Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 22nd November 2019

Sally Anne HaywardAnother packed house at the Underground for our last Screaming Blue Murder of the year. Instead of our usual host, Dan, in the hot seat was Sally-Anne Hayward, whom we’ve seen many times before but never as an MC – and damn fine she was too. I loved her material about the whining office victim, which may seem cruel at first but then develops into a brilliant analysis of that kind of person. As she probed the audience for their interesting facts and jobs, she struck gold by first approaching Jasmine, with whom we all played a guessing game as to what she did for a living. You’d never guess it in a million years, btw. Her boyfriend, Winner, was also an easy target for some audience-ribbing.

Brendan DempseyIn what was always going to be a sensational line-up, our first act was the fantastic Brendan Dempsey, whom we last saw at Screaming Blue five years ago. He has such a commanding manner with the audience, so full of authority yet subtle and engaging. He has a brilliant sequence where he explains the reason why he and his wife can’t have children; plus some delightfully tasteless but extremely funny material on the benefits of having a disabled child. With his polite and well-mannered delivery, he’s able to sneak in some very challenging and often ludicrous material en route, and the act works brilliantly well.

Diane SpencerIn a change from the advertised programme, next was a welcome return to Diane Spencer, another comic whom we’ve seen several times and who surprises the audience with a delicious balance of posh Sloaney performer and some hard-hitting X-rated material to great comic effect. She offers some insights into the art of keeping stepchildren, and she goes into blow-jobs in great detail (apologies if you’re eating). I really enjoy her style and her unpredictability, and she went down very well with the audience.

Russell Hicks Headlining the evening was the magnificent Russell Hicks, who only has to come on to deliver a few lines, then allow himself to be sidetracked by whatever the audience throws at him – which usually results in comedy gold. This time we had a lady called Jo from Canada who had got steadily more inebriated as the evening wore on; and the audible plea from her friend during Mr Hicks’ set – “no, don’t get your tits out, Jo” – was all he needed. Added to this, there was an extraordinary tale from another (rather posh) lady who recounted the tale of her flashing her bosoms at a passing Virgin express train from a canal boat at Watford Gap. No one can weave such bizarre extras into their Screaming Blue Murderact like Mr Hicks, and he gave us half an hour of full-on belly laughs, so much so that we were still laughing (and hurting with it) the next morning.

In a word, classic. Screaming Blue Murders resume on January 10th with a superb line-up; we’ll be there, and so should you.

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2018 – Russell Hicks: A Fist Full of Ideas, 19th August 2018

Russell Hicks A Fist Full of IdeasTime for another comedy circuit favourite, and it’s the irrepressible and totally unpredictable Russell Hicks: A Fist Full of Ideas, at Hollywood @ Laughing Horse @ City Café at 12:50 on Sunday 19th. Here’s the official blurb: “Russell Hicks attempts to hone a work that is forever in progress by walking on stage with – literally – a fist full of ideas.”

Russell HicksWell that doesn’t tell you a lot. Probably because no one will know what Mr Hicks will say until he says it. All you can know in advance is that he’ll be bouncing off whatever the audience throws his way – and it’ll be hilarious. Check back shortly after 2pm to find out what happened. By then the next preview blog should be available to read too.

As always with Russell Hicks, a fast and fantastic hour of flights of fancy, where half (if not more) of the material comes from his banter with the audience. No two shows would ever be remotely the same! Absolutely brilliant.

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 16th February 2018

Screaming Blue MurderIt was a welcome return last Friday to the effervescent Dan Evans hosting another Screaming Blue Murder with three wonderful acts and two delightful intervals. Another packed house – aren’t they all nowadays? – but with a really strange crowd. I think there was a large party that arrived quite late so they couldn’t all sit together; therefore the room was scattered with people who knew each other very well – which was perplexing to some of the comics but comedy gold too – as you will see…

Dan EvansAmongst the crowd were three baby-faced youths on the front row who admitted to being 19 years old, but I’m not so sure; but they were very good sports as almost everyone picked on them at some point. There was also a lady who worked at John Lewis’; Dan got very excited about the prospects for wheedling discounts out of her until he discovered she worked at the warehouse. Dan was on great form as always and got us in the perfect mood for an anarchic night.

