Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 14th January 2022

Screaming Blue MurderHurrah for the return of the Screaming Blue Murder comedy nights at the Derngate, the first of the New Year and with a capacity audience which is how we like it. We were a bright and cheery bunch, keen for a good laugh, and up for whatever the Gods of Comedy decided to throw at us. I must say though, it was a surprisingly patchy night. The fantastic just about outweighed the not-so-fantastic – but more of that later.

Dan EvansWe welcomed back our usual genial host Dan Evans, who had his work cut out encouraging/controlling members of the audience who included Big Nana and her unruly family of Spencer/Browns, the Four Siblings, the man who drove the human waste truck and the Landed Gentry who open up their garden for charity. Not to mention the vociferous lady from the back who wanted to be a member of Big Nana’s family. Rather like the now defunct News of the World, all human life was there. But, as always, Dan handled it with deft aplomb and only the occasional downright offensive insult.

James BranOur first act was James Bran, whom we last saw here almost four years ago, and is a likeable chap with a rather thoughtful, quiet approach to comedy, which can make a nice change from the more frenzied style. He started off with the best exchange of the night, by boldly asking who’s been vaccinated (yay shouted by far the majority) followed by who’s not been vaccinated (a slightly more guilty yay muttered by a tiny few) to which a lady in the front row shouted out “twats!” which took the conversation in a very different direction from which Mr Bran had I think intended. A great moment of interactive drama. However, after that the energy started to fall, and I found that most of Mr B’s material didn’t really engage me. Although there were some good laughs it never soared. And at the end he did a long sequence about bananas which I’m afraid left us both completely cold. Maybe it’s important to have seen the YouTube video he’s referring to.

Daman BamrahNext up, and new to us, was Daman Bamrah, who cuts an imposing stage presence; it’s the first time I’ve ever seen a Sikh gentleman as a stand-up comedian, and Mr Bamrah knows that his personality and presence is something he can work to his advantage. His other great gift is accents, and his opening few minutes were comedy gold as he explores a beautiful audio/visual juxtaposition and when the joke lands, it’s firmly on us – brilliant. There were also some nice observations about growing up in Wembley and mispronouncing his name. Unfortunately, his subsequent material isn’t quite substantial enough to sustain this high watermark and after a while it felt rather meandering, and any punchlines weren’t quite sharp enough to properly hit home. He’s obviously a naturally funny guy, and I know he’s relatively new to the comedy scene, so with some better material he could be a strong contender.

Richard MortonOur headline act was someone we’ve seen twice before but not since 2012, comedy/music act Richard Morton. The evening needed to end on a high note and by jiminy did Mr Morton provide it. Starting off with some great interaction with the crowd, tempered with some entertaining self-deprecation, he then moved on to his guitar-based musical parodies which are just sensational. He absolutely gets the style right of whatever musician or group he’s playing with (so to speak) and his comedy lyrics are both hilarious and bang up-to-date. I loved his selection of pandemic songs, and the act culminated with a now the groups are old selection – and he was completely hysterical. We left the theatre on a comedy high!

The next Screaming Blue Murder is on Saturday 29th January. We can’t make it – but I’m sure you can.

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 19th November 2021

Screaming Blue MurderIt’s odd how the same format of three fabulous acts, two wonderful intervals and one marvellous compere can create a different vibe from show to show. There was something odd and ill at ease about October’s Screaming Blue Murder, but last Friday’s show was a crackeroony of a night. Host Dan Evans was on fine form indeed with his welcomes and entr’actes, mining the comedy out of the front rows, including Texaco Josh who was 29 but looked 13, Oundle Will who was 17 and looked 17, and Farmer Alice who, according to Dan, had to get up at 5am every day just to fill out all the refund forms, thus receiving the biggest laugh of the night.

Dan EvansAn innovative line-up featured two female comics and one male, which may be an indication of some progress where it comes to equality in comedy. We’d seen all the acts before, some more recently than others, and it’s interesting to see how they mixed and matched the same material we’ve seen before but to different effect.

