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.