James DowdeswellOur first act was James Dowdeswell, whom we’ve seen here three times before, but there’s been a goodly gap since the last time, so his act was fresh as a daisy to us. With an IT geeky face and a certain degree of west country poshness, he delivers a range of very funny and frequently self-deprecating humour, and struck up an excellent rapport with the audience. He has some great stag-do material, and gets a lot of mileage out of his recent engagement and arrangements for his forthcoming nuptuals. All very enjoyable stuff.

And at some point during James’ routine, at the back of the room, and more vocal than was good for him, came the voice of Reg. Reg is a lorry driver. What kind of goods does he transport? White Goods. Cocaine! shouted half the people who knew him. It wasn’t long before Reg was “the supplier” to the whole audience. Nice work if you can get it. Little did we know how Reg would feature later on.

Kate LucasOur second act, and a change to the advertised programme, was Kate Lucas, who was new to us. Where has she been hiding all this time? Kate’s speciality is comedy songs with a twist – a twist of a neck, that is, as she gets so angry during her songs. They’re really funny and inventive – and because she has the voice of an angel and the charm of a Swiss Finishing School Product, her venom is all the more surprising and effective. She has songs that express the disappointment of how ugly a baby can be; a typical argument between husband and wife; and where you can choose to go to Heaven or to Hell. They’re all super-savage and absolutely brilliant. We even joined in. Everybody loved her!

Russell HicksOur headline act, and someone you can always trust to react to the room, was Russell Hicks. The first time I saw him I was disappointed that he went off tangent so much to react to what was going on around him that I felt like I missed out on his act “proper”. Now I know going off on one is his raison de comédie. He was wearing a rather flash sheepskin coat, of which he was clearly proud until someone said he looked like John Motson. Mr Hicks’ American upbringing meant he never got to watch the beloved Motty on Match of the Day, so he insisted on someone Googling his photo for him. One look at the picture and he threw the coat on to the floor in disgust and declared war on us.

But we had Reg as part of our ammunition, who, as I intimated earlier, wasn’t backward in coming forward. Mr Hicks unearthed him from the back of the room, made him swap places with Ravi (the most amenable of the 19 year olds) but then Ravi started kicking off. Mr H was clearly beguiled by a lady in an orange dress and spoke of his admiration for her primary colours when we all shouted back that orange isn’t a primary colour (because you can make if from mix red and yellow of course!) Flummoxed that we all knew our primary colours – but having whipped the room into a frenzy of enjoyment – all Mr H had to do was keep jabbing away at our idiosyncrasies and oddities, and his forty minutes just flew by. As he said at the end, this was one of the absolute weirdest sets he’d done but also one of the funniest. An absolute master at running with whatever the crowd chuck at him, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him quite so in control.

A genuinely hilarious night’s comedy. Next Screaming Blue is on 9th March. Don’t miss it!

Three London Comedy Clubs – a Review Round-Up

rose-and-crown-frontOver the past couple of months my pal the Squire of Sidcup and I have attended three comedy nights in various locations round London. I probably should have reviewed them individually earlier, but for some weird reason I haven’t found them that easy to write about. Was it the perplexity of the venues? The quality of the comedy? The level of alcohol consumed? I couldn’t possibly comment.

James LoveridgeOur first event was on 4th December last year when we went to the Rose and Crown in Kentish Town, home of the Pegasus Comedy Club. The Rose and Crown is a rather nice pub and the comedy club is held in its basement. It doesn’t seat many people, and we were quite surprised to be two of about fifteen people in attendance – I thought that was quite good for a little place and for a Monday night of comics giving us some Work In Progress sessions. What we were most surprised to discover was that of those fifteen people we were the only ones not appearing on stage! So in fact it was a cast of thirteen each doing about five minutes’ material to an audience of two. Still, it was free to get in, so I’m certainly not complaining.