Juliet MeyersFirst up was Juliet Meyers, whom I was expecting to use the C word within the first couple of minutes as she always does, but this time she didn’t – maybe she thought we were posher than we were. It wasn’t until she made a disparaging remark about our beloved Prime Minister, at which point Front Row Tom got up in a magnificent display of what appeared to be disgust which I think took us all slightly aback, only to get to the door to turn around and say by the way I agree, Boris Johnson is a massive c*nt (I may be paraphrasing). After that we were all relieved and Ms Meyers had the green light to use the C word as much as she wanted, and then everything fell nicely into place. Front Row Tom returned (he’d only nipped out to the loo), and Juliet got on with some great material about dogs’ unconditional love, Brexit in the canine world, and why men have become more tender in the bedroom. Great stuff.

James SherwoodNext up was James Sherwood, who reminds me of what David Mitchell would look like if he was just relaxing down the pub. He has a great interaction with the audience, very wry and dry, gently laconic and I really enjoyed his material regarding sex versus drugs and the pros and cons of both. He split up his act with a few musical jokes at the keyboard, which are his trademark, but for some reason they didn’t quite hit home in the way they have in the past. Nevertheless a good fun set.

Jenny CollierOur headline act was someone we’ve seen twice already this year, Jenny Collier, and I feared that listening to the same material again so soon after hearing it before would be a little disappointing. Not a bit of it. Ms Collier has honed this routine to perfection, working on the just the right words and intonations to make it as funny as possible – and she went down a complete storm. She is one of those comics who plays beautifully on her rather sweet and innocent appearance and contrasts it with the unexpected power of her material; a posh versus filthy balance, which she gauges perfectly. She uses her experience working in the NHS to great effect; has a great joke about a gag reflex; tells us about all the new Welsh words she learned this year; and ends up with a riotous routine about providing a stool sample. Left us all wanting a lot more – fabulous work.

That was the last Screaming Blue Murder for 2021, but, if we have unearnéd luck, we’ll all be back in January. See you there!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 22nd October 2021

Dan EvansScreaming Blue Murder time again, and our party of five braved the increasing Covid numbers to sit as safely as possible by locating the Underground’s new ventilation panels and plonking ourselves under them. Another full house, all expectantly awaiting the 8pm start for a cracking night of comedy. But, come five past eight, where was our loveable host Dan Evans? Still hurtling up the motorway, as it happens. A massive traffic jam held him up Brighton-way and he was never going to make it on time as a result.

Kevin ShepherdThus it was that our first act, Kevin Shepherd, had to introduce both himself, the audience and his act all at the same time – and an excellent job he made of it too. We’d not seen him before, but he has a confident, relaxed style and an engaging manner, which worked well with his getting to know the front row punters, including regular Tom – whom it was decided would speak for the entire audience (and indeed town), and the family of recycling operatives. He had some excellent material which included the nitty-gritty of a drunk date, the majesty that is Bognor Regis, and how when you keep your mask in your trouser pocket too long you discover exactly how testicles smell (that was the truest observation of the night). He also made a number of references to life with his wife, which was perhaps unsurprising as…

Diane SpencerOur second act was the wonderful Diane Spencer, whom we’ve seen many times and never fails to delight with her posh but filthy persona. She also happens to be married to Kevin, which they never made obvious, but I expect a large number of the audience will have twigged. As she often does, she had lots of great material about sexual shenanigans including getting repetitive strain injury in bed and achieving a personal best. But there was a bit of an odd vibe in the audience, and a slight comedy reticence in the air; whether they were put out by Dan’s late arrival – he was able to take over the MC’ing after a while and was his usual jovial self – or whether our biorhythms were out of kilter I don’t know, but Diane did have to work perhaps a bit harder than usual to get the laughs. But she still got them.

