Review – Jeremy Hardy, Royal, Northampton, 27th January 2012

Jeremy HardyHere’s another famous name on the comedy circuit with whom Mrs C and I were fairly unfamiliar, apart from occasionally catching on the odd radio programme. I thought he would be dry and wry but I wasn’t sure what else to expect. I wasn’t expecting over two hours of self-assured, intelligent, observant left-wing comedy, which was a constantly refreshing joy.

Mr Hardy appears modest and slightly undynamic in appearance – he’s wearing a top not a cardy, because he says a cardy would make him look like Rigsby out of Rising Damp – but it’s a mask for a razor sharp wit and an agreeable sense of justice which is the root of much of his comic observations. He moves swiftly from subject to subject without politics ever going too far off the horizon. Here’s a good impression of his approach to politics: everyone hates Cameron but at least he’s honest that he’s a bastard, but everyone doubly hates Clegg because he’s a bastard’s bitch; and Cable is the reasonable image of the LibDems because he oppresses the poor in their own accent. Jeremy Hardy shares a disappointment that life isn’t as good as it should be, and points out all the rotten aspects of life where, really, humanity should try harder. His observations really hit the target.

It’s all absolutely effortless though, or at least it seems to be, so you have a very warm and comfy feeling of being gently led past all the dreadful aspects of society by this kind and caring guide, pointing out all the pitfalls that might accidentally lead you into despair were you to go down that path. At the end of this “comedy therapy”, you feel refreshed and hopeful that life might turn better if everyone heeds Mr Hardy’s advice; but also distressed that everyone else doesn’t share the same political beliefs as you and him.

With no supporting act and just a brief interval it is indeed a tour de force. It’s so rewarding to enjoy comedy with a left wing slant that is uncruel, insightful, and above all intelligent.

Review – Pippin, Menier Chocolate Factory, 22nd January 2012

PippinThis is the first proper London revival of the Stephen Schwartz/ Roger O. Hirson musical since Bob Fosse directed it in 1973. According to the programme notes, this production is trying to get the show recognised again as a mature, adult, dark piece, and away from its legacy of being only suitable for school productions. All I can say is, welcome back Pippin, you’ve been absent from our stage too long. This is a brilliantly inventive production and is performed by a first rate cast.

One of the strengths of the Menier is its amazing versatility as an acting space. You can set it the right way round, the wrong way round, sideways, in the middle, in traverse; it wouldn’t surprise me one day if they stage something upside down. This time they have created a walkway between the steps down from the bar to the point of entry to the auditorium, and decked it out like a rather geeky, nerdy student’s bedroom. And just on your way in there is the student himself, sitting at a TV screen, playing a computer game. It’s not over high-tech; there’s something of the 1990s Atari to it all.

And then you enter the auditorium, and the stage is alive with flashing lights and retro green cursor lines, and you realise you are in the middle of the computer game. How is this going to frame the story of Pippin, you ask yourself. Comfortably, as it happens. Pippin is the elder son of Charlemagne who rebelled against his father and was banished as a consequence. The 1973 production began with a troupe of actors, under the Leading Player, who introduces a new actor to play the part the eponymous boy prince searching for fulfilment. With cunning modernisation, the Leading Player is now in charge of a computer game, and the boy prince role is to be played by the young lad in his bedroom at home who we walked past earlier. Sometimes when a gifted director decides to update a show, it can be disappointing when the new framework only partly fits the original story. For me, this reincarnation of Pippin worked the full 100%.

The set itself is suitably creative in its own right. What appears to be grey stone, that nicely represents castle walls, is actually littered with gaps and holes so that the cast can appear and disappear with sudden ease. Lighting effects on the walls serve to enhance the scenery and give it additional depth and suggestion of different locations, and all this works really well with the computer game scenario.

Harry HepplePippin himself is perfectly cast and played by Harry Hepple. As the slightly naïve prince who gets emboldened by ambition and then depressed by reality, he manages to be both prince and game player at the same time and conveys both aspects of the character convincingly. His singing is also amazing, we were both wowed by his voice.