Darren WalshOne consequence of that is that the host, Richard, didn’t always make the names of all the performers clear, as they were basically all friends together. As a result, I don’t have many of the names to hand. Two of the performers – and probably the two with the best delivery and material – were comics I had seen before (the Squire didn’t know any of them at all.) James Loveridge, of Edinburgh Spank (you love it!) fame, had some excellent new stuff about spending time with his fiancée; and Darren Walsh (whom Mrs Chrisparkle and I had also seen in Edinburgh) had another punful bundle of one-liners that made his five minutes fly by. We’re seeing him at the Leicester Comedy Festival next month and the omens are looking good.

Alex MartiniThere was one other comic who was new to me but who impressed – Alex Martini; a naturally very funny man with a very engaging personality. Of the rest, there were plenty who raised a number of smiles and only one who was absolutely dire.

Top SecretFast forward through the Christmas period and the Squire and I had another foray in the world of London Comedy, this time at the Top Secret Club in Drury Lane on 16th January. I could give you more information as to where it is, but then I’d have to kill you and I don’t want to risk losing my readership. Another basement affair, but this time in a room that grows and grows the more people arrive. The Squire and I sat in the front row and paid the penalty with some joshing from the excellent compere, Nico Yearwood, and also one of the comics, Leo Kearse, who challenged me to think of my chat-up tactics; Nico Yearwoodas I said on the night, but it’s been so long… We also enjoyed Stephen Carlin, who had good material but lacked a little warmth, I felt; the amazing Russell Hicks, who just went off on a tangent as he always does, with fantastic consequences; and headliner Tim Renkow, who brilliantly converts his cerebral palsy into comedy gold, and if you think that sounds inappropriate, well, you obviously haven’t seen his act. A very comfortable and enjoyable venue, and a really great show. Entry was only £1, but getting out was more expensive.

Russell HicksThen last night the Squire and I met up with his beloved, the Wise Woman of Wembley, and, after a dreadful meal at Café Rouge (they should be ashamed of themselves) we hit the 99 Club at the Ruby Blue, just off Leicester Square. Instead of descending into a bunker we ascended up the stairs into a bright and pizzazzy bar area, with a comedy room off to the left. A rather strange set up, because it was very wide and very shallow, probably only about five rows deep but extending way out to the side, where I’m sure you would feel thoroughly distanced from the comedy vibe.

Tim RenkowComedically, this was a game of two halves, as we were lulled into a false sense of security by our excellent compere Tom Webb, whose welcome is genial and who plays off the audience really well. He established, for example, that Trev, who was celebrating his 55th birthday, who was provocatively seated in the front row, was an Elvis Impersonator by trade. That was bold. Tom WebbHaving set us up nicely, Mr Webb introduced first act, Mike Gunn, and I’m afraid we all agreed that he didn’t tickle our funnybones at all. A few uncomfortable silences and half-hearted responses suggested we weren’t the only ones; although I sensed there was a language problem in the audience – one of the downsides of a comedy club in a very touristy area is that you will have a number of punters for whom English is not their first language and who don’t always get the nuances. athena-kugblenuNever mind, we knew that the excellent Athena Kugblenu, who was brilliant when we saw her at the Ark, would lift the mood. But no, she too struggled to get us difficult crowd to raise a smile.

Dane BaptisteI was beginning to feel guilty at having asked my friends out to see this disappointing show. Fortunately our headline act was the National Treasure-In-Waiting, Dane Baptiste. I’ve seen Monsieur Baptiste a few times, including his Gold Oil Drugs show in Edinburgh last summer, which he is still touring – and I was delighted to see that it was all new material last night. He smashed it out of court, to use the vernacular, and went down a storm. As an encore, Tom Webb got Trev to get up and do an Elvis playout and the good chap obliged, so more power to his elbow. But I didn’t feel that the layout worked at all for this little stage area and at £9 a ticket plus booking fee, for what was only a little over an hour-and-a-half’s show, (and distinctly London prices for the drinks) this was the most expensive of the three comedy nights.

99 clubI’m sure the Squire and I will do this again, and it’s fascinating to see the variety of comedy venues available in the capital. Even if some acts flop and others just aren’t your cup of tea, live comedy is a thing of beauty to be nurtured and cherished. If you haven’t tried it before, you really should!

