Review – Chris McCausland, Speaky Blinder, Underground at the Derngate, 8th June 2019

Chris McCauslandWe saw Chris McCausland at one of our earliest Screaming Blue Murder shows, back in 2010, and really enjoyed his material and style. It’s been a long time in the waiting, but when I saw he was returning to Northampton with his Speaky Blinder show, that had been a great success last summer in Edinburgh, buying a ticket was a bit of a no-brainer.

Jon LongBut first we had a (too brief) warm-up session with support act Jon Long, who was completely new to us but what a find! A very engaging chap with a warm, inclusive (but never threatening) style, a gentle but deadly delivery, and armed with his guitar to strum a few comedy songs that compliment his spoken material. It wasn’t long before we were all singing about dildos together, that’s how relaxed he got us! Very entertaining material, and a very comfortable and friendly vibe to his act. Will happily see him again.

After the interval, Chris McCausland took to the stage. If you don’t know, he’s been totally blind for many years, and when we saw him several years ago I thought it was fascinating how his disability played a relatively small part in his material. Today that has changed somewhat, and although the gig included plenty of jolly, flippant remarks and jokes about his domestic arrangements with his wife and his daughter, you get a much greater sense that he wants to give us some serious and thought-provoking observations about how his disability affects his daily life.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a sad or downbeat show. Quite the reverse; although he never overlooks an opportunity to increase awareness of the issues relating to blindness, he presents it all through the medium of comedy, and it’s one of those shows where you rarely stop laughing. He’s very open about all aspects of his life, including how he loves his wife almost as much as he loves Mohammed Salah, and his warm and engaging personality totally wraps us up into his world so we’re completely on his side all the way through.

An intelligent, reflective but also very funny hour of comedy. Messrs McCausland and Long are currently touring the country and I’d really recommend you see them!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 31st May 2019

Screaming Blue MurderTime for yet another Screaming Blue Murder – and the screaming comes from the intense heat of the Underground studio, bad enough in winter but positively radioactive in summer! Nevertheless, that didn’t stun our senses as once again we enjoyed three fabulous acts, two magnificent intervals under the genial guidance of our loving MC, Dan Evans.

Dan EvansThis week Dan had to endure (I mean enjoy) the company of some marketing ladies from Avon – I don’t think his idea of anus lipstick is going to catch on – a few young likely lads in the front row with their deadpan father, and the Melton Mowbray branch of the Leicestershire Wives Society. From little acorns great oaks of mirth grew. I don’t envy his job but Dan was on top form as always.

Mark SimmonsTwo new acts (and one old favourite) for us this week, the first of which was our opener, Mark Simmons. And what a find he is! A quiet, subtle-laddish style but brimming with confidence and with 100% winning material, none of which I’d heard before. The majority of his humour comes from a mixture of pun and wordplay, and he delivered it with such dry originality that Mrs Chrisparkle and I were in hysterics the whole way through. I loved his mini-stories about premature ejaculation at an orgy, and what happened when he brought two girls home; there’s also his one joke that involves the C word, which works brilliantly because the punchline is so mild in comparison with its lead-up; and his discovery that cats in France have their own social media site. A little surreal, but with great connection to the audience, we thought he was terrific and would love to see him again.

Alasdair Beckett-KingNext up, and also new to us, was Alasdair Beckett-King; if you ever wondered what Simba looked like once he’d grown up, look no more. Resplendent with his flowing locks and curls, Mr B-K gives us an insight into the life of a full-on Ginger, with some very funny – and refreshingly clean – material. Switching up the erudite level a notch or two, he has a sequence where he discusses Blake’s Proverbs of Hell, but don’t be put off, his own selection of Proverbs are fresher than anything 18th century. Smart, witty, intelligent humour and he went down really well with the audience.

Mary BourkeOur headline act, and one we have seen many times before, was the endlessly surprising Mary Bourke, whose ability to create new material every time you see her is astounding. She has a wonderfully faux-strict style, like a headmistress who won’t accept any nonsense from you lot but inside has a heart of gold. I loved her take on how you scare people in Crouch End at Hallowe’en, and was delighted to realise she has the same attitude to Peppa Pig as us; indeed, she gives that hideous little hog the same middle name that we do. Unbeatable as always.

And that, sadly, is the end of the Screaming Blue Murders for this season; I think each and every one has been a sell-out which is fantastic news and a testament to just what cracking value and quality it is. Reconvene in September? Really annoyed that I have to miss the first autumn show on 13th September because it’s going to be immense. Book it now whilst tickets are still available!

P. S. I did get a name-check from the stage during the course of the evening, but I’m sure it was meant out of pure affection…. That’s what I’m going to tell myself anyway!