Andre VincentOur headline act was Andre Vincent, a comedian of long standing reputation, and whom we’ve seen twice before. He started off with a brilliant gag about self-identification, but maybe it was because of the generally lacklustre audience, or indeed the two young women in the front row who didn’t laugh at anyone or anything, but his energy and comic inspiration seemed to go awol from time to time. His routine centred on two longish stories that he had told on both occasions we’d seen him before, and, although there were laughs a-plenty, somehow the whole thing didn’t go quite to plan. It happens. He’s a gifted comic and a naturally funny guy, but on this occasion, it didn’t quite soar.

Another Screaming Blue in the offing in November – already looking forward to it!

A few more theatre and dance memories for you from July to September 2009

  1. The Revengers’ Comedies Parts One and Two – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 11th July 2009

The Royal and Derngate’s 70th birthday celebrations for Alan Ayckbourn continued with his two part comedy The Revengers’ Comedies, performed in the studio Underground theatre by the Community Actors Group. We saw it on the Saturday where Part One was performed at the matinee and Part Two in the evening. An extremely funny play, performed to perfection by the group.

 

 

  1. Man of the Moment – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 5th August 2009

The last of the big three shows in the Ayckbourn celebration season was Man of the Moment, a blisteringly funny and savage play that starred Kim Wall, Matthew Cottle and Malcolm Sinclair, and directed by Ayckbourn himself. It put the finishing touches to a perfect season.

 

 

  1. The Winter’s Tale – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 15th August 2009

David Farr’s production of what I always find a difficult Shakespearean comedy starred Greg Hicks as Leontes, Kelly Hunter as Hermione, Darrell D’Silva as Polixenes Samantha Young as Perdita and Tunji Kasim as Florizel. The Courtyard Theatre was a temporary theatre to give the Royal Shakespeare Company a home base whilst the Royal Shakespeare Theatre was being redeveloped. Can’t remember much about the production but I think it was considered a success.

  1. Romeo and Juliet – Oxford Shakespeare Company at Wadham College, Oxford, 22nd August 2009

Shakespeare’s lovers’ tragedy was re-imagined as a pair of warring Oxford families in the summer of 1959. Guy Retallack’s inventive production was very effective with fabulous attention to contemporary detail.

  1. Forbidden Broadway – Menier Chocolate Factory, London, 23rd August 2009

The Smash-Hit Broadway revue came to London with a bang, and a fantastic cast of Anna-Jane Casey, Sophie-Louise Dann, Alasdair Harvey and Steven Kynman. No Broadway/West End musical is beyond ridicule in this wonderfully funny revue. It helps if you know the shows it lampoons, but even if you don’t it’s still hysterical. Absolutely brilliant.

  1. The 39 Steps – Criterion Theatre, London, 31st August 2009

Patrick Barlow’s adaptation of the old wartime spy story had already been playing at the Criterion for three years before we finally got to see it. A fantastically funny spoof, performed with incredible gusto by John Hopkins, Stephen Critchlow, Stephen Ventura and Natalie Walter. A very successful production originally performed at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

  1. BBC Proms No 67 – BBC National Orchestra of Wales at the Royal Albert Hall, London, 5th September 2009

Jac van Steen conducted the BBC National Orchestra of Wales at this Saturday night Prom, with David Pyatt on horn. The programme started with Janacek’s Cunning Little Vixen suite, then the London Premiere of John McCabe’s Horn Concerto, Rainforest IV, and then after the interval, Dvorak’s Symphony No 9. A fantastic night of classical music.

 

  1. Screaming Blue Murder – Underground at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 10th September 2009

This was our first ever experience of a Screaming Blue Murder show; hosted (almost certainly – I don’t know the line up that night) by Dan Evans, with three fantastic comics and two superb intervals. Once we started going to these shows we couldn’t stop – and we still regularly go twelve years later.

