise. Our trio have discovered the Cleethorpes club and have felt its vigour and emotion coursing through their veins for the first time. And it was also the first time that the characters truly came to life. And after the interval, the drive and power of the play continued to burst through the writing. Despite the rather heavy-handed speech by an old-timer (67 years old) at the club about the tradition, heritage, and true meaning of Northern Soul, you begin to realise that this is a celebration of the purity of one’s art. Sally is caught up in an artistic stasis – she can’t dance to it, she can’t sing along, all she can do is watch in awe at the effect the music has on her and others. She realises this thing is bigger than any of them.

DILYThe play also takes on other social issues; not only the devastation caused by Covid, but the general austerity and lack of opportunity in the north that determines one’s complete lifetime. It highlights a problem that’s rarely considered – what happens when a younger person lives with an older person as their carer, and then they die. In an affluent society that means they inherit the property. But in Sally’s world that renders you homeless.

DILYThe three likeable young actors are all superb in their roles and work together as a brilliant ensemble. Chloe Mcdonald accurately portrays Nat, that character who is the third member of a group of three, knowing she can never quite achieve the same bond as the other two. Emilio Encinoso-Gil has an excellent sense for the comedy in some of the best lines as wannabe musical theatre performer Kyle, whose lofty ambitions led to two years dressed as a crocodile. But it is Martha Godber’s Sally who is the lynchpin, and through whom we see the progress of the trio; funny, bossy, caring but also at times completely unreasonable, she gives a terrific performance of a very credible and well-rounded personality.

DILYI was at times reminded of the Victoria Wood sketch where Jim Broadbent is the long-suffering playwright who lives and breathes the pain and misery of the north and is motivated to create his epics to reflect the douleur of the dockers, the railway workers and the steel workers – but lives comfortably in Chiswick. I’m not saying Mr Godber is that person, but the play does have a huge I love the north and all its pain atmosphere about it. Its romanticised and sentimental view of the affection for Northern Soul and its roots is both its strength and its weakness. Mrs Chrisparkle thought they missed a trick by not including a whippet. Clearly she has no heart.

The Northampton audience – mainly made up of people of a certain age who could easily have been at that Cleethorpes club – absolutely loved it. If you’re an aficionado of Northern Soul, you will too. As for the rest of us, there is plenty to admire, but also a little to be cynical about.

Production photos by Ian Hodgson3-starsThree-sy Does It!

Review – Comedy Crate at V&B, Northampton, 17th October 2023

Line upBack at the Comedy Crate and my first time seeing a gig in the upstairs room at V&B in glitzy, cosmopolitan, downtown Northampton. A fun, intimate venue and top quality drinkies! What more could you ask? Well maybe some top quality comedy too, and they had that in abundance.

Pete TeckmanOur host for the evening was local lad Pete Teckman (I say lad – by the sound of it we both celebrated our 60th birthdays during Lockdown 1.0). He gets an easy rapport with the audience, and quickly got to know Amber, Joseph and Dan in the front row, as, indeed, we all did. Comedy newbie Amber gradually learned that it’s easy to give too much personal response to the niceties of the comedian on stage; Dan, on the other hand, never really came to terms with this concept. Pete treated us to some excellent material and kept the whole thing going with confidence and nicely turned self-deprecation.

Mary BourkeOur first act, someone we’ve seen many times and it’s always a delight, was Mary Bourke; brimming with attitude and always teetering on the edge of comedy disdain, she gave us her hilarious insights into life in Crouch End, dealing with consensual banter, winning the battle over a disabled parking space, and much more. Her timing is always immaculate; she radiates a tiny sense of danger which only adds to the comic frisson of her material. And, may I say, a beautiful use of similes – she’s a terrific wordsmith. A great way to start the night.

