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 – The Comedy Crate, Five Edinburgh Previews, The Charles Bradlaugh, Northampton, 3rd July 2022

Comedy Crate Jul 3Five Edinburgh Previews for a fiver each? Yes please! It was a full day at the Charles Bradlaugh pub on Sunday to watch these five (well, six really) eager young artists perfecting their comic offerings for our delectation and the future enjoyment of those lucky enough to go to the Fringe in August – including us! Two of these acts are previous winners of Chrisparkle Awards so you already know they’re going to be great. Bear in mind, of course, that all these shows are Work-in-Progress, so it’s unlikely that they’d be comedy perfection yet. One was, indeed, absolutely Edinburgh-ready; two were very close to getting there, and two still needed a fair bit of work, but that’s absolutely The Name of the Game, as Abba would have it. So let’s take them one by one…

Norris and Parker: Sirens (Monkey Barrel Comedy, 21:15, 3-28 August except 17th)

Norris and Parker“Let Piscean comedy duo Norris and Parker lure you into their fever dream for a surreal hour of wild, nautical madness. Debauched sketch comedy for lovers of the strange, the sordid, the musical and the dark.” That’s what it says on the Edinburgh Fringe website.

New to us, Norris and Parker are a chirpy couple who clearly have comedy coursing through their veins, and Sirens is a varied show with many highlights but also a few bits that need some refining. The opening number is great, with smart and witty lyrics, and I really loved their ITV drama sequence Deep Sh*t which beautifully assembled all those midweek 9pm northern drama clichés and took the mickey out of them. The interplay between the two performers works very well, hinting comically at all sorts of rivalries with their friendship, and there is lots to enjoy. Maybe the two Lighthouse sequences, where they’re performing Norris’ play, need some tightening up. But I’m sure this will be a great show on the Fringe.

Edinburgh tickets available here!

Markus Birdman – The Bearable Heaviness of Nearly Not Being (PBH’s Free Fringe @  Banshee Labyrinth, 17:10, 6-28 August except 9th, 16th and 23rd)

Markus Birdman“The award-winning comedian returns with his 15th solo show. Fresh from supporting Jason Manford on tour, including two nights at The Palladium. It’s about life. It’s about death. It’s about getting knocked down, and getting up again. It’s about laughing in the face of it all. It’s about an hour.” That’s according to the Edinburgh Fringe website.

Winner, not only of the Chrisparkle Award for the Best Screaming Blue Murder Stand-up for 2013, but also the Best Screaming Blue Murder Stand-up for the Decade in my 2020 Honours List, I’m already hooked when it comes to Mr Birdman – he only has to speak a few words and I’m in hysterics. This new show is absolutely ready for Edinburgh, and is a comic account (it could be nothing else) of his recent health journey (yes, the J word), having suffered a second stroke last year which has severely affected his sight. Its very personal nature gives it an unquestionable authority, and although we can’t fail to be moved by his plight, there’s no sense of self-indulgence or begging for sympathy; every observation is as razor-sharp and pinpoint accurate as usual, and the hour is literally crammed with fantastic and consistently top-grade material. Absolutely loved it, it’s going to be a Big Fringe Hit.

Edinburgh details here!

Mark Simmons: Quip Off the Mark (PBH’s Free Fringe @ Liquid Room Annexe/Warehouse, 13:45, 6-27 August, every day)

Mark Simmons“The Mock The Week panellist and master of one-liners returns with another show jam-packed with cleverly crafted jokes and improvised gags.” Taken from the Edinburgh Fringe website, with the spelling mistake corrected.

