I know what you’re thinking. Why on earth is TV, Radio and Fringe star James Acaster playing two nights at the 80-seater Playhouse in Northampton? It’s not even listed as a gig on his website. I believe it’s his way of saying thanks to his local fans – he’s famously from Kettering – and I think it’s an amazingly generous way of spending two evenings in the run-up to Christmas, larking around for two hours on stage (a teeny weeny one) for just a fiver a ticket. We’d seen him 14 months ago, when he performed his Represent show at the Royal in Northampton. I remember him as being delightfully laconic, eerily whimsical, and controlled by a brain the size of a small continent. Mrs Chrisparkle, on the other hand, couldn’t remember him at all. I don’t know if that says more about him or her.
We had been encouraged to sit in the front row on entering the auditorium, and after a summer of my being involved in countless comedy acts at the Edinburgh Fringe, the front row of a comedy gig no longer terrifies me – that much. I accept, I was expecting to be picked on, but Mr Acaster only picks on you if you really deserve it. Behave well, and you’ll be fine. His opening gambit was to point out that people only sit in the front row because they want to be picked on, so he refuses to pander to their pre-rehearsed interjections. Very fair point. But he did fix me with his stare every so often, and did choose me to explain what a DM is in Twitter terminology. What did he take me for? Obviously my grey hair suggests an advancement of years that I personally choose to ignore. Also my downbeat chuckle put him off on one occasion. But the star of the show turned out to be the fork lift truck driver recruitment consultant, and the girl he was with who isn’t his girlfriend. His noisy need to go to the gents during the first half was more than Mr A could resist. Be warned for future gigs.
He’s one of those comics that you’ve got no idea how much of the show is scripted, and how much isn’t. He gave us an evening of brilliant material, including the repercussions of Lindsay Lohan’s post-Brexit tweet about Kettering (how dare she), the trials and tribulations of the conga, postcode wars, iffy celebrity gossip, and the true meaning of the Christingle. Admittedly some of this wasn’t new to us having seen him before, but I realise that you could watch him deliver the same material many times over and he would express it with different emphasis each time – so he’s really good value from that point of view!
We were advised in advance that there was to be “no support act”, but that wasn’t strictly true. He was joined on stage by a Christmas tree – one of those five foot plastic affairs that the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle so valued because they weren’t messy on the carpet. The tree ended up playing a vital role in proceedings, as Mr A decided to “operate” it from behind. It’s funnier than it sounds, believe me. There was some Q&A at the end, where someone from the audience asked for the tree’s opinion on some vital subject – cue Mr A returning to his alter ego of Tree. During the melée that followed, I ended up asking the tree what was its favourite bauble. Honestly, I’d only had two Strongbows.
A great way to start the Christmas season!
P. S. I didn’t know why his last tour was called Represent, and I don’t know why this show was called Zebra Xmas. Few things are that black and white, surely? The man’s clearly an enigma.