Hasan Al HabibNext up, and new to us, was Birmingham’s own Hasan Al-Habib, a young chap with a tremendous range of entertaining voices that he uses to great effect. Most of his material centres on his Arab appearance and heritage, playing on prejudices and cultural differences, which in an inexperienced hand could go awfully wrong, but Hasan nails it perfectly with delicate precision and a keen sense of identifying the funny side in everything.

president_obonjoOur headliner, and someone we’ve only seen in a Zoom gig before (thanks Covid) was President Obonjo, dictator of the Lafta Republic, a brilliant comic creation and a vision in intimidating combats. He is able to both take the rise out of your “typical” African dictator – an Idi Amin crossed with a Bokassa and a bit of Mugabe chucked in for good measure – and also cast a critical eye over current British democracy for comparison. I love the idea that he is based in St Albans, that just seems so bizarre; he also picked out good-natured Jordan in the second row for special “shared race” treatment, which worked superbly. And he quickly identified front-row Dan; I doubt he’ll ever get a visa to visit Lafta. Comedy CrateFearless, challenging, and incredibly funny; I also love the way he occasionally lets the façade drop a little to reveal the real person behind the mask. A tremendous end to a superb night.

It’s always a delight to be able to write up a comedy night that was a winner from start to finish. More Comedy Crate gigs coming up soon, with a new act new material night at Saints Coffee on the 25th, and a return to V&B on 5th December, with Roger Monkhouse topping the bill.

Review – Murder in the Dark, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 16th October 2023

Murder in the DarkIt’s a big Hurrah! from me for the return of live entertainment to the Royal and Derngate, ever since it was discovered that they were one of those theatres with aerated concrete (also known as The RAAC Pack), and have thus been closed since the beginning of September. The Derngate is due to open on the 24th for NMTC’s Kinky Boots; no word as yet on the Underground, but my fingers remain crossed. But the delightful old Royal theatre reopened last night with Original Theatre’s touring production of Torben Betts’ Murder in the Dark. Congratulations to the R&D for opening the building sufficiently to allow the Royal to be used; they’re temporarily using the old upstairs Crown bar, so my advice if you want a drink too is not to arrive too late as it does make the whole process a little bit slower. But it’s a spectacular achievement to get the place open and functional under such difficult circumstances, and all the front of house were welcoming and helpful as always.

SetMurder in the Dark? Would that be a party game, where you have to work out who killed what over drinks and canapés? Or perhaps a whodunit, where the lights go out, there’s a scream, and when they turn them back on, Doctor X has killed Professor Thingy with the lead piping. As it turns out, neither. Torben Betts has created a comedy thriller-cum-horror-cum-ghost-cum-what the hell is going on here kind of show. Danny, once a successful pop star, now down on his uppers, and his girlfriend Sarah have arrived at Mrs Bateman’s exceedingly remote farm. Unintentionally, that is; it’s New Year’s Eve and he’s had an accident in the car – probably had too much to drink – and she’s kindly going to put them up for the night. His brother, son and ex-wife are also with them. There’s clearly a problem with the fuse box, as the electricity keeps coming on and going off. And that’s as far as I’m going to go with the plot – you have to come and see it for yourself to discover what happens next!

DinnerThe cast are uniformly excellent, with a terrific central performance from Tom Chambers as Danny, a perpetually tormented soul who’s afraid of the dark, afraid of the farm dog – in fact, he’s afraid of almost everything. He’s matched by a funny and frequently scary performance from Susie Blake as Mrs Bateman, a character who ought to be a simple, kindly old lady – but you wouldn’t trust her an inch. There’s a strong performance from Jonny Green as Danny’s son Jake, bitterly resentful of being ignored by his father all through his childhood. Laura White is excellent as Sarah, also ignored by Danny and desperate for WiFi, Owen Oakeshott is great as Danny’s angry but loving brother William and Rebecca Charles is also very good as ex-wife Rebecca, full of commonsense and practicality, and keeping her own secrets to herself.

Danny and SarahThere’s a request in the programme that audiences keep the secrets of the story to themselves so that future audiences can enjoy the show. Absolutely, wholeheartedly agree with that. It’s also a blessing; because if you were to ask me what the secrets of the story are, I’m not sure I could tell you with any true conviction — there are so many! It’s a complex set-up, and the complexities don’t get fully revealed until the last few minutes, so that’s hugely rewarding. I’m not 100% convinced that every single aspect of the story tallies up; in fact, I’m sure they don’t. But it’s an almost unique aspect of this play that it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t all make sense – it’s almost a desirable bonus!

