Just checking in

Greetings, dear reader. Thought I’d just drop by to see how you’re doing; well, I hope! That’s good. Oh, I’m fine too, thank you for asking.

Taj MahalIf you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that what you normally get here is a lot of theatre stuff, a bit of travel, the occasional Eurovision meanderings and the odd what-not. Well, I had planned a nice set of travel blogs for you about our fascinating trip to India, that should have been going on at this very moment in time. Unfortunately, owing to circumstances beyond our control, this trip has had to be postponed – probably until this time next year. So not only am I unable to bring you first hand experiences of Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Pushkar, I also haven’t got any theatre trips booked for the moment. Next planned theatrical extravaganza is for about three weeks time when we will be taking in the Menier’s Merrily We Roll Along – that should be excellent.

Privates on ParadeSo here’s a chance to look forward to some more great shows that will be coming our way – and by consequence yours once I’ve written about them – into December and the New Year. After Merrily, we’ve got some Christmas shows – the Northampton Derngate’s panto Cinderella, and their festive play, A Christmas Carol; we’ll be going up to Sheffield again to see their panto, Cinderella (again, shame), and their new production of My Fair Lady, which I expect will be brilliant. We’ll be going into London to see the first of the new Michael Grandage season at the Noel Coward Theatre, Privates on Parade – that’s one of my favourite plays; Mrs Chrisparkle has never seen it, and I took my first girlfriend to see the original production back when I was 17, so that will be nice. Spymonkey are reviving their Cooped at the Royal Northampton, which should be a laugh; we’ve got the touring productions of The Ladykillers and Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty at Milton Keynes, as well as the next in the series of Royal Philharmonic Concerts at the Derngate. And that’s all in January!

A Chorus Line - poster obtained from Drury Lane on the last night 26th March 1979February sees the return of the Trocks to the Birmingham Hippodrome – we always have to see them, as their combination of skill and comedy is out of this world. We’ll be seeing Sheffield’s new Full Monty, the return of A Chorus Line to the Palladium (still my favourite show of all time), Ellen Kent’s production of Carmen, which boasts a real Andalucian Stallion – not sure if that’s simply “bigging up” the guy playing Escamillo; and the touring production of The 39 Steps at Northampton which will be a hoot. March brings the prospect of The Book of Mormon in London (can’t wait) plus a comedy gig from Harry Hill. So there’s definitely loads to look forward to. I think the Royal and Derngate announce their spring season next week, so no doubt the credit card will be working overtime again.

Annual Chrisparkle AwardsEarly January will also see the Third Annual Chrisparkle Awards, a star studded gala gathered on my desktop to select the finest contributions of the year. In 2010 The Big Fellah, Thomas Morrison, Tracie Bennett, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake and Paul Sinha won best new play, best actor, best actress, best dance, and best standup. Last year it was One Man Two Guvnors, Derek Jacobi, Gina McKee, The Trocks and Jason Byrne. Who will be festooned with plaudits this year? Only a few weeks till we find out.

Loreen in full flowAnd of course we are coming in to the Eurovision season. So early, you ask? Absolutely. Lithuania have already had three heats and (I think) five countries are choosing their songs in December. Preparations get earlier and earlier every year. Swedish Television have already made their mark on next year’s contest by shaking it up a bit. For the first time that all important running order will be decided by the show’s producers rather than by a random draw. The idea is that they can construct a more balanced programme by choosing a suitable order for the songs. That will probably work; but every fan knows that you can’t win from second position, and that every winner since 2004 has come from the 17th – 24th slot, so this is highly manipulative of the final outcome. Personally, I’m not happy about it. The fans who go to Malmo will also be largely standing in the centre of the stadium, which again will probably look lively on TV but will be a pain in the legs for some people, and anyone on the short side probably won’t get value for money for their €345. Still, it’s all good fun, isn’t it!

Work in progressSo please consider this meandering blogpost as representative of work in progress. It’s like one of those spacers you’re meant to put against the wall when you’re trying to do some tiling – not very attractive in itself but a tool to separate two more important items of décor. Or maybe like a red carpet; a glamorous conduit leading VIPs from one artistic event to another. Or just as a filler because I have nothing else to blog about at the moment.

