Review – Jason Byrne, Cirque du Byrne, Derngate, Northampton, September 29th 2011

Cirque du ByrneAfter a three week break from blogging (more of which later…) Mrs C and I took ourselves off to the Derngate in Northampton to see Jason Byrne’s Cirque du Byrne show. When I booked this, I knew nothing at all of Mr Byrne. I just trusted some reviews I’d seen and crossed my fingers. And I’m glad we did, because it was one of the funniest nights of stand-up we’ve ever seen.

I couldn’t quite tell whether the evening was 90% ad-lib reaction to the audience (which is what it certainly seemed to be) or a carefully crafted scripted piece giving the impression that he was saying the first thing that came into his head. Either way, it works.

Within about two minutes of being on stage, he was getting heckled by a loudmouth in the upper boxes. It was funny at first, and gave Jason the chance to react and bounce off it; but after about half an hour of it, it became very wearing. Mrs C thought that maybe the first half before the interval contained perhaps a quarter of the material that Jason Byrne had intended to deliver. Who knows. Still, once we were into the second half, the loudmouth had magically disappeared. Bliss.

Jason ByrneWhich left Mr Byrne able to get on with his material and frankly it’s brilliant. He does use the “F” word a lot, which I don’t normally care for too much, but he does it with such wicked charm that it adds to the humour. A routine that includes sharing knickers, a steps exercise workout, Australians, sex with the Holy Spirit, and a vast amount of inspired and inventive interaction with members of the audience can’t be all bad. Liam the rugby player in the front row proved himself to be a terrific sport. And as for the finale… “Popcorn” by Hot Butter will never quite sound the same. I will say no more – except lock up your sons.

He’s touring till early December so do yourself a favour and book.

Review – One Man Star Wars Trilogy, Derngate, Northampton, 3rd September 2011

One Man Star Wars TrilogyI’d heard about this one man show several years ago and always thought it sounded like it would be a hoot. It’s now over ten years since Charles Ross converted the three films into just over an hour, and his homage to George Lucas has toured the world and brought an extra dimension to the originals.

The show is actually everything you think and hope it might be. No pre-show kerfuffle, as soon as he hits the stage, the meter is running and we’re into the first film. And it’s all extremely funny. Personally I’m not a great aficionado of the films; I’ve actually only seen them properly once each, when they came out. So I probably haven’t seen them at all for the best part of the last thirty years. Yet it’s amazing how the stories and indeed the dialogue comes back to you.

Charles Ross as Yoda Charles Ross gives a huge physical commitment to the show. No need for him to go to the gym, he runs about the stage taking on all the memorable scenes, all the voices, very cleverly suggesting their different characters from their mannerisms and appearance, and he leaves you agog at his ability to suggest the full screen experience. No vocal chord is left unchallenged.

I think you’d get more out of the show if you know the films like the back of your hand. There were clearly a couple of people who came into this category, and the laughter of recognition that constantly emanated from their part of the audience was a delight to listen to in itself. Despite our unfamiliarity with the films, both Mrs C and I really enjoyed the show, found it very funny, very inventive and found Charles Ross himself admirable in his attention to detail and his obvious love for what he’s doing. His personality comes across very nicely at odd moments, when he occasionally stops for a sideways chat about the performance. At the end he takes us into his confidence for a little post show chat too, which we both found rather charming.

Danny Pensive If you’re thinking an hour show does not an evening’s entertainment make, fear not, as before all that there is an excellent set by John Cooper in his guise as Danny Pensive, the quietly observant duffel-coated Sunderland diarist who lives with his Nan. It’s a funny act and works well as a warm-up. Include an interval and post show chat and you’ve got more than two hours’ entertainment. Touring now, highly recommended, particularly if you’re a Jedi.

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Derngate, Northampton, 2nd September 2011

A welcome return to the Screaming Blue Murder season at Northampton after its summer break. The numbers attending earlier on in the year had definitely dwindled, but it’s come back with a bang this month and with a healthy supply of punters to keep the show atmospheric and loud.

Angie McEvoyOur compère (indeed commère) was Angie McEvoy, who we saw here before, and she still makes for a feel-good hostess, gentle and appearing to be quite kind before going in for the odd savage observation. I like her style and she has some very good material, but when introducing the acts you feel she is distinctly not trying to outdo them, which I think is rather polite.

Alan FrancisOn to the acts per se. First up was Alan Francis, again a repeat visit, a very funny chap who nicely takes the mick out of himself, and does some excellent voices – his Roger Moore was great, although some of his other voices all sound like Ronnie Corbett. No matter, he has some great stuff, including a particularly funny routine regarding an obscene member of the Church of Scotland (which we had heard before but it’s still funny). Very enjoyable, lots of material and with good communication with the audience.

Tony CowardsThe second performer, and for me the star of the evening, was Tony Cowards. Using his slightly bizarre accent to great comic effect, and with a persona full of imperfections which make you identify with him, he surprises you with some really well thought out and fantastically delivered observations. I loved his description of the Swindon branch of Ann Summers; the solution to fancying women in boots; and how calling out “the w***er in the black” can be acceptable in one context and not in another. A great set that went down really well.

Josh HowieLast was Josh Howie. Sometimes when they set up the Headline Act to be a really great comic it can fall on its face and I’m afraid that was the case here. He had some clever and thoughtful observations but I found it to be a charmless delivery that missed the mark. He spent at least the first ten minutes discussing poo; it’s not one of my favourite subjects and it quickly palls. Mrs C told me after that she thinks there is only so far that one can take faecal matter in humour. He has some good ideas but in the final delivery they lack the twist of subtlety that can turn otherwise offensiveness into devastating humour – thus I found a lot of his material fairly offensive. I like the fact that he deals with tough subjects – for example, Judaism versus Islam – but instead of revealing something new about it, he just sounded a bit bigoted and offensive. Never mind, you can’t win them all.