  1. Last Night of the Proms – BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall, London, 12th September 2009

As I had done on many previous occasions, I entered the ballot for a couple of tickets to the Last Night of the Proms – and, lo and behold, we were successful! Here’s the programme: Oliver Knussen, Flourish with Fireworks; Purcell (arr. Wood) New Suite; Purcell, Dido and Aeneas closing scene; Haydn, Trumpet Concerto in E flat Major; Mahler, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen; Villa-Lobos, Choros No 10 “Rasga o coracao”; Arnold, A Grand Grand Overture; Ketelbey, In a Monastery Garden; Gershwin (arr Forgie) Shall We Dance “They Can’t Take that Away from Me”; Piazzolla (arr Milone) Libertango; BBC Proms Inspire 2009 Young Composers, Fanfares for the Last Night; Handel, Music for the Royal Fireworks excerpts; Arne, Rule Britannia; Parry, Jerusalem; Elgar, Pomp and Circumstance March No 1; National Anthem; Auld Lang Syne. Probably a once in a lifetime experience.

  1. Thank You For the Music, A Celebration of the music of Abba – Hyde Park, London, 13th September 2009

We stayed over in London after the Last Night of the Proms and went to Hyde Park on the Sunday to see this celebration of Abba. A huge list of stars gathered to play Abba, with Bjorn and Benny also present for some of the songs. A great night out.

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 24th September 2021

Screaming Blue MurderHallelujah for the return of Screaming Blue Murder, that brilliant value, top quality comedy night out that we’ve missed so much since the beginning of Lockdown 1.0. Ridiculous to think that the last time we saw Dan Evans bound onto the stage at the Underground was way back on 1st February 2020.  Since then, we’ve all got a little bit older and a little bit wiser (those of us who made it) but some things never change – like Screaming Blue. Dan still presents a top comedy show with three fabulous acts and two fantastic intervals.

This wasn’t the first time we’d been back to the Underground since the pandemic, and as I mentioned when I wrote about seeing Myra Dubois a couple of weeks ago, the ventilation in the Underground is so much better now – not only safer, but so much more comfortable. Gone are the days of heavy sweating in a flimsy shirt in the height of winter – in the Underground, at least – and you definitely feel more Covidly secure in there nowadays. OK, we were still two of only about five people who masked up in the theatre on Friday, but that’s our choice and we’re sticking to it. I really like the new seating layout for Screaming Blue, with three rows of seats surrounding the stage on all sides, and then further rows of seats at the back of the room. It was a sell-out, but even so you still felt like there was plenty of personal space. We’ve changed our favourite position to furthest right near the side door, on the front row of the back block. You get a perfect view, beautifully ventilated, and you feel close enough to the action without putting yourself too much in the firing line for any comic who wants to chat with you (however – see Bennett Arron, below.)

Dan EvansIt was a joy to welcome Dan back, even if he has left his trademark pinstriped suit somewhere on some bedroom floor that he can’t remember. He had plenty of rapport to strike up with the front rows, which were largely occupied by an 18th birthday party night out, so he had his work cut out. He sets the tone for the evening perfectly with jokes old and new! And it wouldn’t be the same without him.

Mike CoxOur first act was Mike Cox, whom we’d only seen online till now in a couple of Comedy Crate/Rock the Atic shows that kept us going through the lean lockdown months. I liked him online, but in real life he was so much more – virtually a completely different person, with a brilliant set of engaging comic sequences, partly stemming from the last eighteen months of lockdown mayhem and partly from managing his unruly children as they run riot in Aldi. Full of recognisable observations, he was lively, funny and likeable. A great start to the evening.

Wendy WasonNext up, and someone we haven’t seen for four years, was Wendy Wason, another smart and engaging comic whose material in the past has been firmly bedded in sex (if I can put it that way) and today is much more concerned with her children, which I guess is an inevitable consequence of her earlier material. We just spent her whole half-hour laughing, which doesn’t need any analysis from me.

Bennett ArronOur headline act, and someone we haven’t seen for (gasp!) ten years, was Bennett Arron, who revealed that it was his first live gig in two years, but he took to it like the master he is. Confessing to the double whammy of being both Jewish and Welsh, he has a lovely self-deprecating air which he can turn into some killer finish lines. When he asked, I boldly admitted to being married for 33 years (thank you for the round of applause everyone) proving that you can be spotted from the back block of seats. Little did I know that our brief chat would result in a brilliant callback at the end of his routine. I’ve been to almost 300 comedy gigs in the last fifteen years and it’s the first time I’ve been a callback. Sincere thanks for that! A fabulous end to the night.