A regular Comedy Crate favourite, we’ve only recently seen Mark at the Albion Brewery in Northampton, and there aren’t many who think faster on their feet than him. The simple basis for this show is that he’s been emptying the loft at his mum’s house and found a box full of comedy memories from when he started stand-up. So he’ll tell a few jokes from his old joke book, share a few pieces of advice that he received from other established comedians, and link a few of these memories to some paintings that were also brought down from the attic. It’s fascinating to see Mark do a work-in-progress because he is so critical of his own material – if it doesn’t get the instant reaction he’s seeking, then it’s out; even though it’s still (in my eyes at least) a really good joke. There’s a wonderful callback saved right to the end which has been looming in plain sight all along but you don’t see it. When he’s decided which bits to keep and which to ditch, this show is going to be amazing. Mr S at his best – you don’t stop laughing all the way through.

Edinburgh details here!

Paul Sinha: One Sinha Lifetime (The Stand’s New Town Theatre, 16:40, 4-28 August except 16th)

Paul Sinha“In January 2020, Paul embarked on a national tour, his most ambitious show combining stand-up, music, hula-hooping and tales of romantic validation and neurological degeneration. As it turned out 2020 proved to be the wrong year to embark on a national tour. For everyone. Undeterred, Paul returns, with the difficult second post-diagnosis album. Expect jokes and surprises. Paul has a story to tell. And an absolute banger of a title.” Yes, you guessed it, that’s what the Edinburgh Fringe website says.

Winner of the Chrisparkle Awards for Best Screaming Blue Murder Stand-up for both 2010 and 2012, and of course best known for being a Chaser on TV, Paul Sinha has an incredible gift for comedy and I’ve never seen him not deliver an absolute blinder of a routine. That said, as he himself pointed out, this was only the second Work-in-Progress show he’s scheduled for One Sinha Lifetime (agreed, great title) and there are about another fourteen to come – so he apologised in advance for the rough and readiness of his hour. And it’s true, there is a lot of work ahead of him to get this material – an account of his rise to the delicate balance of health and comedy he enjoys today – to come together. But it will, I have no doubt.

Edinburgh tickets available here!

Abandoman aka Rob Broderick: Discography (Underbelly, George Square, 21:25, 3-28 August except 15th and 22nd)

Abandoman“Using his innate ability to craft songs on the spot, Rob creates a full discography for a fictional artist created by you, the audience. Using a sample pad necklace to trigger high-production beats, Rob creates the kind of exhilarating live experience that has won him a string of awards, and the highest of international critical acclaim. He continues to sell out his Fringe runs in Edinburgh and Australia each year, wowing audiences wherever he plays.” It will come as no surprise that that’s a direct quote from the Edinburgh Fringe website.

I’d heard great things about Abandoman but never actually seen him before, so I was really looking forward to his set. Full of attack, interacting not only with the audience but with tech in a way you rarely see, he elicits nuggets of information from audience members and then turns them into song. It’s an act that requires not only incredible creativity but also one helluva memory. He even managed to get me up on stage to confess to something naughty I’d done when I was about nine (I’m not proud of it, but I had to be honest) which got converted to the medium of music. I sense he is using new tech for this show, which occasionally let him down and introduced pauses into the procedure that I guess are normally missing. Once he’s mastered the tech, this will be another big hit for him I am sure.

Edinburgh tickets available here!

An absolutely superb night of comedy – and there are still more Edinburgh Previews on their way, keep an eye open on the Comedy Crate website for details.

Review – The Comedy Crate back in the Garden of the Black Prince Pub, Northampton, 17th September 2020

Comedy CrateIt 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.

 

Will DugganOur 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.

 

Sarah CallaghanOur 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.

 

Bobby MairSecond 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.

 

Paul SinhaOur 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!

Review – Pick of the Fest, Leicester Comedy Festival, Curve Studio, Leicester, 10th February 2017

leicester-comedy-festival-logoI think we can all agree that festivals are fun. That’s the whole idea, isn’t it? Whether it’s something massive like Edinburgh, or something tiny like the Northampton Flash Festival, the idea is that you go and see shows that may be quite short (so you can see lots in a day), financed on a shoestring, possibly for low ticket prices, at no frills venues. We’d only dipped our toe into the Leicester Comedy Festival once before, three years ago when we were amongst a lucky few to see Kevin Dewsbury’s final outing (no pun intended) of his one man show Out Now, in a back room at the Belmont Hotel. For me that was what “festival” was all about – intimate and informal, with “backstage” just as clearly visible as “stage”.