Another film seen – Skyfall

SkyfallIf you are a regular visitor to these pages, dear reader, you will know that we don’t go to the cinema much. In fact, the last time was approximately 22 months ago, and I don’t even think I’ve watched a film all the way through on dvd or on tv since then. I’ve always considered the cinema to be an inferior art to the theatre by virtue of the fact that it isn’t live. When you see a play, it is actually happening, then and there right in front of your eyes (or behind a tall man in front of you if you happen to be in Row C of the Milton Keynes theatre stalls). But a film isn’t real. You can’t go close to the stage and get spat at by the actors. Every performance is identical – the actors cannot grow into their characters as a run gets longer. There is no possibility of a mishap. That shared experience of interaction between the audience and the cast becomes just a one-way street.

However, there’s a lot you can do on a cinema screen that you can’t do on a stage. You can transport the audience to exciting locations. You can depict extraordinary effects. You can make it seem like a man can fly with no strings attached. You can safely engulf a building in flames or plunge deep into water and stay dry. But mainly, as it seems to me at the moment, you can crisply and cleanly kill lots of people without an instant’s thought as to the consequences.

Judi DenchI’d forgotten how much I loathe cinema violence. Even before Skyfall started, the four or five trailers we saw that were considered suitable for a 12A certificate each contained scenes of violence. Even the “comedy” film they were trailing (didn’t look that funny to me) started off with several instances of people being punched in the face. I’m afraid I find it all very depressing. At some point in recent years the comedic effect of slipping on a banana skin (riotously funny I’m sure you’ll agree) has become a much more painful reality. Wit has been sacrificed for action. So many people die in your average action film nowadays that I’m surprised they’re not all sponsored by funeral directors.

Take Skyfall for example – the opening, action-packed, chase scene has a vast number of instances of destruction on the streets of Istanbul; true, I don’t think you saw anyone actually die, but all those car accidents, damage to peoples’ shops and wares in the bazaar, and then the digger on the roof of the train terrorising its passengers, will all have led to massive injuries and a severely overworked Turkish Health Service. And if you say to me it’s just entertainment, and that you’re not meant to think that deeply about those unseen consequences, I will reply that’s a major reason for the increase in general violence in our society today.

Javier Bardem Rant over. I know I’m an old fuddy-duddy who doesn’t get out much. Actually I get out a huge amount, but you get my drift. You won’t believe how long it has been since I last saw a Bond film. I think I’ve seen them all up until… Diamonds are Forever, which is 1971 according to wikipedia. James Bond’s no longer Scottish, who knew! But the reviews of Skyfall have been very positive, and with nothing much else to do on Sunday afternoon, we thought we’d give it a try.

Fresh rant: I hate it now that when you go to your local Vue you get no sense of the artistry of cinema whatsoever. The box office (ha!) is now a basically a long bar that is an homage to gluttony. Every supersized sugary drink you could ever not need, combined with the biggest range of chocolates and sweets all paying reverence to a bottomless pit containing metric tonnes of syrupy popcorn. The assistant looks shocked when you just ask for tickets to the film. I used to mock the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle when she would complain bitterly that they never show you to your seat anymore – but she was right, it was one of the first symptoms of that slippery slope that today means you have to fumble around trying to find your seats whilst fat cinemagoers lunge to protect their two hours’ worth of calories as you try to squeeze past.

Albert Finney And breathe, and relax. Destruction aside, that first scene of Skyfall is amazing. Seriously, if they (presumably) had to observe some health and safety precautions it must have taken meticulous care to produce that extraordinary race around Istanbul and the Grand Bazaar. The scene ends with a gunshot and the wounded body plummeting into a river, where you see it plunging down a vast waterfall. I ask you, how on earth did he manage to survive that? Ridiculous!