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2015 – Russell Hicks – Big Mouth Strikes Again

Russell HicksFirst of all, let’s have a read of the blurb: “American smart ass showcases the wit that got him described as ‘a mix between Jack Dee and Dennis Leary’ (BroadwayBaby.com). This show has it all: humour, madness, imagination and the ability to take a punch.”

Russell Hicks againHere’s one show I am absolutely determined to go to, come hell or high water. We saw Mr Hicks at one of our Screaming Blue Murder nights in Northampton and he was absolutely amazing in that he spent the entire set reacting to the crowd and barely dipping into any of his prepared routine. I was determined to see him again. And thus it was that we arranged to see him at the Edinburgh Fringe last year in his Unprepared show. Trouble is, it was our first night and we’d been up so early, and we were really tired and…so we didn’t turn up.

Russell Hicks yet againSo this year we’re definitely going to turn up, otherwise I’m going to give the poor guy a complex. And I’m really looking forward to it! He’s on at 17:00 at the Laughing Horse at the Free Sisters, 139 Cowgate. Check back shortly after 6pm to make sure we really did go. And also check out what it is we’re seeing next!

Update:

We really did go this time! And I would guess about 20% of it was prepared material. I loved the disconcerting “backward” start, and the way he creates a cast of characters from various members of the audience. Today we had Marketing Student who couldn’t come up with a strategy, Bournemouth man who sounded more Hoots Mon than you’d expect from Dorset, and Aragorn, who could almost kill a man with a camp flick of a punch. But it was his girlfriend who had a surprise up her sleeve. Mr Hicks has eyes in the back of his head and misses nothing. A brilliantly inventive approach, breaking all the rules because that’s what they’re there for! An hour stuffed with laughs from unexpected places. Great stuff! 

Review of the year 2014 – The Fifth Annual Chrisparkle Awards

Once again our esteemed panel of one has met to consider all the wonderful shows we’ve seen in the previous year so that we can distribute plaudits to the arts world in Northampton, Sheffield, Leicester and beyond! Actors, directors and producers, musicians, dancers and entertainers have all striven to make it to the 2014 Chrisparkle Awards short list, which this year relates to shows I have seen and blogged between 17th January 2014 and 11th January 2015. There’s lots to get through, so let’s start!

As always, the first award is for Best Dance Production (Contemporary and Classical).

I saw six dance productions last year, all of which I remember with much admiration and affection, from which I have struggled to whittle down to a shortlist of four. And here are the top three:

In 3rd place, the powerful and hard-hitting dance version by Matthew Bourne of Lord of the Flies, which we saw in May at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

In 2nd place, the marvellously inventive, comic and moving modern dance drama, Drunk, by Drew McOnie’s McOnie Company, which I saw at the Leicester Curve in January and again at the Bridewell Theatre in February.

In 1st place, a company absolutely at the peak of its powers, the stunning programme by Richard Alston Dance Company that we saw at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in September.

Classical Music Concert of the Year.

Of the five concerts we saw in 2014, these are the top three:

In 3rd place, the Night with the Stars gala concert, by the Worthing Symphony Orchestra aka the Malcolm Arnold Festival Orchestra, with soloists Julian Bliss and Martin James Bartlett at the Derngate, in October.

In 2nd place, John Williams plays Rodrigo’s Guitar Concerto, plus Stephen Goss’ Guitar Concerto and Gershwin’s An American in Paris, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Derngate in June.

In 1st place, Mozart’s Requiem, together with Alexandra Dariescu’s performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 21, with the RPO at the Derngate in February.

Best Entertainment Show of the Year.

This is the all-purpose, everything else category that includes pantos, circuses, reviews and anything else hard to classify.

In 3rd place, The Burlesque Show at the Royal Theatre, Northampton, in January 2014.

In 2nd place, the amazingly entertaining and funny two hours of magic in Pete Firman’s Trickster show, at the Royal, Northampton, in November.