Ian KelseyHe also really communicates the character’s wannabe heroism and decency, that becomes the inspiration for him to overthrow his father Charlemagne, a bullying emperor enthusiastically played by Ian Kelsey, who portrays him as a wide boy, lording it over his sons and wife whilst looking for a bit of slap and tickle wherever he can get it. There’s a strong emotional scene when Pippin does actually kill his father – but later he regrets it as his governing skills aren’t that great, and I loved how the death gets undone.

Frances RuffelleFastrada, Charlemagne’s wife, is played with urban charm by Frances Ruffelle, who is also a great singer and does a wonderful blend of coquettish and coarse. You could imagine she would give as good as she gets when she’s alone with Charlemagne. She invests the role with great humour and gives a superb performance.

Caroline QuentinThe role of Berthe, Pippin’s grandmother, has been shared by various actresses during the run, and the performance we saw was the last time Caroline Quentin took the role. It’s actually just one scene and one song, but she delivers it with huge panache and got a deservingly great cheer from the audience at the end of it. She’s such a spirited communicator. The song is great fun too and we all had to sing along with it, verging into pantomime. It’s time to start livin’ and time to take a little from this world we’re given. Hugely entertaining.

Bob HarmsI was looking forward to seeing Matt Rawle in the role of the Leading Player as we saw him in Evita as Che and he was excellent. Unfortunately he must have been off sick as his role was played by his understudy, Bob Harms. What a find! Mr Harms carries off the role splendidly. He’s a great singer and dancer, and commands the stage in his role of MD. When the characters start to go off script in the second act you really feel his anger and frustration at losing control. If you saw Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, there’s definitely something of the Major-Domo character about him. We thought he was great and One To Watch.

Carly BawdenThe second half of the show is slightly imbalanced as it concentrates on the relationship between Pippin and Catherine, a partly demure but often saucy Carly Bawden, and her slightly troubled son Theo played by Stuart Neal. The domestic situation that Pippin finds hard to cope with is indeed a little one-dimensional in comparison with the over-the-top antics of Charlemagne’s court, who you rather miss. Nevertheless the songs are beautifully sung and make an ironic contrast with Pippin’s tangible descent into misery.

Stuart NealI won’t tell you how it ends but suffice to say, the exit from the auditorium when you’re going home is precisely the same as when you first entered but with one vital change – a fantastic attention to detail that made me laugh on the way out.

It’s all superbly performed and sung, the music sounds superb, and Chet Walker’s recreations of Bob Fosse’s choreography are magnificent – edgy as Chicago and sexier than Cabaret. Definitely one of the best productions we’ve seen at the Menier and it should surely transfer somewhere after the run ends on 25th February. Go and enjoy!

Royal and Derngate Northampton Subscription Season Launch 2012

Made in NorthamptonLast year Mrs Chrisparkle had a “business thing” to attend, and so missed the launch event, which was a shame as it’s an excellent opportunity to whet your appetite for the season ahead, as well as to hob and to nob with the great and the good. Fortunately this year she was able to come too, so we both headed off to the Royal eager with anticipation.

Our host for the evening again was Laurie Sansom, not only Artistic Director of the Royal and Derngate, but also director of, inter alia, such treats as the recent Eden End, Duchess of Malfi and Spring Storm. Thank heavens he shows no sign of wanting to move from Northampton.

The BacchaeStarting at the end of the season, he first took us through the three plays that will make up the Festival of Chaos productions, which will themselves be part of the London 2012 Festival, and part of the Cultural Olympiad. It’s great to have Northampton and the R&D recognised at this level. All three are to be directed by Mr Sansom – as they’re his three favourite plays of all time. A new version of Euripides’ Bacchae is the first of the three, and the first surprise of the evening is that it will be presented at the Chronicle and Echo building, in the disused printing area. Dionysus alongside industrial machinery? Sounds atmospherically intriguing, and I’m really excited about this one.

Blood WeddingThe second Chaos show, if I can call it that, which will be played in rotation with The Bacchae, is an adaptation of Lorca’s Blood Wedding by Tommy Murphy. I’ve never seen a straightforward production of Blood Wedding and I don’t think this will be one either. Mr Murphy wrote “Holding the Man” which came to London a while ago, which I didn’t see, but I understand was both desperately funny and desperately sad, which sounds like a decent mix for Lorca.