Berenice Lim Marlohe Nevertheless, it’s a pretty good story all in all, and it held my attention throughout. There were a few scenes that I thought were a little too long – I got a bit bored in the long preamble to the final encounter between the good guys and the bad guys, and Mrs C thought the opening credits took away all the momentum of the first scene. As an old mate pointed out, Bond films are still as sexist as hell – the scene where a woman is murdered whilst balancing a glass of whisky on her head, with Bond’s reaction: “waste of a good whisky” kind of leaves a dirty taste in the mouth. I did like the way that earlier Bond gadgets made a reappearance though – I found that quite reassuring. The acting was very good – I particularly liked Judi Dench’s M – she could make reading the Argos catalogue sound like Shakespeare, and it was good that you got to see both her tough exterior and vulnerable insides. Javier Bardem was a suitably snide and vindictive villain, and there was excellent support from Rory Kinnear as Tanner, M’s assistant, Ben Whishaw as Q and Albert Finney as Bond’s parents’ old gamekeeper. I thought Berenice Lim Marlohe was going to turn out to be an excellent new Bond girl – alas I was wrong, more’s the pity. To be honest, I’m still grieving for Diana Rigg in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Daniel CraigAnd what of Daniel Craig? Gentle reader you will already have made up your mind years ago as to whether he’s good at this game – but actually the only time I’ve seen him before was when he waited for the Queen during the Olympics Opening Ceremony. In comparison to the suave, sophisticated and, let’s face it, smug Sean Connery, he’s a very terse, unshowy Bond. Economic with the communication skills, he’s actually much more like what I would imagine your typical secret service “spy” to be like. Although to be fair I think I do actually know a spy in real life and he’s not like that at all! I enjoyed Daniel Craig’s performance very much and particularly liked seeing the unfit, not-up-to-scratch Bond of the early part of the film – makes you think there’s hope for everyone.

So we both enjoyed the film, despite a few heavily far-fetched moments (surviving that initial gunshot, derailing an empty underground train) and despite the wanton death and destruction of men, women and property. I wonder how many security guards were shot dead in the course of that film? You know they’d only be on minimum wage too. It’s not right.

Given I haven’t seen any Bond movies between Diamonds are Forever and Skyfall, tell me two or three really good ones from the years in between that I ought to see – I’d appreciate your suggestions!

Review – Straight, Crucible Studio, Sheffield, 10th November 2012

StraightWhenever I go to the Studio in Sheffield, I’m always amazed at how versatile a space it is. Like the Menier Chocolate Factory, every time you see a different show, the whole layout has changed. For D C Moore’s new play, the entire length of the wall opposite the entrance door has been given over to the set, a wonderfully convincing layout of a studio apartment – bedroom, living room, kitchen and bathroom (off) – just a bit of extra width and you would think it was absolutely for real. I loved the attention to detail of what was in the cupboards (they had those Nairn oatcake biscuits in all the flavours; I wonder if one of the cast or crew is a coeliac). You are asked to leave the auditorium for the (necessarily long) interval so that when you return the way it has been changed for the final scene has a terrific impact. Hats off to designer James Cotterill for his superb sets.

Henry Pettigrew This is the third D C Moore play we’ve seen. We thought Town was a beautifully crafted, rather sad play about someone returning home, and Honest a superb one-man play set (and performed) in a pub. “Straight” shares some common themes with these earlier plays, such as dealing with hidden secrets, and the responsibilities of telling the truth. It’s based on a film, Humpday, which I haven’t seen, but having read its wikipedia entry I can see that the story of the play seems pretty true to the original film, but with a couple of additional twists at the end (which makes the story far more interesting, to be honest.)

Jessica RansomBriefly, two old friends, Lewis and Waldorf, meet again after about ten years absence, get drunk and/or stoned on a night out and, inspired by one of Waldorf’s one-night stands, take a bet to perform in an amateur gay porn film. With each other. Penetrative sex, apparently; and they’re not gay. There’s no question that D C Moore is an exciting, original author and he creates moments of agonising self-revelation on stage. My personal main problem with this play is that I found the story rather hard to believe; and I also feel that the structure of the play is somewhat lumpy and that the story does not flow very well. The play culminates in an incredibly funny and cringe-inducing scene that deservedly brings the house down and ends with a serious and cryptic tone; but I sense that somehow the previous scenes have been pieced together backwards in order to get to that required conclusion. As a result there are some passages and plot developments that don’t really go anywhere, and a few character inconsistencies that tend to make you lose faith in the overall integrity of the piece. Mrs Chrisparkle accused the end of being a cop-out, deliberately vague and inconclusive. I’ve re-read the end a few times (the programme contains the script) and I do find it frustrating – I’d rather like the writer to commit himself to how he thinks life will go on in the future, but he doesn’t. I suppose it’s for us to decide; but I’m not sure I can really be bothered.

