Review – Comedy Crate Festival, Northampton, 22nd July 2018

Comedy CrateWe really enjoyed our day at the Comedy Crate Festival in Northampton last year, and needed no hesitation to book again for this year! As last time, we were unable to take advantage of the excellent weekend rate (£30 for both days, so that’s only £3 per show) because on the Saturday we were Otherwise Engaged. But we definitely up for the Sunday schedule.

Charles BradlaughBasically there are two shows on each of two venues all through the day – a show at 3pm, 4.30pm, 6.30pm, 8pm and 9.30pm – and you can mix and match your attendance at either the upstairs bar at the Charles Bradlaugh, or a swanky tent in the garden at the Black Prince. It was a gloriously sunny day (aren’t they all at the moment!) – in other words a perfect opportunity to combine top quality comedy with a bit of a boozy afternoon and evening. Well, you’re only young once. For the most part, the comics were all shaping up their current works-in-progress in preparation for their Edinburgh Fringe gigs next month. This is both a more relaxed way of seeing comedy, as it’s a very informal structure; but it can also be an exciting form of comedy if your comedian suddenly chances on just the right wording or just the right punchline – you can get that feeling that you’re at the birth of some comedy gold.

Black PrinceOriginally I had planned to see all the shows at the Bradlaugh, because they were more Premiership comic contenders, whilst the Black Prince performers were slightly more Championship. But I also didn’t want to be packed in a room which was too full and too hot. So in a last minute change of plan we saw the first two in the Bradlaugh and the other three in the Black Prince. Let’s take them one by one.

Kiri Pritchard McLean (3pm Charles Bradlaugh)

Kiri Pritchard McLeanOur organisers had kept us informed that Kiri was running late and she eventually appeared at 3.20, a little flustered from the car drive from hell following her brother’s wedding on the Saturday. I’m impressed that she made it all! Shimmering before us in the outfit that Gina G wore for Eurovision (well damn nearly) she explained that this was her third Edinburgh show and the first two had been easy to create, as they were about gender equality and paedophiles. Sometimes it’s hard to get inside the mind of a comedian! And just as she was concerned that she couldn’t think of a subject for her next show, her long-term boyfriend cheated on her; problem solved. So over the next forty or so minutes we heard all about Seymour (not his real name) and Brandy (not hers) with lots of excellent little side details, like the quality of her shoes, the racist tendencies of Kiri’s mother, and Beyoncé’s album Lemonade. Sadly, we didn’t get to see the full hour – and at the moment Kiri decided she had run out of time, she had divulged a big bombshell in her story! There’s definitely an end to that story, and we don’t know what it is! Kiri is a bright, friendly, warm person on stage and I can only suggest that her Edinburgh show definitely looks worth seeing.

Marlon Davis (4.30pm Charles Bradlaugh)

Marlon DavisAmazingly, it’s been eight years since we last saw Marlon Davis at a Screaming Blue Murder show in Northampton. He really impressed me then with his intelligent and slightly quirky style. Eight years on, and he’s still intelligent and quirky, comparing his high pitched natural voice and his gently infantile language structure with his son’s basso profundo directness. It’s typical of Mr Davis’ almost anarchic style that he spends maybe five minutes explaining how work-in-progress shows are very important for a comic to gauge what works and what doesn’t in preparation for their imminent Edinburgh appearance – to then kill his whole explanation with his confession that he isn’t going to be in Edinburgh this year. I think I recognised some of his material from eight years ago, although there’s also a nice running joke about nicking towels from hotels, as well as a funny sequence about his neighbour using their trampoline, and also the rather dark humour of his driving into a tree and being forced into what he calls a pussy coma. His hugely likeable personality means he could get away with just reading the shipping forecast and he would be able to make it funny. Very enjoyable!