And I wonder if that’s why last Friday’s Pick of the Fest show at the Leicester Curve Studio didn’t quite work for me as a whole. We’ve seen several productions at the Studio and I’ve always really liked it as a venue – especially when we sit in the front row, because you really feel at the heart of the action. But for this show we were seated in row I (no idea why we were so far back because I’m sure I booked the tickets on the first day they became available), and the stage seemed an awfully long way away (even though it wasn’t), and that comedy club atmosphere just didn’t reach as far back as our row. Perhaps the staging was too formal, too theatre-y, and insufficiently festival-y. It just didn’t feel very relaxed.

carly-smallmanThis is one of those “compilation” shows when a number of performers come along and do some material as a promotion for their own shows on elsewhere at the festival. It’s a tried and tested formula which works well – especially with our favourite Edinburgh comedy ritual, Spank. Our host was the ebullient Carly Smallman, whom we have seen many times before and is always good value. She excels at getting to know the front few rows and poking kindly fun at their weird little ways – never cruel, unless it’s against herself, when she can indulge in devastating self-deprecation. Carly has two more shows in the festival coming up on the 17th February and the 26th February.

elf-lyons-2Our first act was someone completely new to us – Elf Lyons. She comes across as a posh girl obsessed with how she interacts with her even posher mother, who, I think we can all agree, sounds a bit of a nightmare. I enjoyed her act and she had lots of good material, although I confess I didn’t always catch all the punchlines – because I was sitting too far away, I expect. She gave us twenty minutes or so of neurotic insecurities and built up a nice rapport with the audience. Her show, Pelican, was on later that night, so if you missed it, you missed it. However, you can see what other shows she’s doing here.

paul-sinhaOur next act was an old favourite – and I hope he’ll forgive the use of the word “old”. It’s Paul Sinha, whom we’ve seen at Screaming Blue Murder shows before and he’s always a joy. I’d forgotten quite how dour and laconic his delivery can be; it’s almost as though the backstory to every line he says is “I know I’m a failure, but I’m surviving nonetheless”. He tells of the trials and tribulations of being a gay British Asian man who doesn’t bake, and how thrilled his parents were when he gave up his medical career to follow comedy. His material is both funny and telling in the way it challenges preconceptions and stereotypes. Of course, he has a lot to say about his appearances on TV’s The Chase; but I preferred his general observations of life, including discovering the best App to meet Asian men, and his alarming but hilarious account of being out on the loose in Barnsley. He’s a top class comic and he has a new work in progress show at the festival on Saturday 18th February.

Dane BaptisteIf Paul Sinha’s an old favourite, our next act, after the interval, was a new favourite – Dane Baptiste, whose Reasonable Doubts show we saw last year and really loved. I’m completely taken in by his slightly reserved, slightly authoritarian, slightly controlling style; the emphasis of his act is on quiet observation and making ridiculous contrasts, like when he is jealous of girls for having “gay best friends”, and wishes he could have a “lesbian best friend” as well. He, too, can make you challenge yourself on your preconceptions, and his humour also appeals to your own sense of intelligence – which it’s always nice to recognise. I can’t recall many of the ins and outs of his routine, I just let them wash over me. I’m sure he’s going to be a really big star one day. His Work in Progress show took place last Saturday, but he’s doing many more gigs over the next few weeks as you can see here.