Philip McGinley Having said all that, I don’t want you to think that it’s not up to much, because actually it’s a very funny, entertaining and revealing play, directed with warmth and feeling by Richard Wilson and with four excellent performances. Henry Pettigrew as Lewis has just the right mixture of sincerity and self-doubt, and his easily abused open nature is very believable. I relished his superb comic timing and he held the audience’s attention with ease. Jessica Ransom as his wife Morgan has a brilliant way with her eyes to show surprise, dismay and the hundred other emotions that the disruption of her easy life with Lewis now requires. She too has a guilty secret and her scene with Lewis before the interval is played with beautiful control and sad tenderness. Her journey from a relaxed if a bit complacent partner to someone who’s had all the certainty removed from her life is very moving.

Jenny RainsfordPhilip McGinley (great as Mossop in Hobson’s Choice) is Waldorf, a libidinous louche loner who you suspect has shagged his way around the world just because he could. He reminded me strongly of an omnisexual university friend – you know the type. He plays the role of semi-unwanted guest with roguish charm and is completely believable. Suffice to say Messrs McGinley and Pettigrew together enact a comic and theatrical tour-de-force in the final scene, and make the most of the comic embarrassment of their situation – it’s superbly well done. The final member of the quartet, Jenny Rainsford as Steph, appears only relatively briefly (which is a shame) and does an absolutely perfect interpretation of a stoned art student. Her voice and mannerisms were accurate to a T.

We were quite surprised that it wasn’t a full house on Saturday night, as normally the Studio is packed. This is definitely a production to see, if you enjoy a bit of shock, a bit of cringe and a lot of laughs. Just don’t think too deeply about the plot but revel in the performances and you’ll have a great time.

Review – A Taste of Honey, Sheffield Crucible, 10th November 2012

A Taste of HoneyIf, like me, when you hear the words “a taste of honey” your first thoughts turn to Sugar Puffs, you may be in for a bit of a surprise if you’re not familiar with Shelagh Delaney’s 1958 semi-autobiographical play about Jo, a young girl, and her experiences of early adulthood and family relationships; because there’s not a lot of sweetness in evidence. That, of course, is the deliberate irony – the characters all get a taste of honey, but it’s barely enough to cover a slice of bread. One thinks of the trendy 60s version of the song by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, or the plaintive emotion of the Beatles’ version, and both are at odds with the subject matter of the play. The juxtaposition of cool jazz, played by an excellent live trio at the back of the stage, also suggests a sophistication and glamour that’s noticeably lacking from the reality of Jo’s existence. By the way, the leitmotif of “My Favourite Things” from The Sound of Music, nicely ironic though it may be, shatters the time integrity; “A Taste of Honey” appeared a year before the Rodgers and Hammerstein stage show.

Eva PopeNevertheless, Polly Findlay’s new production is clear, crisp and unsentimental. The set accurately portrays Jo and her mother Helen’s miserable flat, with its tatty furniture and basic kitchen, and I like the way it revolves between scenes to suggest the passing of time but not a change of location; its almost pointless revolving emphasises the stasis of their situation. Running water cascading over a white tarpaulin at the back of the stage represents an almost permanent rainfall – perhaps a slightly over-cynical view of its Manchester setting – and the costumes and props are all accurately chosen with its era and location in mind. I really admired the attention to detail with the Woman magazine from which Helen reads out the cinema listings; when she leaves the magazine open, we could clearly see, from our vantage point in Row A, that she was reading from a cinema listings page – admirably realistic. I was a little critical of the Crucible’s recent Macbeth from the point of view of obstruction of sightlines; in this production too, the rather large foldaway table at the side of the stage blocked our view of the sofa in the set’s opening position, and a couple of times later in the play, which meant you could not see the face of the person (usually Helen) sitting on the left side of the sofa. I wish they would consider some of these problems a bit more seriously sometimes.

Katie WestIt’s still a very powerful play – it can certainly be considered as one of the 1950s seminal kitchen-sink dramas, and you can easily make a case for Shelagh Delaney to be the original “angry young woman”. With its grimness and dour characters, superficially it feels a thoroughly pessimistic play; alternatively you can look on it as showing indomitable spirit and the ability to survive despite everything, which in itself is rather optimistic. The programme notes offer a useful timeline to show its relevance to contemporary domestic and world events, which help you contextualise its mores and attitudes to prejudices that we would now consider historical. Helen, whom Delaney describes as a semi-whore, has used sex as a tool to make her way in the world but nevertheless she goes all prudish when confronted with what she considers a “pornographic” advertisement in “Woman” – very 50s. She is inter alia racist and homophobic, whereas Jo embraces (quite literally) the concept of the black boyfriend and the gay companion, which you can interpret as being a positive direction for society; but at the same time she has inherited her mother’s abilities to ridicule and destroy when it comes to personal relationships, which is going to limit her chances of future happiness. The bulbs that she brings when they first move into the flat with the hope of growing into something beautiful get forgotten and are left to rot; what will become of the baby that Jo is expecting – will it flourish and develop, or will it suffer the same fate as the bulbs? That sweet and sour combination, so cleverly encapsulated in that innocent-sounding title, is in every element of Jo’s life and you must make your own mind up as to whether or not it’s a positive conclusion.

