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!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 31st May 2019

Screaming Blue MurderTime for yet another Screaming Blue Murder – and the screaming comes from the intense heat of the Underground studio, bad enough in winter but positively radioactive in summer! Nevertheless, that didn’t stun our senses as once again we enjoyed three fabulous acts, two magnificent intervals under the genial guidance of our loving MC, Dan Evans.

Dan EvansThis week Dan had to endure (I mean enjoy) the company of some marketing ladies from Avon – I don’t think his idea of anus lipstick is going to catch on – a few young likely lads in the front row with their deadpan father, and the Melton Mowbray branch of the Leicestershire Wives Society. From little acorns great oaks of mirth grew. I don’t envy his job but Dan was on top form as always.

Mark SimmonsTwo new acts (and one old favourite) for us this week, the first of which was our opener, Mark Simmons. And what a find he is! A quiet, subtle-laddish style but brimming with confidence and with 100% winning material, none of which I’d heard before. The majority of his humour comes from a mixture of pun and wordplay, and he delivered it with such dry originality that Mrs Chrisparkle and I were in hysterics the whole way through. I loved his mini-stories about premature ejaculation at an orgy, and what happened when he brought two girls home; there’s also his one joke that involves the C word, which works brilliantly because the punchline is so mild in comparison with its lead-up; and his discovery that cats in France have their own social media site. A little surreal, but with great connection to the audience, we thought he was terrific and would love to see him again.

Alasdair Beckett-KingNext up, and also new to us, was Alasdair Beckett-King; if you ever wondered what Simba looked like once he’d grown up, look no more. Resplendent with his flowing locks and curls, Mr B-K gives us an insight into the life of a full-on Ginger, with some very funny – and refreshingly clean – material. Switching up the erudite level a notch or two, he has a sequence where he discusses Blake’s Proverbs of Hell, but don’t be put off, his own selection of Proverbs are fresher than anything 18th century. Smart, witty, intelligent humour and he went down really well with the audience.

Mary BourkeOur headline act, and one we have seen many times before, was the endlessly surprising Mary Bourke, whose ability to create new material every time you see her is astounding. She has a wonderfully faux-strict style, like a headmistress who won’t accept any nonsense from you lot but inside has a heart of gold. I loved her take on how you scare people in Crouch End at Hallowe’en, and was delighted to realise she has the same attitude to Peppa Pig as us; indeed, she gives that hideous little hog the same middle name that we do. Unbeatable as always.

And that, sadly, is the end of the Screaming Blue Murders for this season; I think each and every one has been a sell-out which is fantastic news and a testament to just what cracking value and quality it is. Reconvene in September? Really annoyed that I have to miss the first autumn show on 13th September because it’s going to be immense. Book it now whilst tickets are still available!

P. S. I did get a name-check from the stage during the course of the evening, but I’m sure it was meant out of pure affection…. That’s what I’m going to tell myself anyway!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 10th May 2019

Screaming Blue MurderOnce again, another Screaming Blue Murder and once again, sold out in advance – and quite right too, this is the best selection of Friday night comedy you could imagine at a cracking price. As usual our genial host was Dan Evans, he of the intimidating shiny bald pate (he’d agree, I’m sure) who this week compared baldness with another front row bald chap, but I’m not sure who won.

Dan EvansAmong the other patrons for Dan to duel with were a carpenter who seemed only comfortable when talking about wood, a maker of Channel 4 documentaries (in Northampton! Who knew?), a pair of prison officers, pub landlords, a gloomy 44-year-old birthday boy and a huge hen party (by which I mean there were lots of them, not that she was a huge hen) in preparation for a wedding apparently still weeks away. That’s forward planning for you. As always, Dan deftly got a bit of comedy magic out of all of them.

Debra-Jane ApplebyWe’d seen all three acts before, but they’re all definitely worth a re-watch. First up was Debra Jane Appleby, whom we saw here once before as an act, and once as MC when Dan was otherwise engaged. She looks like she might be somewhat hard-nosed and aggressive on stage but in fact she’s quite a pussycat once you get her vibe. Recently married, this time to a woman, she’s currently seeing life through a different lens, which is the source of a lot of fresh material. She’s the kind of act who takes a few subjects and explores them at length, rather than peppering her routine with lots of one-hit wonders. I very much enjoyed her observations on the benefits or otherwise of people living longer lives, and she has an enjoyable, relaxed style which was the perfect start for the night.