Josh HowieOur final act is someone we’ve seen twice at Screaming Blue Murder clubs and both times I’m afraid I can’t pretend to have enjoyed his act much. This is Josh Howie – and there’s something about him that brings out the politically correct in me, as I bridle at his material that challenges the PC brigade. So if you like your comedy un-PC, you’ll probably love him. In fact, I was enjoying his routine (up to a point) until he started his material about hoping that his two-year-old son won’t turn out to be gay. And if he is gay, he’ll tell him how it’s particularly wrong to be a bottom. In fact, he’ll watch porn videos with him in order to point out which sex practices and roles are acceptable, and which aren’t. I know this is a ridiculous subject, and one which he hopes will be funny; and, to be honest, I wish I liked him more, but I found him borderline homophobic and, anyway, I just don’t get humour that hates people. His solo show was on the previous night, so again if you want to catch him, he still has some dates elsewhere on his UK tour.

So something of a mixed bag for our first venture into this year’s Leicester Comedy Festival, but I have very high hopes for the four shows we’re still to see… watch this space!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 16th May 2014

Martin CoyoteIt’s always sad when we reach the final Screaming Blue Murder of the season, but at least the people of Northampton gave it a good send-off with another packed house last Friday night. Our MC for this show was Martin Coyote, who we’ve seen before doing his usual act but not as compere. He was superb – lightly keeping everyone well behaved for the acts but also sharing some stonking good material with us. He’s got a great stage persona – wry and rather cynical but still upbeat and positive. He kept the show going superbly and had the majority of the best lines of the night.

Javier JarquinOur first act was new to us, Javier Jarquin. He’s an interesting blend of Chinese and Latino all wrapped up in a Kiwi accent. He comes over as very likeable, with some really excellent material, including how a newcomer to a country can be confused by the shop names, the (highly significant) differences between “it” and “that”, how furnishing a bed changes when you get a girlfriend, and how a pavlova can pale into insignificance when talking to a Croatian. He had both Mrs Chrisparkle and me in hysterics when he equated asking his girlfriend how her day was to accidentally hitting “Print All” on the computer. Great delivery, and really funny. He’s a magician too – would be good to see him do some magic another time!

Helen ArneyOur second act was Helen Arney, also new to us, and, really unfortunately, it all went a bit Pete Tong. Her act is based on her persona of being a science nerd, and doing comedy songs that reflect that. To be honest, I didn’t think she looked or acted particularly nerdy so that persona didn’t convince me. She seemed nervous and somewhat shouty, and rushed the early parts of the act a bit, and I think got put off when the laughs didn’t come. She then forgot her lines in her first comedy song, lost even more confidence, and at that point we lost confidence in her. Her final song, about having a lover in a coma, was extremely dark and savage and would probably have worked if we’d kept faith in her act – but I’m afraid we hadn’t, so it didn’t. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

Andrew BirdLast act was someone we had seen before, and remembered as being brilliant, local lad Andrew Bird. He was runner-up in the 2012 Chrisparkle Awards for best Screaming Blue Stand-up, beaten only by the fantastic Mr Paul Sinha. Andrew Bird’s attack and confidence are just astounding, because they are so perfectly pitched. He has just the right level of enthusiasm for you to fully engage in the pictures of domestic or parental harmony he is painting, with wonderful observations that capture true comedy moments. We loved his material about marketing a lavender scented child’s bath lotion, to calm bath time for a two-year-old into a chilled experience – and the contrast with the bottle of Matey that we all had when we were kids that bleached everything in sight. So much brilliant material, and the audience absolutely loved him.

And that is indeed it, until the next season starts again on 12th September. Get it in your diary now!

Review of the Year 2012 – The Third Annual Chrisparkle Awards

Welcome to this glitzy review of the best live entertainment in Northampton and beyond! As in previous years, every performance that I saw and blogged about during 2012 is eligible for one of these prestigious (but virtual) awards. As an exception this year, I have included all performances seen up to January 5th 2013 as these few extra shows were all born in 2012 and that’s where they will live in the annals of time.

So without further ado we’re going to start off with Best Dance Production.