DannyWhat does matter is that it’s an exciting, suspenseful story, with huge dollops of spookiness, presented on an eerie set, with scary sound and light effects, and some nice comic touches. It’s also completely unpredictable; when you think you’ve got it sussed, something else happens to prove you wrong, so it’s a constant guessing game where the author is always at least one step ahead of the audience. I also enjoyed a couple of obvious nods to at least two other plays, both of which will visit the Derngate auditorium early next year – I’ll say no more. Murder in the Dark plays at the Royal until Saturday 21st October and then continues its tour to High Wycombe, Birmingham, Derby, Salford, Southend, Cambridge, Malvern, Cardiff, Cheltenham, New Brighton, Richmond and Glasgow.

Production photos by Pamela Raith

4-starsFour They’re Jolly Good Fellows!

Review – Comedy Crate at the Charles Bradlaugh, Northampton, 12th October 2023

Comedy CrateA slightly odd night of comedy with the Comedy Crate at the Bradlaugh on Thursday, with a hit and miss line-up and a curiously under energised audience. Our host for the night was Jesus lookalike Jay Handley, whom we saw at the British Comedian of the Year heat at the very same venue last year, when he was a huge hit. This time, he started the show with some curiously misplaced material about the homeless which I think took some of us aback. He was on firmer ground with chatting to audience members, including Jack the folk/blues band manager, Jay Handleyand creating a mock argument about the worthiness of the charities that two different audience members worked for, only to discover they were married, leading to a delightfully embarrassed reaction sequence.

Our first act was Peter Brush, whom we’d seen once before at a Screaming Blue Murder night seven years ago and enjoyed, although I thought his act might turn out to be a little underpowered for the audience. How wrong I was – he absolutely smashed it, in the modern vernacular. Mr Brush is a retiring, quiet-looking, young-Peter Brushfogey type, who packs a brilliant punch with his unexpected punchlines. Beautifully self-deprecating and deliciously misleading, story after story landed perfectly showing that being mild-mannered does not result in bland comedy. I particularly loved his observations about Essex girls, turning a stereotype on its head to terrific comic effect, and his hilarious routine about what you can do with a toaster. First class!

Jenny HartNext up was someone new to us, Jenny Hart. Here’s where things start to get tricky. To accentuate the positive, she has a strong stage presence, excellent comic timing and is clearly a naturally funny person. She’s an out and proud transwoman – quite right too! – and integrates every aspect of that as an essential part of her routine. However, her material was not at all my cup of tea. I really don’t think I’m a prude, but I found the content of her set very crude, somewhat aggressive, and often in very dubious taste, with a couple of stories that I thought were totally unsuitable for sharing. Maybe I was way too sensitive for her material; to be fair, on the few occasions where she delivered some throwaway lines unrelated to her pre-prepared material, she made me laugh a lot. The chap in front of me absolutely loved her, and there were a few sections of the audience who were laughing riotously at her. But I’m afraid I couldn’t wait for it to end.

Jordan BrookesOur headliner was Jordan Brookes, also new to us, and what an unpredictable nugget of comedy gold he is! Breaking all the established rules by discarding the microphone, sitting among the audience, dragging a chair around the stage for every purpose apart from sitting on it, his is a fresh, constantly surprising, anarchic style, but never alienating us from either his material or his personality. As to that material, he’s one of those extraordinary performers whom you love to see and laugh at everything he says – and then the next day, you can’t remember one word of it. It’s a great way of ensuring you want to see him again! A superb ending to a slightly lopsided night of comedy.

More Comedy Crate gems to come next week when they take over V&B’s wine bar in Northampton on Tuesday. Can’t wait!