Review – Rob Auton: The Talk Show, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 17th May 2019

Rob AutonI guess when a show declares itself under the category of comedy/theatre/spoken word, you ought to realise you’re not in for an evening of typical stand-up comedy. And, indeed, Rob Auton doesn’t give you a typical evening of stand-up comedy. But don’t be alarmed, gentle reader, there are good things to follow…

He starts the show as his own warm-up act, getting to know the front row a little, talking about his previous shows, sharing with us some of his more dubious reviews, reading poetical gems from his books, and generally relaxing himself into the rest of the evening. After an interval he wanders back on to the stage; there’s no “welcome back ladies and gentlemen, did you have a good interval” type of showbiz introduction, rather it’s straight into his themes for the Talk Show – it even took a few moments to realise he’d started, as people were still checking their phones.

The Talk ShowHe talks a lot about his parents, with affection and understanding of their funny little ways; but, primarily, he talks about talking. He gets us to talk to strangers, and when we pluck up the courage to chat with our neighbours, he celebrates it as a great achievement.

Unusually, he stands in front of us with what I presume is a detailed script in his hand, that he tipped out of his Sainsbury’s bag earlier on, even though you never for once think he’s going to lose his place or not know what to say next. Perhaps it is his comfort blanket. Projecting a very engaging personality, but also exuding an air of great vulnerability, you sense that quite a lot of this material is joint therapy for both the audience and the performer; and that it’s all from personal experience. There’s humour at every turn; whether you choose to laugh at it or wryly recognise that it’s what makes the world go round, is up to you. And by that I don’t mean that it isn’t a show full of laughs – quite the opposite, he frequently had us all in hysterics. But there is meaning and pathos behind each laughter moment.

There are passages of great sensitivity and stillness, where he holds us in the palm of his hand waiting for his next word. The emotions are so strong that at one stage I thought he, or I, was going burst into tears. Neither of us did, but you could see the wetness in his eyes. There’s nothing forced or false in this show. His main message seems to be to make sure that those you love and care about know this fact. That can be a hard lesson to learn, but once learned, you don’t forget it. There will sadly come a time when you can’t tell them you love them anymore.

Rob Auton has a compelling style of delivery; measured, careful, each word chosen for its suitability. As a result, you have complete confidence in his mastery of his own material. He’s been taking shows up to Edinburgh for ages, so I’m very surprised not to have come across his work before – but I’m very glad I have. He’s still touring with the Talk Show, and also work-in-progressing this year’s Edinburgh show. Catch him if you can for an intelligent, thoughtful and emotional hour’s comedy.

Review – John-Luke Roberts, All I Wanna Do Is [FX: GUNSHOTS] With a [FX: GUN RELOADING] and a [FX: CASH REGISTER] and Perform Some Comedy, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 11th May 2019

John-Luke-Roberts All I Wanna DoI’d seen the photo of John-Luke Roberts last year whilst scrolling through possible Edinburgh shows – and, let’s face it, that photo does stand out, with his blue moustache and his fangs, fruits and flowers. I didn’t click to read more; I think it reminded me of when Graham Chapman used to occasionally interrupt sketches on Monty Python, with the words “stop that; it’s too silly.” But when I saw that he was bringing the show to our local theatre, and that it had garnered five-star plaudits at Edinburgh last year, I thought it was worth a punt.

You’ve heard of the Theatre of the Absurd? Mr Roberts is a practitioner of Comedy of the Absurd. I can imagine him planning a show, coming up with ideas, and then discarding them because they weren’t silly enough. I’m not sure I’m his natural target-market as I usually prefer my comedy to be more sophisticated, more nuanced. However, Mr Roberts is such a likeable performer that it was impossible not to be blown away by all his random ideas in this hour and ten minutes of utter joy.

John Luke RobertsIn the best Brechtian style, he set out his comedy store at the beginning of the show, explaining what he wanted to achieve, how he would weave certain phrases or ideas into the meat of the show, and how, at the end, he would lift up the silver food cloche on the table in the corner of the stage, to reveal an item; and if we didn’t fall about laughing, he would have considered he had failed. No pressure on us there, then.

At the heart of the show, Mr Roberts introduces us to the 24 missing Spice Girls. We know Mels B and C, but what about A, and D through to Z? As we meet more and more of his bizarre but beautifully crafted characters, we start to lose the plot as to what’s going on, but it doesn’t matter. It’s much more fun just to watch the hurt caused between Facts-about-the-Romans Spice and Clarification-about-the-Facts-about-the-Romans Spice; to watch the confusion caused by That’s-not-my-husband Spice talking to a woman in the audience who wasn’t his wife; and to join in the ludicrous hilarity of Old Crone Spice with her shapely bosoms and long nose, which I had to operate whilst Mr Roberts’ hands were doing other things. (All perfectly clean, no worries.) He also enjoys a hotline to God, and I think it’s fair to say they both give as good as they get.