Next Screaming Blue Murder is on 22nd October. Want to come? Of course you do!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 1st February 2020

Screaming Blue MurderOur first time of attending a Screaming Blue Murder on a Saturday night – felt kinda weird because we’re already halfway through the weekend rather than it being a welcome curtain-raiser to those hallowed subsequent two days. Nevertheless, it was sold out yet again, and they’re still persisting on having the front two rows of the audience wrap around the comics’ podium, which has pros and cons. The pros are that there are more victims, I mean guests, for the comedians to interact with. The cons include… well, see paragraph 3.

Dan EvansOnce again MC duties were in the capably hairy hands of Dan Evans, who had plenty to contend with in the front row. It was someone’s birthday. We never found out her real name, but she was given a card addressed to “Li’l Slut” so that became her epithet of the night. She’ll always be Li’l Slut to us. It turned out that half the front rows were part of the birthday party including a lady from Mexico who got upset (quite rightly) at the mention of Brexit. Furthermore, later we had the joy to discover Mike, hiding himself away some rows back, who sold jet skis. In Northampton. You couldn’t make it up.

Paul RickettsOur first act, and someone we’ve seen a couple of times before, was Paul Ricketts. He has a relatively laid-back style and is most at home when he’s bouncing directly off the audience. He had plenty of entertaining material for us, including his bitter resentment of anyone younger than him, observations about Luton Airport, and the very funny Four Stages of an Eastenders Actor. But here’s a thing; for some reason, a number of the punters seated around the stage felt the need to go for a wee during his act, and the only way you can get out of the Underground to get to the toilets from those seats is to march out directly under the performer’s nose – even to the extent of walking on to the stage area and off again. The first time it was quite funny, but by the time four people had separately heard the call of nature it became distracting both for Paul and for us. Nevertheless, Paul battled on regardless and gave us a good half-hour’s worth of fun.

Faye TreacyNext up was someone new to us although I know she’s got a show at the Leicester Comedy Festival coming up very shortly – Faye Treacy. She’s the 21st century’s answer to George Chisholm in that she presents a comedy act plus trombone. The novelty value of this alone is worth the ticket but, additionally, Faye’s musical madness is totally hysterical. Her trombone-influenced material is unbeatable; Trump’s brain music and her vegetable climax had us in stitches. The non-trombone material in between is also enjoyable, but deep down you really don’t want her to put her instrument down.

Dan AntopolskiOur headliner was someone we’ve seen once before and things didn’t entirely go to plan – Dan Antopolski. It can happen to anyone. This time Dan was as sure-footed as a mountain gazelle. His is a subtle, intelligent act that isn’t crammed with one-liners, and in fact often the funniest bits are the bits he doesn’t actually say – there’s clever for you. As such, when you look back over his act, it’s very difficult to pick out moments or topics that really touched the spot; it’s not that they don’t exist – they do – but there’s something ethereal about his whole approach that makes him and his material hard to pin down. I do remember – and really enjoyed – his routine about iPhone versus Samsung; as for the rest of his set – it was excellent but I’m blowed if I can remember any of it.

Next Screaming Blue is on 14th February. Prepare for lots of Valentines jokes. I’m afraid we can’t make it. But you should!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 10th January 2020

Screaming Blue MurderWith the New Year properly bedding in, it’s time our thoughts turned to comedy and the return of Screaming Blue Murder! A packed house (yay!) a new seating arrangement (boo!) a change of start time (someone needs to tell Dan) the occasional Saturday night show (see earlier parentheses) and a slight increase in price (tsk! But the first in four years) but it’s still a great night out with an endless and always unpredictable variety of comics and audiences.