Review – The Comedy Crate Presents Troy Hawke Work in Progress, The Charles Bradlaugh, Northampton, 24th September 2023

Comedy CrateWhere would comedians be without the opportunity to present a Work in Progress show? The chance to try out some new material with a willing, eager audience who let you know just how funny you’ve been by the volume of their laughter – or indeed by the silence of their response. Troy Hawke had already taken a new jumble of comic ideas to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe for a few nights to sort the wheat from the chaff, in preparation for next year’s no doubt bumper blockbuster show. And on Sunday night he visited the humble folk of Northampton to give us a sneaky peek into what he’s got up his satin sleeve.

Troy HawkeTroy Hawke is well on his way to becoming a national treasure, if he isn’t already there. Elegantly decked out en smoking, he embodies that terrific comic ability to combine refinement and poise with unexpectedly cracking punchlines, or varying his delivery from sophisticated Surrey to excitable Scouse. He effortlessly gets to know a few members of the audience, confiding in them, complimenting them (if appropriate), and, perhaps surprisingly, eliciting one couple’s safe word –  yellow! (which, alarmingly, was the colour of his shirt).

Troy HawkeThe nub of his new show concerns small talk – what it really means, how it happens, and how to cope with having to do it. On the way we meet football legends Jan Molby and Jack Grealish, gain an insight into scrabble scores and discover what Troy really thinks of psychiatrists. As you might expect, there’s a good dollop of Greeters’ Guild anecdotes, as he spreads what can only be described as pure Troy outside a TK Maxx. He still needs to work up a proper ending – which is almost always a common theme with WIP progress shows – but it was a brilliant hour packed with comedy gold.

Review – The Comedy Crate at the Charles Bradlaugh, Northampton, 14th September 2023

Comedy CrateIt’s back for another big dollop of laughter at the Charles Bradlaugh, courtesy of those nice people at the Comedy Crate. It’s always exciting when all the acts are new to us, because the evening becomes a smorgasbord of unexpected delights. Our host for the evening was Alex Farrow, a smart super-confident chap who quickly gains a terrific rapport with the audience, and quickly elicited the fact that we were all rich beyond the dreams of avarice – well, it may have seemed that way at least. Alex FarrowBut there can’t be that many people who have access to two yachts! Very quick witted, he bounced off all the comedy nuggets that the audience gave him, and kept the show moving at an enjoyably fast pace. I made a note in my brain that we must catch his full solo show one day.

First up was Steve Hall, whose material is firmly based on his family life with his no-nonsense wife and two delightful children, who have discovered the art of homemade tattoos. Steve HallThere are lots of very recognisable family-based comic observations, many of which are illustrated with pictures including life from his own childhood as well as his own kids. If this sounds a little cosy, it’s peppered with many surprisingly sharp moments and there’s lots of big laugh-out-loud punchlines. An excellent start to the evening.

Kathryn MatherNext came Kathryn Mather who has wisely moved on from being a children’s entertainer. She has a nicely awkward stage persona and an excellent use of self-deprecation, talking about her lack of success with men and some entertaining stories about trying to attract the opposite sex. We hear about her (slightly predictable) encounter with the Dreamboys, and the perils of speed dating. From the sound of the laughter there was lots for women to recognise, if not quite so much for the guys. But she went down very well with the audience.

Sarah KeyworthOur headliner act, and someone whose career we will definitely follow with interest, was Sarah Keyworth, a naturally funny comedian who mines comedy gold from her appearance and sexuality in an effortlessly hilarious way. She delivered not only the best pronouns gag out there, but also the best definition of non-binary, which had us all in hysterics. She has a marvellous running thread about being in a lesbian foursome, including the obligations one would feel about being the perfect host whilst entertaining three other women, and a brilliant sequence about inviting a male stripper to a hen party in a caravan in Devon. She completely blew us away with her superb audience interaction – occasionally checking in with second-row John to make sure it was going ok – and pinpoint perfect material. Another excellent night of comedy.

Review – Harry Stachini and Emmanuel Sonubi – Edinburgh Previews – The Comedy Crate at the Lamplighter, Northampton, 24th July 2023

Comedy CrateAnother night, another Edinburgh Preview show. This time we relocated to the Lamplighter pub which has an excellent downstairs stage area and works very well as a comedy venue. There had been a relatively late change of cast for the lineup for this show, as is often the case with Edinburgh Previews, but fortunately those nice people at the Comedy Crate have a wealth of comedy contacts up their sleeve, so you never need worry that you’ll be shortchanged!