In 1st place, and I think I have categorised this correctly because you can’t call it either a play or a musical, but it is devastatingly funny, Forbidden Broadway, at the Menier Chocolate Factory in July.

Best Star Standup of the Year.

It was a very good year for seeing big star name stand-up comedians this year – we saw fifteen of them! Only a couple disappointed, so it’s been very hard to whittle down to a final five; but here goes:

In 5th place, Russell Brand in his Messiah Complex tour, at the Derngate in April.

In 4th place, John Bishop’s Work in Progress show at the Royal, in June.

In 3rd place, Paul Chowdhry’s PC’s World at the Royal, in October.

In 2nd place, Trevor Noah in his “The Racist” tour, also at the Royal, in January.

In 1st place, Russell Kane in his Smallness tour show at the Warwick Arts Centre in February.

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

Always a hotly contested award; Of the thirty-three comics that we’ve seen at Screaming Blue Murder last year thirteen made the shortlist, and the top five are:

In 5th place, the Plusnet man on the adverts, who cornered Mrs Chrisparkle and I into telling the entire audience how we met, Craig Murray (12th September)

In 4th place, a comedian whose made-up character of Troy Hawke reminded us of a filthy Clark Gable, Milo McCabe (26th September)

In 3rd place, the commanding, intelligent and ludicrous material of Brendan Dempsey (10th October)

In 2nd place, local lad the razor sharp Andrew Bird (16th May)

In 1st place, someone who took control of a baying audience in the funniest and most inventive way Russell Hicks (11th April).

Best Musical.

Like last year, this is a combination of new musicals and revivals, and we had fifteen to choose from. It was very tough indeed to pick between the top three, but somehow I did it. Here goes:

In 5th place, the ebullient and thoroughly enjoyable Guys and Dolls at the Chichester Festival Theatre in September.

In 4th place, the lively and inventive story of The Kinks in Sunny Afternoon at the Harold Pinter Theatre in December.

In 3rd place, the daring and emotional The Scottsboro Boys at the Garrick in December.

In 2nd place, the stylish and hilarious Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the Savoy in September.

In 1st place, the stunning revival of Gypsy at the Chichester Festival Theatre in October.

Best New Play.

As always, this is my definition of a new play – so it might have been around before but on its first UK tour, or a new adaptation of a work originally in another format. An extremely difficult decision here as it involves comparing uproarious comedy with searing drama; but somehow I chose a final five from the nine contenders:

In 5th place, Alan Ayckbourn’s thought-provoking and very funny Arrivals and Departures, at the Oxford Playhouse in February.

In 4th place, the sombre and intense Taken at Midnight at the Minerva Theatre Chichester in October.

In 3rd place, the moving and beautiful Regeneration, at the Royal in September.

In 2nd place, the laugh-until-your-trousers-are-wet Play That Goes Wrong at the Royal in May.

In 1st place, the claustrophobic, immaculately staged and haunting The Body of an American Underground at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in March.

Best Revival of a Play.

Thirteen made the shortlist, easy to sort out a top nine, but really hard to sort out the top five:

In 5th place, the delightful Relative Values at the Harold Pinter in June.

In 4th place, the star-vehicle for Angela Lansbury but a strong production too of Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud in April.

In 3rd place, the atmospheric and brutal Dealer’s Choice at the Royal in June.

In 2nd place, the powerful yet funny Translations at the Sheffield Crucible in March.

In 1st place, the stunning, all-encompassing Amadeus at the Chichester Festival Theatre in August.

Brief pause to consider the turkey of the year – there were plenty of candidates this year, but in the end I plumped for the tedium-fest that was Wonderful Tennessee at the Lyceum Theatre Sheffield in March.

Best play – Edinburgh

In the first of three new awards, this category is for the best play we saw at the Edinburgh Fringe. It could be a comedy or a serious play, new or revival, grand scale or all perched on a couch. There were five serious contenders, and very tight at the top between two plays, but in the end I am awarding this new Chrisparkle award to Trainspotting performed by In Your Face Theatre at the Hill Street Drama Lodge.