Hedda GablerThe third Chaos production is to be Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, which Laurie Sansom said can be likened to the Female Hamlet. We saw the production at the Oxford Playhouse a couple of years ago which was quite good, with Rosamund Pike and Tim McInnerney. Ms Pike was a miserable presence from the start, which I’m sure is one way of reading the role but I wonder if a Laurie Sansom version might have more light and shade. It’ll be good to have some meaty drama though. These three plays are nothing if not meaty.

Ladies in LavenderWorking back, Laurie Sansom then introduced us to Shaun McKenna who has adapted the Judi Dench and Maggie Smith film Ladies in Lavender for the stage. It’s all about how two rather stale lives are changed by the sudden appearance of a third person – washed up on the beach. This sounds like it should be an extremely classy production, as the second – and most major – surprise of the night is that the Judi Dench role will be played by none other than Hayley Mills. That is some coup. If that wasn’t enough Ms Mills joined us by Skype from New York for a brief interview. If I have a slight concern, I wonder who will play the Maggie Smith role – will the production manage the right balance between the two characters? Time will tell, but on the face of it this looks amazing.

OedipussyAnd bringing us back to almost the present, Emma Rice came on to tell us about the new Spymonkey production, Oedipussy, which opens in February. I’ve not seen Spymonkey before but I think I am going to like them. It sounds like it’s going to be well wacky, and then some. The four Spymonkey actors later came on stage themselves and introduced their idea of the play in their own way within a superbly funny playlet. The impetus to go Greek was apparently as a result of a damning comment by a critic who basically thought they should grow up and do something adult. Gosh, I do hope I like the show otherwise they might wreak their revenge. According to their website, the show contains incest, violence, mutilation, strobes, nudity and chorus work. I’m not certain their clowning backgrounds will help you with your Classics degree – expect more Greeks Behaving Badly.

In other news, there is to be a new friends’ scheme called The Artistic Director’s Circle which gives you enviable access to the backstage world of the theatre; and an encouraging announcement that 2012’s Christmas play in the Royal will be Dickens’ Christmas Carol. I understand it’s currently pre-embryonic in development but I’m sure it will fit perfectly in the Royal environment.

So there it is, 2012’s Made in Northampton season in a nutshell. We’re very lucky to have such a destination theatre in our midst and I am sure it will be a season to remember. Can’t wait!

Review – Strictly Come Dancing Live, NIA, Birmingham, 21st January 2012

Strictly Come Dancing LiveMrs C and I are huge Strictly fans so it was with great delight that we unexpectedly received two surprise tickets for last Saturday’s matinee at the NIA in Birmingham. As you would expect, the place was completely packed. What strikes you when you enter the auditorium are both the expectant buzz and the extraordinary stage. The band and judges are at one end of the arena, surrounded by an extravagant light wall, and the whole central area is devoted to dance floor. Two large video screens help you see in close detail what your eyes can’t focus on, as well as being used to give amusing backstage insights.

Kate ThorntonThe host is Kate Thornton, of whom I don’t know a lot, but she’s really good at the job, as well as looking thoroughly gorgeous. Friendly and reassuring when required, but also quick-witted at stabbing a telling remark or two along the way. Actually one thing I hadn’t expected was how generally funny the whole show is. Whether it’s Kate or the judges, the dancing or the backstage shots, there is a lot to laugh at in this show, much more so in fact than on the TV programme.

JudgesLen, Bruno and Craig are the three judges and each play up their own characters admirably throughout the entire show. Len continues to rewrite the language with his strange metaphors for enthusiasm; Bruno has his over-the-top reactions and his strange body language for enthusiasm, and Craig nicely wallows in his dour reflections that may or may not encompass enthusiasm. Both Bruno and Craig “lost it” at one stage and were helpless with laughter, which was an additional delight for the audience. Craig directs the show, and has included some judgely dancing in some of the big “entr’acte” numbers, some of which he couldn’t quite perform himself, which was a laugh.