Tom Lucy (6.30pm Black Prince)

Tom LucyNext up was a name new to me but I can see that he’s already carving out a great reputation. At the age of 22 Tom Lucy is a very gifted comic with terrific stage confidence and an easy way with banter. He quickly struck up a great rapport, especially with the Ryanair Cabin crew man in the front row. Imagine a South London James Acaster, but less bitter. The main thrust of his new show is all to do with understanding what it is to be a millennial, and he took us through several aspects of this subject and his material was excellent. He wasn’t happy with how it ended though – which is asking the audience at what point they found out that their father wasn’t a superhero. This could work, depending on the person you pick on. If he’d asked me, I’d have to have said that mine died when I was eleven and then it would have been a gloomy end to the show – so it’s a risky strategy. Dating apps, a lovely sequence with a clairvoyant, what constitutes an icon – all played a part in the show. And I’m glad to discover he doesn’t understand the “no socks” thing either. Very enjoyable, and I predict a great future for this chap!

Lloyd Langford (8pm Black Prince)

Lloyd LangfordAnother completely new name to me, but what a find! Mr Langford is full-on attack right from the start, with his quirky delivery and incredibly creative and inventive material. He comes across as totally fearless and will stop at nothing to explore a comic idea to the full. I loved his material about the totally invasive massage that he wasn’t expecting; also the massage chair at Tokyo airport (massages seem to be his thing), his dad’s useless Christmas presents which consist of what he finds on the beach; and the innate danger of balconies. One of those comics where it’s really hard to remember the gist of what they were talking about because they carried you away on a sea of nonsense and you didn’t want to fight it. His Edinburgh show looks like a must, and I’d really recommend him.

Patrick Monahan (9.30pm Black Prince)

Patrick MonahanTop of the Bill at the Black Prince was Patrick Monahan, whom we’ve seen a couple of times in Edinburgh, always as a guest at Spank! He’s another comic with a terrific rapport with the audience; it’s very likely that if he catches your eye you’ll become part of the show but it’s never unkind and always hilarious. He spotted Mrs Chrisparkle for a quick chat and for the rest of his gig she was just the scouser. He wanted to know who thought they had married “up” and who had married “down” – and this got cleverly interwoven in his material about Goals, which is the subject of his Edinburgh show this year. He brings in quite a lot of material about his own relationships, both with his wife and his parents, and his hour just flew by. This was the most polished, and the least work-in-progress of the shows all day, and he’s probably the most accomplished and professional comic that we saw too. Very highly recommended!

So that was it! With a bit of over-running we didn’t leave the Black Prince till after 10.45. There’s great commitment from the organisers and it requires a great commitment from the audiences too. And it really repays the hard work – five excellent performers gave us all a terrific day’s entertainment. Huge congratulations to everyone and I hope we can all do it again next summer!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 25th May 2018

Screaming Blue MurderIt was a slightly strange Screaming Blue Murder last Friday with which to end the season – as we had three tried and tested terrific acts and Dan Evans, our usual MC par excellence, but for some reason the whole night never quite soared. I blame the new layout. They’ve now placed the stage into the top right corner of the room, so that the first few rows spread out in a circular, sunray like, pattern until we get to the middle of the room, and then the further back rows are still as they’ve always been. Sitting on the third row, directly on the right edge of the aisle, I found I had simply too much space around me, which detracted from that sweaty intimacy that makes a comedy club really work.

Dan EvansNevertheless, Dan was on cracking form as usual, discussing the ins and outs of solar panels with a solar panel fitting team from Irthlingborough (yes, there really is one) and the cost of a boiler installation with a guy in the second row who applied an additional Brighton mark-up in order to fleece those rich south coast dwellers even more. Retired financier Richard, his best mate John and their wives took up the other half of the front row and were, at different times, both comedy-enhancers and joy vampires, depending on the questions they were asked by whoever was on stage. It was ever thus.

WindsorIn a change from the advertised programme, our first act was Windsor. Now, I would have said Windsor was more of a headliner than a first-on, but as he himself explained, this is only his second appearance since recovering from an aneurysm earlier in the year – so that deserves a round of applause on its own for his being so genuinely amazing on a rapid return to form (and indeed to work!) The last time we saw Windsor, he was standing in for Dan as compere, and it was me whom he decided to collar in the front row (we were in the second row but no one sat in front of us). I have to say his ability to banter rude chat with people he’s never met is second to none. So what if he did virtually repeat his entirely same act as on previous occasions, he’s so good you just sit back and watch a master at work. This time it was Richard he chose to describe his favourite sex position, and, rather like I did, he disappointed with his tame reply. One of the solar panel guys suggested the wheelbarrow, which sent Windsor off into paroxysms of joy. If I remember rightly, that was one of the positions in the Vatican Sex Manual, as reprinted in Eric Idle’s Rutland Dirty Weekend Television book in the 1970s; famed for the absolute impossibility of getting pregnant in that position.