Best entertainment – Edinburgh

The second new award is for the best show in Edinburgh that wasn’t a play – so it could be a musical, a review, comedy stand-up, magic, dance, you name it. And the winner is Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho at the Assembly George Square Gardens.

Best film

The last of the three new awards is for the best film I’ve seen all year, no matter what its subject matter. Twelve Years a Slave and The Imitation Game came close, but I’m giving it to Pride.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical.

Ten contenders in the shortlist, but the top four were very easy to identify:

In 4th place, Jodie Prenger’s’s spirited Jane in Calamity Jane at the Milton Keynes Theatre in March.

In 3rd place, the amazingly versatile and surely soon to be a star Debbie Kurup in Anything Goes at the Sheffield Crucible in January 2015.

In 2nd place, the wonderfully funny and sad performance by Sophie Thompson as Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls at the Chichester Festival Theatre in September.

In 1st place, probably the strongest central performance by any performer in a musical ever, the extraordinary Imelda Staunton in Gypsy at the Chichester Festival Theatre in October.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Musical.

Again ten fine performances in the shortlist, but here’s my top five:

In 5th place, for his sheer joie de vivre, the dynamic George McGuire for his role as Dave Davies in Sunny Afternoon at the Harold Pinter in December.

In 4th place, Alexander Hanson’s strangely vulnerable title character in Stephen Ward at the Aldwych Theatre in February.

In 3rd place, Paul Michael Glaser’s funny, realistic and sincere Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof at the Derngate in April.

In 2nd place, Robert Lindsay for his sheer style and panache in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the Savoy in September.

In 1st place, Brandon Victor Dixon’s stunning performance as the principled, tragic Haywood Patterson in The Scottsboro Boys at the Garrick in December.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Play.

Twelve in the shortlist, but a relatively easy final three:

In 3rd place a wonderful comic tour de force from Sara Crowe in Fallen Angels at the Royal in February.

In 2nd place, the emotional but still very funny performance by Caroline Quentin in Relative Values at the Harold Pinter in June.

In 1st place, the strong, dignified performance by Penelope Wilton in Taken at Midnight at the Minerva Theatre Chichester in October.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Play.

Twenty-two contenders in my shortlist, and I whittled it down to this:

In 5th place, Aaron Neil for his hilarious portrayal of the useless police commissioner in Great Britain at the Lyttelton, National Theatre in July.

In 4th place, Rupert Everett still on amazing form as Salieri in Amadeus at the Chichester Festival Theatre in August.

In 3rd place, Kim Wall for his brilliant performance as the kindly Barry in Arrivals and Departures at the Oxford Playhouse in February.

In 2nd place (or maybe 1st), William Gaminara as Paul in The Body of an American Underground at the Royal and Derngate in March.

In 1st place (or maybe 2nd), Damien Molony as Dan also in The Body of an American Underground at the Royal and Derngate in March.

Theatre of the Year.

A new winner this year. For a remarkably strong programme, comfortable welcoming theatres, and a fantastically improved dining experience, this year’s Theatre of the Year award goes to the Festival Theatre/Minerva Theatre, Chichester, with the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, and the Menier Chocolate Factory, close behind.

It’s been a great year – and thanks to you gentle reader for accompanying me on the trip. I hope we have another fantastic year of theatre to enjoy together in 2015!

The Edinburgh Fringe 3-Nighter – Russell Hicks: Unprepared

Russell HicksRounding off the night with another stand-up, I’m really looking forward to seeing Russell Hicks again, as the last time we saw him, he got so much hassle from the crowd that I don’t think he did any of his actual routine! He does play off the audience so well though, with his wonderfully laconic American wisecracking, so whether there is material here (it’s called Unprepared, so I’m not expecting a lot) or whether it’s all comic badinage between us and him, it’s going to be a brilliant end to the evening. The time – 23:40, the place – Just the Tonic at the Tron. Originally this was a Free-ticketed event but it’s now a Free Non-ticketed event – so does anyone want to buy my worthless tickets as we now can’t use them? I’ll put up our final reactions of the day some time before 1am. And that’s when I’ll preview our first show on Saturday.