Then of course there are the contestants and their professional partners. I was quite surprised how quiet the professionals were in the post-dance chats with Kate. Personally I get attached to the professionals just as much (if not more) than with the celebrities because you get to know them over the series, so I would have perhaps liked a little more chat from them. They do have to do a lot of dancing, mind.

The show starts with a big dance from the professionals alone and to be honest, I thought it was under-rehearsed as none of them seemed to finish together and on time. I was surprised at that. They were definitely better in their individual dances with their partners and in the subsequent group dances.

Harry JuddFrom the moment the couples are introduced there is absolutely no doubt who is going to win – Harry and Aliona. There’s something about Harry (I wonder what it might be that all those middle aged women see in him) that must appeal to about 98% of the audience, as far as the allocation of whooping and cheering is concerned. To support the underdog, I was determined not to vote for him, even if he was the best, as his victory was a forgone conclusion from the start.

Robbie and KatyaEach couple dances twice. First on was Robbie Savage, partnered with Katya Virshilas. What did you make of Robbie in the TV series? I thought he was surprisingly good. Well, in the middle of the live arena, he was surprisingly awful! Yes he sells himself really well, and it’s thoroughly entertaining, but actually his dance skills are Really Not There. Katya herself, whilst talking to Kate, said that Robbie basically wasn’t very good – Kate had to remind her they were meant to be on the same side.

Anita and RobinSecond were Anita Dobson and Robin Windsor. They did their Charleston, and highly enjoyable it was. I didn’t really feel that the crowd got behind them that much, probably still suffering palpitations after the sight of Robbie’s chest. The judges were pretty impressed though. Amongst the professional dancers, I do think that Robin Windsor stands out as a really strong performer.

Mark and NatalieThird was another chest opportunity, Mark Foster with Natalie Lowe. He’s the only celebrity in the show not to have been in the most recent series, and was clearly at a disadvantage, but he performed reasonably well. Natalie’s a terrific dancer, isn’t she. She even threw in a wardrobe malfunction in her second dance for good measure, so that we almost saw both their chests.

Nancy and ArtemNext was – I think – Nancy dell’Olio who is dancing here with Artem Chigvintsev. I know someone who has met Nancy dell’Olio, and he says she’s frankly bonkers. I saw no reason to doubt his word. Her performance is very funny – especially the second dance when she cheats and has both Artem and Robin to help her – but she rarely dances a step. I couldn’t tell how genuine or acted Artem’s rather sad and resigned look is when Nancy says they need to change the choreography – he just gently backs away into the darkness. Very funny stuff.

Jason and KristinaThen you have what you might call “The Big Three”. Jason Donovan with Kristina Rihanoff first; they did their Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” number and then their Argentine Tango. Jason made a slight boo-boo on the first dance, which I confess I didn’t notice, but did a sensational tango and so I decided I would vote for them.

Chelsee and PashaNext was Chelsee Healey with Pasha Kovalev, who must think he has fallen on his feet considering this was his first series. They danced just as well as they did on the TV and gave a terrific show. The judges were wowed.

But everything else was eclipsed by Harry Judd and Aliona Vilani. When you watched the last series at home, you might have felt that the popularity for Jason, Chelsee and Harry was more or less even-stevens, and that only a poor performance by one of them would have led to more votes for one of their opponents. Not a bit of it. If this audience is anything to go by, Harry must have received more votes than all the others put together. You could barely hear anything else in the arena above the cheers for him, and he and Aliona executed two perfect dances, getting a maximum 60 points from the judges. He is the only celebrity participant who really could be a professional dancer. If he wants to change his career away from drumming, I reckon every door is open.

AlionaThey whittled it down to a final two of Harry and Chelsee but the eventual winner was never in doubt. In a sense, the weakest part of the show is that the competition element seems a little unnecessary. The series has already taken place, and the winners and runners-up have been decided. If there had been more competitors from previous series, against whom you couldn’t so easily assess this series’ celebs (imagine if Zoe Ball and Mark Ramprakash had been part of the line-up, for example) the competition would have been more interesting. Nevertheless, it’s churlish to criticise it on those grounds. It’s a terrific lively show, colourful, spectacular, engaging and very funny too. I would certainly recommend it.