Andrew KnottThere are some excellent performances on offer. I loved Eva Pope as Helen. Irrepressibly strong, selfish, bigoted, and with the ability to turn her mood on a sixpence – it’s a very believable performance, of an admittedly superbly written role. She looks perfect for it – an unscrupulous and well-presented slut, and I mean that kindly. Katie West’s Jo is suitably angry and frustrated, and is splendidly unpredictable in both her meanness and kindness. Both Mrs Chrisparkle and I felt she was a bit shouty; the youthfulness and exasperation of the character would probably make Jo quite a shouty person but it did come across a little tiring from time to time. I wondered if there could have been a little more subtlety in her approach; however it’s still a perfectly credible reading of the role.

Christopher HancockI really liked Andrew Knott as Peter, Helen’s latest “unlucky man” – a pompous, arrogant and bitter lowlife who rides roughshod over anyone who gets in his way – which includes the women in his life. He was contemptible and loathsome and you really feel hatred for his character. He was vile. It was great. There was another excellent performance from Christopher Hancock as Geof, tentatively coming to terms with himself and then growing into the role of support for Jo as her pregnancy wears on, only to be dismissed by the self-seeking Helen after his misjudged attempt at a family reunion. His hapless attempts to stand up against the prejudice and protect his friend were heart-warmingly sad. Nice support too from David Judge David Judgeas Jimmie, a glimmer of exotic hope in an otherwise cruel world – even if the character turns out to be all mouth and trousers in the end.

It’s a well-crafted and effective production of a play that can look drab on the page but that comes to life on the stage. It’s definitely worth catching for some excellent performances and authentic northern grimness.

Review – Julian Bliss Plays Mozart, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Derngate, Northampton, 4th November 2012

Julian Bliss plays MozartThe RPO goes Chamber! For this visit of the Royal Philharmonic, when we took our seats in the auditorium it was noticeable how many fewer musicians would be seated in that usual semi-circle round the podium. There was no provision for percussion, and apparently neither woodwind nor brass – for the first piece at least. And also no podium, as for this chamber recital Lead Violinist Clio Gould would direct the orchestra from the rather uncomfortable looking bar stool at the front of the stage. We liked her rather funky black outfit – what Mrs Chrisparkle would call “Edgy Boho”.

Clio GouldThe first piece was Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, without which title Stephen Sondheim would have been stumped. For something so famous, I think I’ve probably only heard it very occasionally all the way through. The RPO became a sea of strings and it was crisp, elegant and charming. I noted all the movements in the programme and I was expecting at some point to hear the original version of the Wombles’ Minuetto Allegretto, but that must come from some other moment of Mozart magic. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik has a rather sudden ending, which, unsurprisingly, I wasn’t expecting, so whilst everyone else had started applauding I was still precariously balancing a plastic beaker of Sauvignon Blanc and rapidly flipping programme pages, which didn’t feel like I gave it the response it deserved. Despite that, I appreciated it as a very beautiful warm-up.

A few extra musicians joined the stage in advance of the appearance of Julian Bliss as the clarinet soloist in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. When Mr Bliss arrives he looks scarcely fourteen years old, all boyish enthusiasm and shiny grey suit and shirt unbuttoned at the neck, standing out against the relative formality of the rest of the orchestra. The Clarinet Concerto itself is new to me, and is another entertaining and smile-inducing piece of Mozart and Mr Bliss played it immaculately. He just stood in a gap between Clio Gould and the cellos, with no music or music stand to shelter behind, and played the whole thing from memory. The mixture of clarinet and strings is a really warm, soft sound and I loved the way the clarinet integrated perfectly into the rest of the orchestra.