Harry StachiniOur first act was a new name to us, Harry Stachini, preparing his new Edinburgh show, Grenade. He’s a thoroughly likeable young chap with an engaging personality and his show is an easy-going, happy, laughter-filled hour centred on the notion that we all have a grenade in our lives on which we ought to pull the pin. For him, it was his long-term relationship with Jess (and their dog); for others it could be your job, your health worries, your relationship, or anything. Fascinating that the dog knew they were splitting up before either Harry or Jess did! The show also brings in several comedy nuggets such as his parents’ relationship, teachers’ experiences of dealing with difficult kids, and a dreadful secret that the Virgin Mary might not have kept from Joseph. Mr Stachini is a naturally funny guy, has great material – although, as with nearly all the comedians we have seen over these previews, he knows he needs to get a proper ending sorted! This will be a very good show when it gets to Edinburgh.

Emmanuel SonubiAfter the interval it was time for our relatively last minute change to the advertised programme, Emmanuel Sonubi, previewing his Edinburgh Show Curriculum Vitae. We saw Emmanuel on his first Edinburgh show last year, Emancipated, a very enjoyable romp through his life and times. Now he has a new show, full of brand new material, which also tells the story of his life and times but just from a slightly different perspective! He’s able to get a lot of comic mileage out of his larger than life physical presence, which he can either use to be intimidating, or to play the coquette, which is even funnier – stop looking at my magnificent triceps, stop, honestly, what are you like?! I loved his material about banging gym and wetting you up – who knew? – and he incorporates themes from his time in various careers including being a bouncer, musical theatre and working in IT. Very effective and funny use of music to open and end the show, and there’s loads of laughs in his act as a faux-humble man – you’ll just have to see his show to appreciate it. There’s not much here that needs tightening up for Edinburgh, and he went down a storm at the Lamplighter.

That’s me done for Edinburgh Previews for this year – the main event is looming north of the border in a week’s time. But there are still a few more Comedy Crate shows coming up over the next week or so!

Review – Jo Caulfield and Paul Sinha – Edinburgh Previews – The Comedy Crate at the Northampton Town Centre Hotel, 22nd July 2023

Comedy CrateIt only seems like a moment ago that we were at that town centre hotel in Northampton, inventively named the Northampton Town Centre Hotel (I kid you not) to see Gareth Mutch and Tom Stade wow us with their Edinburgh Previews. And we were back there again on Saturday night to see Jo Caulfield and Paul Sinha do the same! Such is the appeal of both the artists and the event that they held two shows on that day – a 5pm teatime affair and an 8pm grown up’s gig – although I’m sure the material was pretty much the same for both shows. That said, you can’t be sure; as these are Work in Progress shows, they might have risked a few lines at 5pm that bombed and were never heard of again – as indeed might have happened at the 8pm show. Basically, you can look on these shows as a helping hand for the comedians whacking their show into shape, and a serving suggestion for the audience as to what the final product might look like.

Jo CaulfieldWe started off with Jo Caulfield, a very experienced performer in the world of comedy, preparing her new Edinburgh show, Razor-Sharp. Checking back, I think this will be the 21st time that she’s taken a show to Edinburgh, so I think it’s safe to say she knows what she’s doing – she’s as much part of the place as Arthur’s Seat itself. She admits that all her shows are basically her catching up on ideas and reactions to things that have happened to her over the past twelve months, so you always get a sense of a very personal connection with her material. And much of her material is inspired by the life and times of her husband, of whom I think it is fair to say, she is lovingly critical. She has a hilarious routine about going along to what her husband calls “a night out with the lads” much to their (the lads) uniform horror. Even though it’s a WIP, she’s assured, polished, and superbly caustic. For my own taste, occasionally I find she drifts into the almost cruel with some of her observations, but she does it so nicely that she gets away with it! She also gave a reading from her new book The Funny Thing About Death which I think was in preparation for an appearance at the Book Festival. It doesn’t dovetail into her Edinburgh show but hopefully it helped her decide on which passages she should read there. But if you’re a fan of Jo Caulfield then her new show will definitely be one to watch.