Dan EvansOur host was the genial Dan Evans who got us all nicely warmed up by investigating the social interactions of the front rows. It turns out that nearly everyone was friends with Paul who was celebrating his 52nd birthday. Julia, his wife, is an art teacher at a posh school, a fact noted by the first act, see below… Meanwhile, Dan also had good banter with Sarah the Restaurant Inspector after she’d dissed his favourite eatery, and the good burghers of Northampton fooled him by swapping seats at the intervals – it’s the only way to keep these MCs on their toes.

Paul ThorneFirst up was Paul Thorne, whom we saw here a couple of years ago when he did a fantastic gig largely reacting to one of the punters in the audience noisily puking up. We always like to extend a warm welcome here in Northampton. He has confident, assured delivery and is blessed with a comedic face, which he uses to his advantage. I enjoyed all his material about the pitfalls of manscaping, and the act was going fine. But then…. Paul told Julia she was only a teacher because she wasn’t good enough to be an artist herself. Hilarious for the rest of us, but Paul is now firmly off Julia’s Christmas Card list. Frost fell, but Paul managed to get it back by utilising his brilliant material about life on a Taliban Gap Year which he delivered last time we saw him. Always a good laugh, if treading a dicey line between being cheeky and downright rude!

Evelyn MokOur middle act, and someone we’d never seen before, was Evelyn Mok. I’d read reviews about her style and I had an awful feeling that she might not fit in with our rumbustious environment, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. She has a slow, languorous but strangely seductive delivery and I was instantly taken into her world of Chinese/Swedish prejudices and conventions. She teased birthday boy Paul with facts about her vagina, which included the funniest joke I’ve ever heard that involved Wolverhampton. Delightfully self-deprecating, incredibly funny and splendidly different, I’d love to see her do a longer gig.

Alfie MooreLast up was Alfie Moore, whom we’ve seen several times, the Scunthorpe copper-turned-comic who has brilliant material relating to his experiences in the Force – and you can only imagine the things that the police see. However, he started off with a routine about how people’s names might reflect their personalities, and, truth be told, it didn’t quite come off. He then redressed the balance with many enjoyable anecdotes and observations, but it was a rather stop-start delivery, as you sensed he was drawing material from a number of his previous shows, so that it didn’t really flow. Very good as always, but sometimes he can be super-fantastic.

Next Screaming Blue is on Saturday 25th January; we can’t go, so you’ll have to tell us how it went.

P. S. New Year’s Resolution hits in from today: I’m finally joining the rest of the review crowd and giving star ratings for each show I see!

In a nutshell: Return of Screaming Blue Murder to the Derngate with three excellent acts and two super intervals as always. Star performer this week – Evelyn Mok

Four they’re jolly good fellows

 

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.

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 4th October 2019

Screaming Blue MurderYou wait months for a Screaming Blue Murder then, a week later, another one comes around… not that I’m complaining. There isn’t better value, great quality comedy to be had around these parts, imho. Once again, the Underground was pretty packed, although the front rows were a bit empty because of the cowards defaulting to the back of the room, which always creates a challenge.

Maureen YoungerFor one week only our host was the fantastic Maureen Younger, a feisty performer if ever there was one, whom we’ve seen on many occasions at Screaming Blues, in Edinburgh, and as part of an Upfront Comedy line-up. She likes to get to know the front rows (difficult if there’s hardly anyone there, but she persevered) and so we met big-hearted Big Tommy who threw himself into the whole evening, John the documentary-maker (we’re so metropolitan elite here, darling), posh Georgia (who wasn’t that posh after all) and the quiet couple tucked away at the far end who didn’t want to get in anyone’s way. Maureen’s a great MC, with the necessary quick brain and a host of hilarious responses, and by the time she introduced the first act, it was all going swimmingly.