Steve DayNext up, and in a change of programme, came Steve Day, whom we have seen twice before, but a long time ago. He is deaf, and the majority of his routine comes from finding the humorous side to living with a disability and specifically what you can achieve when you can barely hear anything. He’s got a great delivery style, with masses of confidence and a string of extremely funny material. Amongst his gems were moving to Sutton Coldfield because of the views, and what happened when he co-hosted the Paralympic Torch ceremony in London with Boris Johnson. We all loved him.

Mitch BennOur headline act was Mitch Benn, whom we saw here in 2014 and 2016. The great news is that he’s still incredibly funny, with a very lively mind and a capacity to weave the audience into his comedy musical material. He started with an absolutely astonishing song that included all the professions of the members of the audience that Dan had gleaned in his opening session – quite brilliant, and definitely the highlight of the night. The not so great news is that everything else he did was exactly the same as the previous two occasions he came here, including the (still funny) xenophobic Eurovision song and the (I don’t quite get it) Very Hungry Caterpillar song. If you’ve not seen him before, his is a highly entertaining act. It would be great if he could just make up a few new songs though?

As always a brilliant night’s comedy. And if you can’t wait until May 31st for the next Screaming Blue Murder, Dan’s appearing at the Brighton Fringe on May 18th, 23rd and 24th with his new show – which I’m sure will be first-rate. Sadly we can’t go, but you should!

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

Screaming Blue MurderAnother packed house for 2-and-a-half hours of fun courtesy of the Screaming Blue Murder team – the best value comedy in town. This season’s dates have been rather spread apart which means that when the next show comes around, you’re really in the mood for it. And that was all too evident this week as the audience were really up for a good time and, if I may so myself, as an audience, we were all pretty terrific.

Dan EvansWe welcomed our usual host Dan Evans, his three amazing guests and, as ever, his two sumptuous intervals. This week Dan ended up talking to Liz and John from Earl’s Barton – the crowd couldn’t decide whether to be sniffy about them or jealous of them; the jovial man who runs the Northampton auction house (I recognised him from my auctioning days), and the front row girls who were all one-upping each other (“I’ve got a house” “well at least I’ve got a baby” etc). He handled it all with his usual remarkable bonhomie.

Paul PirieThis was one of those great nights of comedy when you’ve seen all the acts before so you more or less know what’s coming but they were all on such cracking form that they all surprised you with their excellence. First up was Paul Pirie, whom – I have to say – we didn’t really enjoy much when we saw him here way back in 2012. However, this time he was rip-roaring sensational. He bombasts you with a ton of brilliant silly observations with a very powerful delivery, interspersed with some genuinely wacky and funny voices. He’s not one of those comics who give you thoughtful material for your brain to continue to peruse for the next few days; he’s a wham-bam thank you ma’am sort of chap – blame the Red Bull. His set was jam-packed with material, most of which I can’t remember because it was so “of the moment”; although I do remember he said he failed RE at school; which is about as impossible as failing lunch.

Karen BayleyNext up, and another favourite, was Karen Bayley. It’s been a few years since we’ve seen Ms Bayley, and, although it’s still largely the same I’m a cougar watch out young man routine that she always gives, the passage of time meant that it still felt fresh and really funny. She did build up a fantastic rapport with the audience – and not just the women this time, which makes an enjoyable change. You sense that though her material is bawdy, deep down she’s probably quite sensitive and polite, which creates a curiously interesting stage persona. Very funny indeed.

Roger MonkhouseHeadlining on Friday night was Roger Monkhouse, whom we’ve also seen a few times now and who has cultivated a young fogey personality. He has a terrifically self-deprecating tone and uses it to great advantage with some rather savage observations about life and relationships, whilst dipping into the inevitable horrors of politics. His material is always solid and on the ball, and he too went down tremendously in the hall.

One of those occasions where it all came together, with host, guests and audience all on top form. Seven weeks to wait until the next one. Seven!! That’s mental cruelty.