Earl OkinOur second act was Earl Okin, whom we’ve also seen before, most recently in 2015. Mr Okin’s musical act, which centres on his being an unlikely sex symbol, all puckering lips and smart spats, is as constant as the northern star, but he’s so delightfully ludicrous that it still remains very funny. Just the three songs – his opening gigolo number, his bossa nova version of Wheatus’ pièce de resistance, and his blues tribute to a fat girl. If you’re in the mood, he’s the perfect act; and I’d say that the vast majority of us were in that mood.

Markus BirdmanOur headline act was the brilliant Markus Birdman, whom we’ve seen many times before and who won the Chrisparkle Award for Best Screaming Blue Standup in 2013. He’s an incredible performer, with so much assurance, so much attack and the ability to surprise you with some really unexpected punchlines and sequences. He’d done some of the material before, but plenty of it was new and sparkled as you would expect. However – and I told you we were a weird audience – when he started reading out some gags from a book (this was part of the act, he wasn’t relying on a crib sheet) the atmosphere fell a little flat and some of the lines just didn’t get a reaction. Mr Birdman was as surprised as anyone, as I’m sure these have been tried and tested up and down the country before. Nevertheless, he’s still a cracking performer and one of the most mischievous and creative on the circuit.

And that’s it for the Spring season… no more Screaming Blues until September. Six shows are scheduled for between 14th September and 16th November so why not get booking now?

Review – Stuart Goldsmith, Like I Mean It, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 18th May 2018

Like I Mean ItIt’s getting to be a bit of habit. This is the third time that Stuart Goldsmith has come to Northampton on a Friday night to give us his last year’s Edinburgh show before trying out some new material for this year’s show. And it’s a habit of which I entirely approve. Northampton seems to love Mr Goldsmith and for the most part he seems to love us back, which makes for a very convivial evening.

He’s an incredibly self-assured performer without ever wandering into the realm of arrogance, which puts the audience at ease right from the start, as you know he’s going to be fully professional and at the same time rather charmingly approachable. He’s not the kind of comic who picks on you a lot – not unless you really, really deserve it – so if you’re uncertain whether to risk sitting in the front, you’re unlikely to come a-cropper unless you make a nuisance of yourself. In our performance, we had a gentleman sitting in the front row, who, two-thirds of the way into Mr Goldsmith’s highly polished Edinburgh show, Like I Mean It, proceeded to take out a bag of crisps and munch them noisily. We’d already encountered this chap earlier in the show as a self-confessed vegan (aren’t they all?) Mr Goldsmith gave him brownie points for being a vegan but then took them away again when he provided the munch-distraction. Mr G decided he couldn’t carry on whilst battling against the noise. Would the gentleman please put the bag down on the floor for 20 minutes? The man didn’t seem impressed. Please? He relented. Rather like a conductor with his baton poised waiting for the orchestra to be completely ready, I reckon Mr Goldsmith would have lasted a long, long time if he had to. Part of that self-assurance means he’s also incredibly assertive.

Stuart GoldsmithLike I Mean It is a further exploration of Mr Goldsmith’s married life with wife and toddler. He packs his material with loads of brilliant observations that vary from the blindingly obvious to the bizarrely surreal. There are funny stories about how he has to sneak back into the house late at night because his wife is not only an insomniac but also a light sleeper – a vicious combination. He regrets how, now he has a child, he can no longer make the adult decision never to go swimming again. He likens their domestic arrangement to the fragile intensity of completing a Crystal Maze game. Being a husband and a father means that, whilst he’s never been happier, he’s also never been more resentful of other people’s happiness, and I’m sure that’s a very common sensation!