Michael LeggeWe’d seen two of the acts before, so pretty much knew what to expect from them, but, unexpectedly, it turned out to be an evening of surprises. First up was Michael Legge, who was in a very in-your-face mood, delivering his quirky material with occasionally challenging faux-aggression; but all very enjoyable and you know you’re in very safe hands with the experienced Mr Legge. However…. a group of people towards the back started talking quite animatedly, clearly not paying attention to the show at all, and making it difficult for the rest of us to hear Mr Legge’s bon mots. He started to deal with it as though they were heckling him, but in fact they were simply ignoring him, and getting on with their own conversation. Mr Legge wasn’t having any of that; and then the room divided. Us nice people at the front had the show to ourselves, the ignorant idiots at the back who couldn’t be arsed to pay attention, were ridiculed and excluded. He was tempted to call a halt to his part of the act, but Mr Legge carried on with some very enjoyable material about Mrs Brown’s Boys (I’ll say no more) but the first interval arrived in an atmosphere of rather unsettling edginess.

Harriet DyerOur next act was Harriet Dyer, whom we’ve also seen before. Hers can be quite a divisive act, in that she has a very I’m mad, me persona which, depending on the mood of the audience, can either fall flat on its face or can soar the heights of surreal hilarity. Fortunately for us all, she was on brilliant form and managed to unite the divided audience in appreciation of her ludicrously funny act. She uses the physicality of her rather unruly, bendy body to great effect, as well as having some totally way-out routines, such as her brother taking an interview covered in spiders. Brilliantly funny; and for her ability to unite an unruly crowd, I think she should become the new Minister for Brexit.

Matt WelcomeLast up, and in a change of programme, we had Matt Welcome. We’d not seen him before, and he has a very different style. Laid back, inquisitive, personal; as his name suggests, he welcomes you into his world to explore a sequence of odd observations where he takes ideas to way-out, bizarre extremes. It’s all very nicely judged and cleverly thought through, and is entertaining rather than belly-laugh-triggering. If I’d been programming, I’d have put Mr Welcome on first and Mr Legge on last… although how that would have worked out with the unruly bunch at the back I don’t know.

So, all in all, a very good night, if a trifle odd one! Next Screaming Blue Murder is on 25th October, but in a triumph of comedy clashes, that’s also the night that Ben Elton has sold out the Derngate Auditorium…

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 27th September 2019

Screaming Blue MurderWe were sorry to miss last fortnight’s Screaming Blue Murder but Mrs Chrisparkle and I were still lounging on the Costa del Northumberland. Back with a vengeance this week though, and it started with me unexpectedly helping host Dan Evans to rearrange the chairs as they’d prepared the room to a really odd and totally un-comedy-friendly layout. The things one does as a reviewer….

Dan EvansDan was indeed back on fine form, mining comedy nuggets from the front rows with the deft ease of a top-class surgeon isolating an unwary organ for removal. Through his auspices, we got to know the staff of Simply Business Insurance on an office outing, some geezers from Carlsberg, an army Commando and a manufacturer of corrugated boxes. You couldn’t make it up.

In a most unusual turn of events, we hadn’t seen any of the three acts before – and it’s been a very long time since I could say that! Our first act was Joe Jacobs, stressing his Jewishness quite a lot which didn’t quite make sense to me, but following it up with some excellent material including rap through the ages and a terrific little routine about mansplaining. He treads that fine line between slightly underperforming and performing with superb subtlety, so when his style pays off, it really pays off. A very good start.

Zahra BarriNext up was Zahra Barri, half Muslim, half Catholic, which was a comedy gift for her school career advisers. She’s tremendously funny with some terrific spiky material which she delivers with subtle panache rather than aggressive wham-bam, and it really works. So many brilliant little stories kept us in hysterics the whole time, but we particularly loved the material involving her mother keeping yogurt in the fridge and the most appropriate mascara for a Muslim. Absolutely first-class and we would love to see her perform again.

David WardOur headline act was David Ward, who looks and sounds like a mouthy wideboy down the pub but actually has one of the quickest brains in the business and had so much apparently off-the-cuff material that related directly to the audience members that he genuinely took my breath away. My favourite joke of his was about subscribing to a sponsored walk without reading the details, delivered beautifully with a throwaway climax line. Quite the comedy genius! A brilliant way to end a perfect evening of comedy.

And it’s on again next week!