Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 12th March 2022

Screaming Blue MurderIf you happened to be strolling around the village of Wollaston on Saturday night and wondered where everyone was, 47 of them were at the Royal and Derngate to see the Screaming Blue Murder as part of local resident Claire’s birthday bash. That’s over a quarter of the entire audience! The show had been sold out weeks in advance, which is unusual; and a few minutes before the show was due to start the audience was still quite patchy. Then in came the Wollaston crowd, swelling the ranks of all the front seats, which naturally are the last to be chosen. Boisterous and lubricated, they were ready for a good time – so long as the good time involved taking notice of them.

Dan EvansOur genial host Dan Evans certainly had his work cut out. I should say, for everything that followed during the evening, none of it was the fault of the people from Wollaston; if there was a fault, it was down to some of the comics who should have handled the situation better. But to have so many of the crowd all know each other does put everyone at a disadvantage, as they bring with them their own dynamic, their own “house rules”. Performers, staff, the rest of the audience; we all had to struggle to assert our ability to have a good night and not feel excluded. At first, the vibe was great while Dan was getting to know them all. We discovered, for instance, that Claire has quite a big house. Big enough for an indoor swimming pool (even if it was only 10m x 5m, depth unknown), into which many of the audience had previously immersed themselves. We were also alerted to the presence of Matt, an audience member who took the opportunity to interrupt whenever he liked. When Dan joshed with the crowd with jokes that concerned themselves, it was fun and laughter all around. However, when he started to do more general material, which at any other time would be gold dust, people at the front were less interested. Fortunately the people at the back continued to laugh, but you could tell this was going to be a difficult night. There was a moment when one of the ushers came forward to mop up some spilled drink at the front of the stage and someone made a rather cruel remark at her expense. It wasn’t big and it wasn’t clever. We cringed in embarrassment for her.

Tania EdwardsOur first act, and someone we last saw way back in 2013, was Tania Edwards. She bases her material and stage persona on being rather posh, terribly middle-class, and deliberately bitchy with it. She discusses life with the husband who now works from home much to her annoyance, rather than the good old days when she hardly ever saw him. It’s very character-based comedy, and not many of the punchlines hit home. Changing tack, she took her attention to ridiculing the size of Claire’s swimming pool as being little more than a puddle. The non-Wollastonians in the audience hooted with laughter, the Wollastonians sat silently clearly unimpressed that one of their number had been criticised in this way. That atmosphere then spread throughout the whole crowd, and Tania didn’t find a way to regain the upper hand. As I said, this was going to be a difficult night.

andy-whiteFortunately, for the second act, in came the Cavalry in the reliable form of Andy White, who did exactly what the crowd needed – grabbed us by the nuts and took control. He had Wikipedia’d Wollaston during the break, thereby publicly recognising their importance in the show, and with fantastic, assertive material, he silenced Matt and delivered a barrage of brilliant observations and jokes, ranging from the Birmingham Christmas Market, through helping his wife to give birth to the horrors of home schooling. Every line hit home; the dominators were dominated, and it was a masterclass in how to turn an evening around.

Anthony KingSadly, our headline act, Anthony King, didn’t take advantage of the upswing that Andy had achieved. This was the fifth time we’ve seen him at Screaming Blue Murder shows, and in the past he’s always brought the house down with his lugubrious persona, and comedy songs with a touch of psychotic murder about them. This time, however, it just didn’t work. You could feel the energy drain from the room within a minute of his starting. Someone with his experience should surely have realised that his usual act wasn’t working so ought to have changed direction. But he didn’t. He continued, morosely, and the few laughs from those supportive members of the audience petered out. At some point during this disaster, you sensed that he had just given up, but was going to carry on regardless anyway. Drawing his act to an eventual conclusion he introduced his last song by saying “and now, to end my career…” to which a wag from Wollaston shouted out “that happened ten minutes ago” – and Anthony had no comeback. Mrs Chrisparkle and I were gripping each other’s hands with cringing desperation. And when the show finally, mercifully, finished, I’ve never heard so little desultory applause from the audience at the end of one of these evenings. It was an experience that I’m sure we’d all rather forget.

Still, hope springs eternal! The last in this season of Screaming Blue Murders is on 25th March, has a cracking line-up and is already sold out. Fingers crossed!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 8th November 2013

Screaming Blue MurderOnce more it’s time for that winning combination of a super compère, three fabulous acts and two lovely intervals that go to make up the entertainment orgy that is Screaming Blue Murder at the Derngate. Obviously wounded by previous audience comments that compère Dan Evans was wearing the same suit yet again, this time he turned up in a suave, sophisticated, very nearly matching jacket and trousers that would have looked really trendy on Terry Wogan in about 1975. I know that’s a bit cruel. I actually got a feel of the material and it’s very sturdy quality stuff; and I agree – to gentlemen of a certain age like Dan and me, that mid-range brown is definitely the new black.

Dan EvansDan’s still bringing out new material each time he comes here, which is great for us regular attendees. He’s such a naturally funny guy anyway that just his warm-up interaction with the audience is worth the entrance price anyway. This week he coped admirably with a call-centre manager, a conveyancer, a heavily pregnant lady, a newbie lady from Leeds and the regular front row policeman and his sons. It’s like one big happy family really.

Stu GoldsmithFirst up was someone new to us, Stu Goldsmith; an engaging and likeable young guy, who got off to a good start when a member of the audience just walked out the moment he went on stage – never to return. He had some great material about dating websites and how couples and singles view each other and manipulate each other, which was not only very funny but also insightful. A very good start to the evening.

Tania EdwardsNext, and in a change to the advertised programme, it was Tania Edwards, a very funny lady who based a lot of her act on the fact that she has one of the poshest voices this side of Chelsea. Despite her appearance she doesn’t hold back with some hard hitting material that you wouldn’t expect from such a glamorous lady. She kept up some good banter with the crowd and we’d definitely be happy to see her again.

Markus BirdmanHowever, everything that went before was but a build up to the headline act, Markus Birdman, whom we had seen here once before and I remembered as being a complete hoot. He is the most mischievous of comics; you completely trust him to blow you away with inventive and fresh material, which he does with effortless confidence and friendliness. His rapport with the audience is instant and solid – you feel you know him so well; imagine your favourite cousin, but funnier. If I tell you that he regaled us with the two best jokes about the speed of ejaculate you are ever likely to hear, you’ll get some idea of his act. I think the fact that his father is a vicar helps him to see the funny side of life from many angles, so his material is very varied and wide-ranging. He’s also very generous with his time and gave us a good long act; even then the crowd was wanting more. One of those acts who you still laugh about several days later.

I think there’s one more Screaming Blue Murder left this season – alas we can’t attend. Looking forward to more in the New Year!