I saw six dance productions last year, and identifying the top three was easy – but placing those top three in the correct order is a difficult decision, so I am going with my heart and listing them purely in order of how much I enjoyed them. Which means:

In 3rd place, the graceful and strong performance of Swan Lake by Moscow City Ballet at the Derngate, Northampton, in February.

In 2nd place, and especially for “Torsion” and “Void”, Balletboyz The Talent at Milton Keynes Theatre in February.

In 1st place, and absolutely at the top of their game, Richard Alston Dance Company’s programme at the Derngate, Northampton, in October.

Not many turkeys this year – but the first is The Most Incredible Thing by Javier de Frutos and the Pet Shop Boys, which bored us to tears at Sadler’s Wells in April.

Classical Music Concert of the Year.

We saw six concerts in 2012, and each was excellent, giving us a feeling of being privileged to have access to such performances on our doorstep.

In 3rd place, Julian Bliss Plays Mozart with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Derngate, Northampton in November.

In 2nd place, Jack Liebeck Plays Sibelius, also with the RPO at the Derngate, in September.

In 1st place, Nigel Kennedy Plays Brahms, you guessed it, with the RPO at the Derngate in June.

Best Entertainment Show of the Year.

A wide category that includes pantos, circuses, revues and anything else unclassifiable. Always tough to call.

In 3rd place, the Moscow State Circus’ Babushkin Sekret, at the Derngate, Northampton, in January 2012.

In 2nd place, The Burlesque Show at the Royal, Northampton, in January 2012.

In 1st place, Cinderella at the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, in January 2013.

Best Star Standup of the Year.

The best stand-up of the year, not part of a comedy club night.

We saw 8 big name comedians doing their stuff but the top three were:

In 3rd place, Marcus Brigstocke and his Brig Society, at the Royal, Northampton, in October.

In 2nd place, similar style but just pipping him for content, Jeremy Hardy at the Royal, Northampton, in January.

In 1st place, Dara O’Briain’s Craic Dealer tour, Butterworth Hall, Warwick Arts Centre in April.

Time for another Turkey – Paul Merton’s Out of My Head tour, at the Derngate, Northampton, in April – may have been clever but it wasn’t funny.

Best Stand-up at the Screaming Blue Murder nights in Northampton

We’ve seen over thirty comics this year down in the Underground at the Royal and Derngate, and it’s been the usual array of the Good the Bad and the Ugly. Here are my top five:

In 5th place, Scunthorpe’s own copper Alfie Moore (17th February).
In 4th place, no relation I’m guessing, Ian Moore (5th October).
In 3rd place, the very funny Steve Day (16th March).
In 2nd place, big local hero Andrew Bird (20th January).
In 1st place, and regaining his 2010 title, the unstoppable Paul Sinha (2nd March).

Best Musical.

Last year this was split into Best New Musical and Best Revival Musical but with only two (and that’s questionable) new musicals seen this year I’m lumping them all in together. Some great productions so I’m going for a Top Five:

In 5th place, very close thing but it’s Hello Dolly at the Curve Theatre, Leicester in December.

In 4th place, the delightful and funny Radio Times at the Royal, Northampton in September.

In 3rd place, the innovative revival of Pippin at the Menier Chocolate Factory in January.

In 2nd place, the rewarding and moving revival of Merrily We Roll Along at the Menier Chocolate Factory in December.

In 1st place, the exhilarating revival of My Fair Lady at the Sheffield Crucible in January 2013.

Best New Play

This is my definition of a new play – which may not necessarily be an actual brand spanking new play never seen at any other theatre ever before, but is certainly new enough! Only six plays came into that category, and here is my top three:

In 3rd place (and very nearly made it to 2nd), Ladies in Lavender at the Royal, Northampton in April.

In 2nd place (and very nearly downgraded to 3rd place), Bully Boy at the Royal, Northampton, in September.