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground, Derngate, Northampton, 20th January 2012

Screaming Blue MurderA funny thing happened at the Screaming Blue Murder last Friday night, which is no less than you would expect with a great compere, three excellent acts and two alcohol-fuelled intervals. We’ve not been able to attend the last couple of shows so it was with some surprise that Dan Evans, compering, said he was still on the search for “the man who has been writing about him on the internet”. Mrs Chrisparkle’s penny dropped as she shuddered and whispered “keep quiet!” “So where is this Chris Sparkle?” Dan continued. It was The Moment of Outing. “It’s me!” came my voice from the third row. “You? At last I meet my nemesis!” shrieked Dan as his body contorted in a combination of victory and agony. Aaargh, I thought, this could be a very bumpy ride. But there’s no free speech without responsibility, so I faced it head on. I admit, I have been guilty of whingeing about Dan’s repeating the same jokes time and again in this blog, but then not quite as much as Dan is guilty of the afore-mentioned repeatings.

Dan Evans But actually Dan turned this very much to his advantage and was able to frame the compering of the show around my impertinent requirement for fresh material, which very nicely took the mick out of both of us. There was a great moment during one of his sessions when a lady from the front row suggested he did his joke about Luton and the book. A two-pronged attack! In response to which he did a great routine about why doing that joke would not work – and it was very funny. Maybe that should be a regular feature when Dan is compering in future – a request slot? Someone could ask for their favourite Old-Tyme Dan joke. Might go down a storm. As a peace-offering, at the end he gave me a copy of his book, which was very kind. But I had to return it after the show as I already bought a copy over a year ago.

Colin OwensAnyway, to the acts, and they were really great this week. First was Colin Owens, who had very funny insights into bad sex experiences and a nice line in combining this with his progression to baldness; very bright and inclusive, perhaps with just slightly too long a pause between some of his deliveries that made me think “oh no, please don’t lose it, it’s going really well”; but he didn’t, and it did. I loved his observations about having a Bar Mitzvah at Madame Tussauds.

Susan MurraySecond was Susan Murray, who we had seen here before doing a lot of accent-based gags, but who did largely new material (take note!) and handled a heckler very amusingly. Mrs C appreciated her observation that you only have a landline so your mother can ring it. Good stuff, and she kept the act moving really well.

Andrew BirdHeadline act was local lad Andrew Bird. What a discovery! I don’t think any of the comics who have entertained us over the three years we’ve been coming to Screaming Blue Murder have achieved such gold-standard delivery. His timing was immaculate, pacey and flowing but never rushed, giving just the right window to appreciate the now before moving on to the next; his self-confidence meant you never had a moment’s concern for how he would structure the act although this didn’t mean he was in any way big-headed but instead was immensely likeable; and you really identified with him in the comic situations he described, because his observations were so spot-on. Mrs C and I had a prolonged good laugh walking home as we remembered his account of putting the baby in the dishwasher. It’ll have to be a very special performance that snatches this year’s Chrisparkle award from Mr Bird.

So a great night, with a huge and appreciative crowd, slightly weird for me with my unexpected role in the evening’s entertainment, but we’re really looking forward to the next one!

Review – Moscow State Circus, Babushkin Sekret, Derngate, Northampton, 16th January 2012

Moscow State CircusYou’re either a circus person or you’re not. When I was young, I wanted to run away and join the circus. When Mrs C was young, she wanted to run away and join a group of travelling accountants. Well, neither of those stories are strictly true, but you get the picture of the difference between us. Last year we – I won’t say “enjoyed” – “witnessed” is perhaps more appropriate – the performance of the Chinese State Circus at the Derngate. Mrs C made me promise absolutely “No More Circuses” as a result. Trouble is, me and the Moscow State Circus go back a long way. Oleg PopovI saw them when I was 10 at the Wembley Empire Pool (showing my age), and again in my early 20s at the Dominion Tottenham Court Road, and both occasions they had the legendary clown Oleg Popov, who really was amazing, and who I’m delighted to read is still going strong at the age of 81. So I hoped the passing months would eradicate the bad memory of the Chinese affair and I snuck in these tickets to the Moscow State Circus in the hope that She Wouldn’t Notice Until It Was Too Late.