After the break he came back with some work in progress nuggets, to try them out on us to see if we liked them. As in last year’s show, his WIPs were equally entertaining as his carefully honed sequences of the first half. Here’s a very nice concept for his new show: he has an older friend to whom he looks up and gets inspiration for doing the right thing, and he also has a younger friend whom he knows does precisely the same to him. He has a great idea of envisioning a whole expedition of people, all leading each other through life and through the generations, each getting closer towards some grand, end-of-life precipice, where they all shout go back, it’s not worth it. Another idea I really liked was how his wife is trying to set him up with a friend of his own age, as though he were eight; which gives way to a discussion on how men don’t make friends after school/university (I do, but I’m an exception, I know!) There are also some great observations about why most men dress really badly, and a toe-curling sequence about how he resolved the problem of going to a mate’s house only to discover it was his birthday and he hadn’t got him a card. Brilliantly painful stuff!

Stu GoldsmithLong may Mr Goldsmith’s association with Northampton continue – he brings a ray of very clever and superbly eloquent sunshine to our otherwise dreary nights! And as for you other parts of the country – his tour is continuing through to the end of June, so you’ll get a chance to see him too. Hopefully by then he’ll be match fit for Edinburgh!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 27th April 2018

Screaming Blue MurderAnother Screaming Blue Murder at the Royal and Derngate which is a good thing because you can’t have too many of them. At first it looked as though we were going to be a little understocked audience-wise, but shortly before it started a cavalcade of fresh punters arrived and filled all the front rows. Good for you guys!

Maureen YoungerWe knew that regular MC Dan Evans was taking a sabbatical this week so who would be our stand-in stand-up host? Step up to the line Maureen Younger, whom we loved last year in the Upfront Comedy Show at the Royal. Maureen certainly knows how to knock a rabble together. She’s delightfully in-your-face, no-holds-barred and takes-no-prisoners when it comes to finding out about the night’s clientele. She concentrated on twin-on-his-own Matt, who had been segregated from the rest of his group, poor lamb, but also encountered posh Chloe, some teachers, Frank the Dutchman, and… Mrs Chrisparkle and me. Dan knows better than to engage us in conversation thank heavens, but Maureen gave us what for in her usual badinage-filled way. Fortunately she got more out of Mrs C than me and ended up likening her to an EastEnders-type bouncer. You had to be there.

Robin MorganFirst up was a new face to us, Robin Morgan, a fresh-faced young chap with bags of vitality and lots of good material about being a new dad, getting married, being the only guy at kiddies’ playgroup – fairly standard comedy fayre but he did it all with great humour and a nice turn of phrase. I loved his stuff about being a meal deal fanatic, and how when you’re planning a family you have to have sex pre-programmed into your phone. He’s bright and funny in a preppy kind of way. Unfortunately Matt’s twin Steve was looking distinctly unamused by one brief sequence, and Mr Morgan allowed himself to be slightly psyched out by his reaction and he never quite regained the room as a result. But he was very good and I would certainly look forward to seeing him again.

Naomi CooperOur second act was someone else we’d not seen before – that never happens! This was Naomi Cooper, who’d just been to see her mum in Bletchley. She also had plenty of good material about dealing with parents, including that thing where they always give you something unexpected and useless when you leave. The majority of her set, though, was about sex and ex-boyfriends; by the sound of it, she’s had a lot of both! An enjoyable gig; there were times when I felt her stage authority just waned a little, but everyone enjoyed it. The somewhat questionable last joke made us feel a little uncomfortable, and we’re no prudes! (I’ll say no more).

Nick DoodyLast up was Nick Doody, whom we’ve seen twice before and is normally a safe pair of hands. He started off a little slowly but when he got into his stride was really top notch. We loved his characterisation of a polyglot Dutch infant – yes, you read that right. Normally audiences don’t respond very well here in Northampton to political humour – we’re not that sophisticated really – but he nailed it with his observations of our Great Beloved National Political Leaders (yeah right). Once he’d finished with politics, he ended up with (and forgive me, gentle reader) wanking, (as a subject matter, I mean) which was absolutely brilliant. He also mercilessly took the mick out of the drunk old lady sat in front of us. That could have gone horribly wrong but was hysterical. A great way to end the evening.