Paul SinhaAfter the interval we welcomed Paul Sinha, previewing his Edinburgh Show Pauly Bengali. We’ve seen Paul Sinha many times before and his is one of the most creative and telling comedy brains on the circuit. This show was like a game of two halves; in the first, we had some of Paul’s classic takes on being a gay Asian with Parkinson’s and his affiliation (or otherwise) with leafy Luton, and in the second, he concentrated on his experience with attending last year’s TRIC awards and his interaction, for want of a better word, with the awards’ sponsor, the one and only GB News. Proudly woke (and why wouldn’t you be?) he’s no friend of KGB News, and there are loads of comedy nuggets to appreciate including why he’s not on Mark Dolan’s Christmas Card list – and probably not Adrian Edmondson’s either. One thing you can say about Paul Sinha, he’s always delightfully indiscreet about people who don’t come up his standard. He has plenty of good words to say about Milo McCabe though – again, why wouldn’t you? Interspersed with all this he gives us some comedy songs on the bontempi and ends up with a comic assassination of someone I’d never heard of but who has clearly been stealing his jokes – which is always a no-no in the comedy world. It needs a little more shaping up and editing but I’ve no doubt that Pauly Bengali will be a big success in Edinburgh.

And there’s more to come – another Edinburgh Preview tonight at The Lamplighter; we’ll be there, will you?

Review – Gareth Mutch and Tom Stade – Edinburgh Previews – The Comedy Crate at the Northampton Town Centre Hotel, 13th July 2023

Comedy CrateHot on the heels of last weekend’s mammoth and super-successful Comedy Crate Weekender, we’re down for three more evenings of Edinburgh Previews this month, starting with Gareth Mutch and Tom Stade at the newly branded Northampton Town Centre Hotel (that’s the old Park Inn if you’re still working in pounds, shillings and pence). Whilst you couldn’t say that the room where the show took place was glamorous – and indeed our two performers started their acts by acknowledging as much – it is functional, comfortable, and adjacent to a good bar and excellent toilets so you can’t say fairer than that.

Gareth MutchFirst up was Gareth Mutch – a name new to me, preparing for his Edinburgh show Belter. He’s a big, likeable lad, nicely self-deprecating about his self-confessed “odd” shape, and he uses his relaxed story-telling style to deliver some fun material about someone he met on a train and a creepy front-row comedy club fan. Very much in Preview territory – as he would be the first to admit – so not every punch landed, possibly because we were an older demographic than he is targeting. He’s great at setting up a rapport with the audience and found just the one fellow vaper – good old Balpreet. He has excellent material concerning vaping, by the way, all of which was fresh and fun and which I can’t remember hearing mentioned by another comic, so it’s a good subject to develop! An enjoyable and entertaining hour which I’m sure will grow into an excellent Fringe show.

Tom StadeAfter the interval it was time for Tom Stade, previewing his Edinburgh Show Natural Born Killer. It’s to my shame that I’ve never seen Tom Stade before and boy, have I been missing out. Few comics can aspire to his clearly innate ability to be funny from the very start. I know it’s a cliché, but the man could stand on the stage and read a shopping list and it would be hilarious. There’s very little brushing-up required to make this show Fringe-perfect; he has an amazing rapport with the crowd, chatting with many of us including me (that’s Chris, 63) and my father-in-law aka Lord Prosecco, Bill, 80.) I mention the ages because it’s a vital part of this show – setting yourself in your formative decade and never growing up afterwards. He has brilliant material about the words you can and cannot use today – and it’s not in a GB News-type right-wing moany way but in an incredibly inventive, challenging way that sees the funny side of it all. Packed with superb observations, terrific asides, and way more than a laugh a minute. Can’t wait to see him again!

More Edinburgh Previews ahead – we’ve just booked to see Paul Sinha and Jo Caulfield on Saturday, should be great!