Julian BlissMr Bliss can make it sing too. He can make it velvety and treacly like a musical version of feather down; or give it full zip so that the instrument blazes a trail like a torch and the strings follow in its wake. It was a really enjoyable performance and I didn’t want it to end. Nor did the audience by the sound of it, with prolonged applause bringing him back to centre stage three times. He gets a great rapport with the other musicians – you can see in his eyes how he appreciates their performance too, which encourages both the soloist and orchestra to put in a great show. Afterwards, during the interval, we saw him talking to some people in the foyer, glass in hand. Is he old enough to consume alcohol in a public place?

On our return to the auditorium, the violinists’ chairs had been removed and all that was visible was some seating for the cellos and a centrally wheeled-on harpsichord. The final piece was Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and I guess they got the violinists to perform standing up to give it more energy. I love the Four Seasons, and I am very fond of Nigel Kennedy’s blockbuster CD recording of it from the late 80s, which for me is the definitive performance. So I was very interested to see what kind of spin Clio Gould and the rest of the RPO would put on it. It was classy, even stately at times, and brought out the romantic where Mr Kennedy brought out the quirky. I loved the way Ms Gould took complete control of the proceedings. Pausing after each movement, pulling dead strings from her bow, carefully putting her hair that had been tossed in rhythmic abandon during the previous movement back into its coiffured place, repositioning the sheet music, deep breathing and regaining focus, checking everyone was poised to continue; she didn’t mind how long it took, she wasn’t going to carry on until she was good and ready. I absolutely admired her assertiveness.

Royal Philharmonic OrchestraAnd it paid dividends. The animation that the whole orchestra put into some of the sections was astonishing. The vivid violence of the fast strings during the Summer sequence was breathtaking. It was so exciting to hear – Mrs C and I looked at each other with “wow” expressions on our faces. Winter was also, I felt, a particularly stunning performance, with a chilling clarity and fantastic attack. Superb support came from the cellos, with Jessica Borroughs leading the team in a great performance; and Christopher Bucknall on the harpsichord was like a voice of reason treading his poised way through maniacal strings.

The final applause was amusing; the gentleman with the bouquet mistimed his appearance so that he almost bumped into Ms Gould in the offstage area; so the flowers (very nice by the way) were never going to be a surprise. When she returned to the stage and he followed her to present them to her, she did a wonderful “Really? For me? What a lovely surprise!” gesture worthy of the Trocks. A super evening of entertainment from the RPO and we walked home beaming with satisfaction.

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground, Derngate, Northampton, 2nd November 2012

Dan EvansAnother two weeks has come round which means another bunch of comics at the Royal and Derngate on a Friday night. Our compere was the inimitable Dan Evans, and he introduced the usual combination of three great acts and two wonderful intervals for our entertainment. Not such a big crowd this week – odd how the numbers fluctuate; and we were a bit of an odd lot too. Not even Dan’s usual self-deprecating mix of old and new banter really got us warmed up and I felt that, as an audience, we remained pretty unmotivated throughout the entire evening, until perhaps the final act. The sexes were a bit unevenly matched mind you – there seemed a large number of all male groups in the audience; I don’t know if that made a difference to our common funnybone?

Paul B EdwardsAnyway the first act was Paul B Edwards; new to us, full of attack, armed with an electric guitar and not afraid to use it. Some good material, mainly centred on comedy songs; he did a happy version of a Radiohead song I don’t know, so I didn’t quite get the joke, but then he did a minor key version of Captain Sensible’s Happy Talk which was very funny. I liked his song about Unemployed People, even if there wasn’t much to it; and was slightly nonplussed by his final number, Everybody Dies – to the tune of Billy Bragg’s Which Side Are You On, incidentally – which was a bit savage for my taste. Not at all bad though, and he got a pretty good reception.

Juliet MeyersNext was Juliet Meyers, whom we had seen before last year. We remembered her because she did her opening routine about using the C word with a Scottish child present, which we recalled as being absolutely hilarious the first time round but not quite so second time around. Her material was alright but the act never really soared in the way one might have expected. She probably needed more women in the audience to appreciate her insights.

Rhodri RhysThe last act was Rhodri Rhys, another new act to us, and he was definitely the pick of the bunch. Blokey in an identifiable-with way, he had lots of really inventive observations about relationships and life, and he played on his Welshness in a very amusing way, without overkill. He had some great material about black satin sheets that really hit the spot. We liked him a lot – he can come again.