Another really enjoyable night of Screaming Blues! Next one is on 11th May – we can’t go, but that’s no reason for you not to!

Review – Lucy Porter, Choose Your Battles, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 20th April 2018

Lucy PorterThis was another of our “we’ve seen them on telly, let’s see what they’re like in real life” punts. To say that Lucy Porter has been around for ages doesn’t sound like a very gentlemanly comment to make but she did intimate during the course of the show that she’s chalking up the years a little, so it was about time we saw her in the flesh. Choose Your Battles is the show she took to Edinburgh last year and jolly well received it was too.

The title comes from the age-old advice not to fight those battles you can’t win (if only the late Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle could have done that she would have been so much happier) but it also points to the fact that Lucy Porter doesn’t like battles. In fact, she’s the least battlish person you’d ever come across. If you drew a Venn Diagram with her in one circle and, say, renowned battleaxe Christine Hamilton in another, not only would they not intersect, they wouldn’t even appear on the same piece of paper.

Lucy PMuch of the show is given over to examples of how conflict-averse our comic heroine is. She gives us an entertaining insight into how she doesn’t like to engage in conflict with the children, so they run amok in posh restaurants whilst she and her husband discuss the niceties of that day’s Guardian opinion piece. She tells us how difficult it was when her mother came to live with them in her old age, because she found it impossible to challenge her on her passive-aggressive note-leaving. She explains how she and her husband never come to blows on anything, but just quietly seethe in voiceless anger because she can never clear the air on anything disharmonious in the relationship. We re-enact with her an unpleasant experience where a driver almost ran over her and her kids on a zebra crossing because he was on his phone – yet he still made her feel it was his fault. Take a bow, Ed from Peterborough, you did a grand job.

This is a beautifully constructed show, packed with material and incident, with some gentle, totally unforced callbacks that create a satisfying climax, if you’ll pardon the expression. Ms Porter has a very genial air about her onstage – delightfully unthreatening, respectful and polite, and you’d never run the risk of humiliation, unless you really, really asked for it. She engages the audience and draws us in to her life and experiences, so that you get the feeling you’re chatting with an old pal rather than watching a fully scripted stand-up gig. Included in the material are a few opportunities to take surveys of the audience to see how conflict-averse we are too, particularly in relation to social media and dealing with trolls. I was surprised to find that I’m not as conflict-averse as most of my co-audience members. So you can even learn a bit about yourself too. You’ll also find out how much it costs to get a new set of keys for a Volvo.

Lucy Porter Choose Your BattlesIt’s not earth-shatteringly challenging, but nor is it in any way bland or vanilla. Two hours of fully recognisable and quite possibly shared emotions and observations. Very enjoyable, and enormously self-assured. Ms Porter may have chalked up a few years, but experience tells!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 13th April 2018

Screaming Blue MurderYet another packed house for the latest Screaming Blue Murder at the Royal and Derngate, with host Dan Evans on tip-top form again as he brought out the best of us rabble in the audience. Amongst the paying guests whose intimate back-stories he delved into were the assistant psychologist from St Crispin’s whose dementia tests he passed with flying colours; Dan Evanstwo rival soil experts in a relationship; and some noisy crisp eaters seated behind us. When one of the audience confessed to coming from Wellingborough, someone at the back shouted “it’s a sh*thole”, to which Dan observed that the mayor was in.

Diane SpencerWe’d seen all three of the acts before but that did not diminish from the fun of the night – because this was a truly top class night of comedy. First up was Diane Spencer, whom we last saw at the Leicester Comedy Festival in February, but who has also graced us with her presence at Screaming Blues in 2011 and 2015. Ms Spencer has a brilliantly funny stage presence – a delightful mixture of posh and obscene which can really take you by surprise when you’re not expecting it. Amongst her memorable moments on Friday night were re-enacting a rather squeaky, unlubricated pole dance and its unfortunate physical repercussions, what happens when you try to get “Russian slim” and the diplomacy required to rename stepchildren. She was hilarious as always, but what really impressed us was the fact that this was all completely different material from her Leicester appearance. She just oozes natural funniness. A fantastic start to the evening.