Valerik and ValikThe Moscow State Circus really is, and always has been in my book, a class above your average circus, and I’m delighted to say I feel my decision to book was fully justified in the light of last night’s performance – and not to say a little relieved. It’s not perfect by any means. Similar to the Chinese State Circus, they do for some reason feel compelled to structure the show around a rather artificial story. Babushkin’s Secret is based on the legend of the Twelve Chairs. You’re not familiar with it? You do surprise me. Whilst it does serve as a framework as such, the twist at the end of the story makes for a very disappointing punchline in circus terms. Much better simply to get on with doing what they do best – circus acts.

Yana AlievaOur clowning hosts are Valerik (the straight man) and Valik (the red nosed one), in real life, Valery Kashkin and Valentina Rumyantseva. They strike up a good interaction with the audience and Valerik also proves himself very deft on the stepladder and with a spot of juggling. Comparisons with Popov would be odious, but I did laugh at them, and even Mrs C was occasionally wryly amused.

Four VassilievsTaking the acts in order of performance, we had Yana Alieva’s wonderful hula hoop act, contorting herself in a revolving ring high above the stage; then one of the real highlights of the evening, the Four Vassilievs, who do a spectacular horizontal bar act. Two of the Vassilievs are basically used as bar stands, but it is Vassiliev #3 who does the leaping and twirling who has an extraordinary skill.

VeslovskiysAccording to the programme, we should then have seen the “Fat Man” doing his Revolutions; but there was no fat man last night. Maybe he was off sick. Maybe he had lost weight, suggested Mrs C. Instead we had a bonus act of a couple of Wild West rodeo lassoers and whip-crackawayers. Not sure how they would have fitted in to Babushkin’s Sekret, but we’ll move on. They were excellent – and I recognised them later on as the Veslovskiys, headed by Gennadiy Veslovskiy, who did a thrilling rollerskating act.

Sasha Doktorov and Yulia TsurikovaThen it was the turn of Sasha Doktorov and Yulia Tsurikova, incredibly skilful gymnastic acrobats revolving high above the stage, a very controlled and strong couple. Next was the Rubtsovs Skakalki, a skipping act. It’s much better than it sounds, although to be honest, I felt that if you were a skipper of this level of ability, you probably could have made the act a little more interesting. That’s just me – I’m not over-experienced in the noble art of skipping. To come to terms with her excitement at this act Mrs C started searching her pockets for a dry-cleaning ticket to read.

Professor BulakovThe second half started with a probably my favourite of the night, High Jinks with Professor Bulakov. I thought it was going to be just another clownish pratfall type act, but it develops into an immensely skilful and funny trampolining act. Won’t give the game away, but do be careful if you’re sat in the front row! Vladimir Georgievskiy is the real Professor Bulakov, and I really loved his act.

Katiya DrozdovaWhilst Bulakov and Valerik drown away their sorrows over a bottle of vodka, Katiya Drozdova appears as the doll on the Music Box. This is another contortionist acrobatic act, and she’s highly skilful and watchable. Sasha Doktorov comes back to reach the Twelfth Chair – and it’s an awe-inspiring display of balance and strength. Finally the Rubtsovs came back doing their Flying Jesters routine, a lot of exciting tumbling and crowd pleasing acrobatics.

Rubtsovs As we were leaving the theatre, Professor Bulakov was having his picture taken with loads of kids. I was officially jealous. The good news is that, on the strength of this performance, Mrs C said we can see another circus in 2014. If you like your circuses, this one’s a treat.

Review – The Burlesque Show, Royal, Northampton, 14th January 2012

Sarah Louise YoungSix months after the Ministry of Burlesque’s first Burlesque Show at the Royal, we welcome another show of variety acts with added titillation. Our compere this time was Sarah Louise Young, one third of the current Fascinating Aida line-up and she was full of cheekiness, flair and humour. She had great interaction with the crowd including three girls she named Sister Sledge in the box, Colin in Row C and the missing Trevor, more of which later. She had some terrific songs included her suggestion for the UK’s next Eurovision song, which was all about miserable children living in poverty, and the chorus went “but we don’t care, do we”. She hit the perfect level of total bad behaviour whilst appearing completely proper.