In 1st place, The Last of the Haussmans, at the Lyttelton, National Theatre, in July.

Best Revival of a Play

This is the category with the biggest long-list in these awards – I can count 23 contenders. There are some smashing productions that fail to make the Top Five, including the National’s Comedy of Errors, Sheffield’s Democracy, Chichester’s Arturo Ui, Northampton’s Blood Wedding and Hedda Gabler. But these are my favourite five (and they’re all quite brilliant):

In 5th place, Torch Song Trilogy at the Menier Chocolate Factory in June.

In 4th place, Betrayal at the Sheffield Crucible in May.

In 3rd place, Charley’s Aunt at the Menier Chocolate Factory in October.

In 2nd place, Abigail’s Party at the Menier Chocolate Factory in April.

In 1st place, for its sheer breadth of vision and its pushing of boundaries, The Royal and Derngate’s The Bacchae at the Northampton Chronicle and Echo Print Works in June.

Turkey time – the rediscovery of Coward’s Volcano (Oxford Playhouse in July) was a damp squib and the revival of that old war horse Dry Rot (Milton Keynes Theatre in September) wasn’t much better.

Best performance by an actress in a musical

A really tough call this one but a decision has to be made and here it is:

In 3rd place, Cynthia Erivo in Sister Act, Milton Keynes Theatre in June.

In 2nd place, Carly Bawden in My Fair Lady, Sheffield Crucible, in January 2013.

In 1st place, Jenna Russell in Merrily We Roll Along, Menier Chocolate Factory, December.

Best performance by an actor in a musical.

Again, very hotly contested and you know they must be good if they kick the likes of Damian Humbley, Gary Wilmot and Michael Xavier into the long grass! The top three are:

In 3rd place, Martyn Ellis in My Fair Lady, Sheffield Crucible, in January 2013.

In 2nd place, Harry Hepple in Pippin, Menier Chocolate Factory, in January 2012.

In 1st place, Dominic West in My Fair Lady, Sheffield Crucible, in January 2013.

Best performance by an actress in a play.

Too close to call not to have a Top Five:

In 5th place, Claudie Blakley for Comedy of Errors at the Olivier, National Theatre, in February.

In 4th place, Emma Hamilton as Hedda Gabler, Royal, Northampton, in July.

In 3rd place, Jill Halfpenny for Abigail’s Party, Menier Chocolate Factory, in April.

In 2nd place, Natalie Casey for Abigail’s Party, Menier Chocolate Factory, in April.

In 1st place, Laurie Metcalf for Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Milton Keynes Theatre, in March.

Best performance by an actor in a play.

21 contenders in the long list, and so many brilliant performances that won’t get a mention, so I definitely need a top five:

In 5th place, Henry Goodman for The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui, Minerva Theatre Chichester, in July.

In 4th place, John Simm for Betrayal, Sheffield Crucible, in May.

In 3rd place, Ery Nzaramba for The Bacchae, Northampton Chronicle and Echo Print Works in June.

In 2nd place, David Bedella for Torch Song Trilogy, Menier Chocolate Factory, in June.

In 1st place, Mathew Horne for Charley’s Aunt, Menier Chocolate Factory, in October.

Theatre of the Year.

Very close this year between my three favourite theatres – Northampton’s Royal and Derngate, Sheffield Theatres and the Menier Chocolate Factory. However, taking everything into account – consistency of excellence, variety of entertainment, and the whole theatre-visit experience, I’m awarding the Theatre of the Year to the Royal and Derngate Northampton!

Thank you to everyone who reads my blog – I’m amazed at how the numbers have steadily increased over the past year or so! I wish you all happy theatregoing and a great 2013!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground, Derngate, Northampton, 2nd March 2012

Dan EvansA proper sell out of all 150 tickets for last Friday’s Screaming Blue Murder, and a super set of comics to enjoy. Dan Evans was back as our host, and is still refreshing us with new material, good man! His lightness of touch with the crowd appears effortless, which, combined with his slightly self-deprecating style, ensures a secure comic thread running throughout the whole show.