Andrew WattsNext up, and in a change from the advertised programme, we had Andrew Watts, a wonderfully dry gentleman who specialises in unladdish behaviour and cricketing analogies but is deceptively streetwise at the same time. We’d seen him here twice before, and he gave us his regular material and indeed memorable punchlines – a couple of which I use myself whenever out clothes shopping with Mrs Chrisparkle – you’ll know the ones if you’ve seen his act. He pitched his material absolutely spot on, and I loved the necrophilia sequence (no, honestly) and the fielding positions set up for the medical team delivering his wife’s baby. He also has this brilliant idea of being the perfect partner for a woman looking for a mediocre night of lovemaking; he’s there to step up to the mark. It may be time for Mr Watts to gather a few more ideas together to enhance his act but, there’s no question about it, he was absolutely hilarious and everyone loved it.

Jonny AwsumFor our final act, we welcomed the return of Jonny Awsum, who just seems to get more awesome every time we see him. Fresh from his appearance on Britain’s Got Talent last year, he attacks the stage with such winning gusto, getting everyone to join in his comedy songs right from the very beginning. He has some fantastic musical parodies; his Take That’s Back for Good is just brilliant, and his Sexy Noises cocks a knowing snoop at the Osmonds’ Crazy Horses. His enthusiasm is such that you cannot help but throw yourself into it. We were howling with laughter. A perfect way to end the night.

That was a fantastic Screaming Blue Murder – and there’s another one coming in two weeks’ time! Dan won’t be hosting this one, so I wonder who we’ll get to accompany us for the night. A show with an already built-in added surprise; you should come!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 9th March 2018

Screaming Blue MurderA sneaky extra Screaming Blue show snuck into the Underground, as the production originally scheduled for these couple of days was cancelled a few weeks back. Once again Dan Evans was in charge of a full house of Northamptonshire’s finest weirdos; I include myself in that number. We had Becky celebrating her 21st birthday along with about half the town by the sound of Dan Evansit; posh Katie with her Glaswegian-sounding pilot dad (Dan ingratiating himself in the hope of a long-haul discount); and the front row couple taking father-in-law out for the night. As usual, Dan rose to the challenge of getting us all in the mood, so much so that we didn’t have to be pre-tested to see if we could create enough welcoming decibels for each of the three acts.

Matt GreenFirst up was someone we’ve seen before but only briefly guesting in Edinburgh at Spank! and in Rob Deering’s Beat This, Matt Green. He’s a baby-faced guy whose innocent looks belie a mischievous interior. He had some excellent material about how he looks like a cherub, which leads on to the things you can say to/about a man but you can’t to a woman – and he’s absolutely right! As a good example, no one ever said to a woman, when looking at her partner, “you’re boxing above your weight there!” Mr Green has a gentle delivery but provides stories and observations that pack a punch. He creates a great rapport with the audience and he went down very well.

Harriet BraineNext was someone new to us, Harriet Braine; she specialises in comedy songs that aren’t just about farting and sex. Appropriate for Northampton, she sang a paean to the designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh to the tune of Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn – and it was very inventive and clever and the audience lapped it up; who knew we were all so cultured? (Well Northampton does have the only house in England designed by the great man). Then we had Abba’s tribute to French Impressionism, which was brilliant; one song that bombed because no one (certainly I didn’t) had a clue what it was all about; and then a comedy song about Hieronymus Bosch. Yes you read that right, the fifteenth century Dutch painter. We all really enjoyed her act, a veritable gallery of musical fine arts; I think she shocked us into appreciation, but it worked very well.

Howard ReadOur final act was Howard Read, whom we’ve seen here three times before; a very likeable chap who always comes up with funny material about being a parent, which seems particularly rewarding if you are one. As I’m not, I always slightly feel that his act isn’t really for me, but nevertheless he has plenty to keep everyone amused, with a nice self-deprecating style and the best monsters-under-the-bed lullaby you could ever wish to hear. Sometimes when he engages with any difficult people in the audience he doesn’t always win; it was a shame that Becky’s birthday party drowned out some of his material, but that’s what happens late on a Friday night in Northampton.

Excellent night’s entertainment; there’s another one later this month that unfortunately we can’t make, but I think you definitely should!