Or at least that was my intention. But we’ve been up since 5:30 this morning, and when we got to just the tonic at the Tron, the place was absolutely seething with people, and the lure of a quiet drink in the hotel bar just too appealing. So, sorry Mr Hicks, we’ll be missing you this time round, hope to see you again sometime soon. Thanks for reading today, see you again tomorrow!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, 11th April 2014

Screaming Blue MurderIt’s always great to see a packed house at our beloved comedy club nights here at the Derngate in Northampton, but sometimes things can just a tiny bit out of hand. I could foresee this at the bar before the show started as I was getting the drinks in for Mrs Chrisparkle, Lady Duncansby, her butler William, her lady’s maid the Belle of Great Billing, and the Duchess of Dallington – just a sweet sherry and five straws. As I was being served, a group of (already quite boisterous) guys came in and asked if they could set up a tab. “They’re planning a good night” I thought to myself. Sadly for them, tabs weren’t available, and they advised the bar staff that, in that case, it would make it very hard work for them throughout the evening with all the drinks they were planning to buy. Anyway, I gave it no more thought.

Dan EvansUntil, that is, the chattering and general noise level from the back of the room made it hard for us to hear the ever effervescent Dan Evans getting procedures underway. “I hope those drunks shut up” I confided to Mrs C. They did for a bit – and then they didn’t again. Compere Dan manfully gave us his usual cheeky welcome and great badinage with the front rows and a nice blend of old and new material, some of which the people at the back listened to. Dan noted that the audience was very blokey this week – women seemed to be in reasonably short supply. This isn’t necessarily a good thing. Anyway, for those who paid attention to Dan – he was as masterful as usual.

Carly SmallmanThen it was time for our three acts. First on was Carly Smallman who we enjoyed very much last time we saw her. She comes across as a very bright, happy, friendly kind of girl, who did a lot of “I’ve finally got a boyfriend” material, which works very well with her slightly self-deprecating image. She did struggle against the noisy blokes at the back though. She gave as good as she got (much better actually) but they did their damnedest to make her inaudible – and if you’ve seen Carly before you’ll know that’s quite a challenge. Nevertheless I really enjoyed her song about meeting the boyfriend’s parents for the first time – that’s the kind of thing that can bring back squirmy memories for many. And there was some fun banter between her and some guys in the front row whom she clearly fancied, but they were gay and so she realised was working overtime for little gain.

Russell HicksSecond up was a change to the published programme – Russell Hicks. Mr Hicks was new to us but what a discovery! I do like it when a comic has the guts to do away with what they’ve prepared and just go with the flow – and as our flow was generally all over the place, he just went with it and was amazing. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone cope with everything an audience threw at him quite as well as he did. People from Crick, sarcastic applauders, a man with a ZZ Top beard, and Frank in the front row trying to get a word in edgeways, he gave them all just the funniest exchanges which did no end of good to smooth out the ruffled atmosphere caused by the noisy drunken lads. If anything, his style and approachable persona required us as an audience to “up” our creative game to match his parry-ripostes. He comes across as a delightfully laconic everyman figure, with whom you can really identify. We loved him and definitely want him back – whether it’s to do more of his usual act or just argue the toss with the audience, we don’t mind!

Pete CainOur headline act was Pete Cain, who I feared at first might be a bit fascist, and I thought I wasn’t going to be to my taste; but then he turned out to have a brilliant routine about how to improve the UK. No matter your politics, he gave us all a hilarious lecture on where the country has gone wrong and where we should concentrate our efforts on putting it right again. Basically, we’re all going to have to leave and be let back in one by one if we merit it. Who would be in and who out of his new improved UK? You have to see his act. He also had some great material ridiculing those posh people where he lives in Richmond who talk French in their local French patisserie – imagine a Greggs in the Dordogne – “gorra pasty m’sieur?” Very funny indeed; and he figuratively kept running with the baton of comic momentum that Russell Hicks had handed him.

So despite the tedium of the behaviour of some of our fellow audience members, this actually ended up being one of the best Screaming Blues ever. Can’t wait for the next one!