Richard MortonOur first act was Richard Morton, whom I’m pretty sure we saw here about three years ago, long before I started to blog these events. You can’t help but love him. He’s completely zany, basing a lot of his material on his guitar and creating hilarious Country and Western songlets about members of the Royal Family or indeed, I expect, any subject you’d care to mention. He’s fast and furious, with a good degree of silliness tempered with genuinely witty material with proper-funny punchlines. He went down a storm. Definitely one to catch.

Tom CraineThe second act was Tom Craine, who has a splendidly upbeat style and keeps his act moving at a very good pace. He’s very likeable and reacts well with the audience; all that’s missing is some better material. He was up against top class competition in this line-up and it did make his stories seem a little underwhelming in comparison. I’m sure it’s within his capability to up his game and then I would have thought he could be really excellent. Mind you, he did describe me as looking like an apple – half man, half Braeburn. That decides it, I’m definitely going on a diet.

Paul Sinha Talking of really excellent, we ended with Paul Sinha, who won the coveted Chrisparkle award for best Screaming Blue Murder comic of 2010. Like Richard Morton, I’m sure we had heard a lot of his set before, but, also like Richard Morton, it’s so good that you really don’t mind. Paul Sinha bases his material on his unique character of being a gay British Asian doctor quiz-king stand-up; from which position there are lots of wickedly funny observations to make. His delivery style is calm and clear, sometimes almost as though it were a lecture; not in a preachy way, but simply letting his carefully chosen words work the comedy magic. At the end of his act, he always makes an “approach” to a member of the audience; all I can say is – Ricardo had it coming. It was squirm inducingly hilarious. The appreciation for Paul Sinha at the end of the evening was about as enthusiastic and sustained as I’ve ever heard at the SBM.

£11.50 for all this. It’s ridiculous really. A great night out.

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Derngate Northampton, 11th June, 1st July and 15th July

Marlon DavisPlaying catch-up yet again, we’ve been to the comedy club three times in the past few weeks and seen some pretty good acts. On the 11th June the first act was Marlon Davis who gave a very nice routine about living with his dad with some very nice insights. Next was Mary Bourke who had some excellent lines about Jesus’ Facebook statuses, and last was Pierre Hollins, who was also very good. I really should have blogged about this weeks ago as my memory of the night is not great. Two intervals does mean three large glasses of Sauvignon Blanc.

Kent ValentineOn the 1st July, we started with Kent Valentine, an Australian comic who did an excellent routine on walking an empty pram through Central London. It was sufficiently credible to imagine oneself in that situation, so the comedy of cringe kicked in quite a bit.

Next up was Danielle Ward who also had good observations, but I thought allowed too long a gap between money-moments. Enjoyed her bit about going topless for £50.

Paul Sinha At the end we had Paul Sinha who was frankly sensational. Wonderful delivery, constantly funny, brilliant observations, and when he said it was time to finish the reaction of disappointment that it had come to an end was extraordinary – not witnessed that before. Won’t tell you anything about his act as that would spoil it. Can I mark him down as a national-treasure-to-be?

Otiz Cannelloni Last night was very interesting. And very funny on the whole. Otiz Cannelloni has quite an old style act but is genuinely funny so gets away with it. We laughed a lot. Plus he also did one really clever card trick. A touch of magic always goes down well. Chris McCausland doesn’t play on his blindness as much as you might expect and is also genuinely funny. It was Tony Law at the end who came a bit of a cropper as his surreal style carried many along but alienated others, with the result that he got heckled but didn’t really handle it well. Maybe he’s not used to being heckled.

Last one of the season, unfortunately, these nights are always great value entertainment.

Paul Sinha definitely wins My Comic Of The Year, were I to have such an award.