Elle AmourThe first of our three Burlesque teasers, all of whom appeared last time, was Elle Amour, who went a little crazy for some cream cakes. She wrapped up the evening later on with another routine, although she herself was not very wrapped up by the end of it. A charming young lady.Kittie Klaw The second was Miss Kittie Klaw. Last time she was forced to undress to rid her clothes of a surprisingly large number of spiders lurking therein. This time she was dressed in a sailor’s suit and danced the hornpipe, inter alia. Mia MerodeThe third was Mia Merode, whom we saw last time under a different name (see, I did some research.) I have to commend her for remarkable fan work and ability to rotate tassels in different directions. Mrs Chrisparkle kindly took notes for future reference.

Delores DelightMusical entertainment came from Delores Delight, who I also remember from last time. In the second half she had gave a couple of gutsy performances of show stopping numbers and she really does have a great voice! The other musical performer was Elliot Mason. Elliot MasonHe has extremely funny songs about unlikely subjects such as corporate rebranding and mistaken identity, but unfortunately, he sang almost exactly the same songs in the show six months ago, so we found it more nostalgic than riotous. But he’s great at involving the audience making silly accompaniment noises and he went down very well with the crowd.

Paul ZenonPaul Zenon was back again, a brilliant magician with funny attacking patter. He did some good baffling tricks, which I loved, but then I am a sucker for magic. It was during his act that something rather odd happened – the Northampton audience became a little anarchic. Mr Zenon approached a guy in row B to come up and join him for a trick. “What was his name”, he asked. “Gary”, he replied. Within a few seconds the call of “Gary! Gary!” went around the theatre, to the total astonishment of Paul Zenon. Gary seemed to take it in his stride. “Friends of yours?”, asked PZ. “No”, Gary mildly replied. The vocal Mexican wave of “Gary, Gary” went around again. Slightly nonplussed, PZ continued and got Gary to pick a card from the pack, and show it to the audience. “Ten of Spades” shouted out someone from the back, to the huge guffaw of the crowd and the blinking incomprehension of Mr Zenon. “You’re not meant to do that!” he responded, and I felt he was beginning to get slightly irked. It wasn’t the ten of spades; but I don’t think at that point of the trick Mr Z knew that. In the end it was the ten of hearts and a jolly clever trick. But I think Mr Zenon would be the first to accept that overall it was a score draw between him and the audience.

Audacity ChutzpahOnly two acts were new to me, and they were both fantastic. The first was the brilliantly named Audacity Chutzpah, who appeared in the first half as She-Ra, Princess of Power, where she appeared to grow limbs from under her cloak; and in the second half as a Cos Lettuce eating faun who coquettishly approached members of the audience before flinging limp salad leaves around to the tune of Alexander Rybak’s Fairytale. She’s a perfect clown and made me laugh hysterically.

ElanThe other was Elan, a stalwart of the Crazy Horse in Paris apparently, and another fabulous physical comedian, in the George Carl tradition. He uses the suitcase prop superbly – it really has a life of its own; he takes on completely different appearance with a mask, and goes totally berserk bodypopping. Not a word is spoken; a wonderful act.

There was barely an empty seat in the house – even the upper circle was full, and both boxes. One of the boxes only had two people in it. Trevor couldn’t come, apparently, which was the cause of much sorrow. “We love you Trevor” came a disembodied voice from the balcony, continuing the rather weird anarchy of the evening. At one point, a note fluttered down from the balcony on to the stage. Sarah Louise Young picked it up and read it – it was Trevor’s phone number. Thus, with the use of an iPhone, and much embarrassment to his friends, Trevor, ill at home, was still able to hear the final number before the curtain came down. Isn’t technology wonderful? The Burlesque Show certainly is – a thoroughly entertaining and constantly inventive variety show. Highly recommended.