John-Luke RDoes that sound absurd to you? Absolutely. And also extremely funny. And when he lifts the cloche at the end, there was one more absurdism awaiting us that did, indeed, make us fall about laughing. Surreal it may be, but it is also meticulously structured and honed to perfection. I shall certainly be looking out for Mr Roberts’ future shows. A very enjoyable break away from the harsh realities of life. We loved it!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 10th May 2019

Screaming Blue MurderOnce again, another Screaming Blue Murder and once again, sold out in advance – and quite right too, this is the best selection of Friday night comedy you could imagine at a cracking price. As usual our genial host was Dan Evans, he of the intimidating shiny bald pate (he’d agree, I’m sure) who this week compared baldness with another front row bald chap, but I’m not sure who won.

Dan EvansAmong the other patrons for Dan to duel with were a carpenter who seemed only comfortable when talking about wood, a maker of Channel 4 documentaries (in Northampton! Who knew?), a pair of prison officers, pub landlords, a gloomy 44-year-old birthday boy and a huge hen party (by which I mean there were lots of them, not that she was a huge hen) in preparation for a wedding apparently still weeks away. That’s forward planning for you. As always, Dan deftly got a bit of comedy magic out of all of them.

Debra-Jane ApplebyWe’d seen all three acts before, but they’re all definitely worth a re-watch. First up was Debra Jane Appleby, whom we saw here once before as an act, and once as MC when Dan was otherwise engaged. She looks like she might be somewhat hard-nosed and aggressive on stage but in fact she’s quite a pussycat once you get her vibe. Recently married, this time to a woman, she’s currently seeing life through a different lens, which is the source of a lot of fresh material. She’s the kind of act who takes a few subjects and explores them at length, rather than peppering her routine with lots of one-hit wonders. I very much enjoyed her observations on the benefits or otherwise of people living longer lives, and she has an enjoyable, relaxed style which was the perfect start for the night.

Steve DayNext up, and in a change of programme, came Steve Day, whom we have seen twice before, but a long time ago. He is deaf, and the majority of his routine comes from finding the humorous side to living with a disability and specifically what you can achieve when you can barely hear anything. He’s got a great delivery style, with masses of confidence and a string of extremely funny material. Amongst his gems were moving to Sutton Coldfield because of the views, and what happened when he co-hosted the Paralympic Torch ceremony in London with Boris Johnson. We all loved him.

Mitch BennOur headline act was Mitch Benn, whom we saw here in 2014 and 2016. The great news is that he’s still incredibly funny, with a very lively mind and a capacity to weave the audience into his comedy musical material. He started with an absolutely astonishing song that included all the professions of the members of the audience that Dan had gleaned in his opening session – quite brilliant, and definitely the highlight of the night. The not so great news is that everything else he did was exactly the same as the previous two occasions he came here, including the (still funny) xenophobic Eurovision song and the (I don’t quite get it) Very Hungry Caterpillar song. If you’ve not seen him before, his is a highly entertaining act. It would be great if he could just make up a few new songs though?

As always a brilliant night’s comedy. And if you can’t wait until May 31st for the next Screaming Blue Murder, Dan’s appearing at the Brighton Fringe on May 18th, 23rd and 24th with his new show – which I’m sure will be first-rate. Sadly we can’t go, but you should!

Review – Andrew Bird, Ha Ha Time, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 20th April 2019

Andrew Bird Ha Ha TimeThis was to be the last date in Andrew Bird’s first ever (I can’t believe it was his first ever) national tour, and appropriately enough, for a Northamptonshire lad, he returned to his spiritual home at the R&D. We’d seen Mr Bird do his stuff at Screaming Blue Murders in the past when he entertained us hugely with his twenty-minute sets. But could he sustain an entire evening on his own? By Jiminy he could!

Andrew Bird is a no-gimmick comedian; what you see is what you get. He doesn’t pick on the front rows, because, as he says, you never know what kind of mess you’re going to get into (so sitting on the front row, like we did, is safe!) He’s an immensely likeable chap; the kind you’d really want to spend time down the pub with. His delivery is sure, authoritative, confident and pacey, but never aggressive. And his material is full of the everyday observations that we all have about how ridiculous life is, but could never put into words ourselves. His turns of phrase are immaculate, as is his timing for the killer lines. And there is a warmth in his delivery that reassures you that all the teasing comes from a kind place – unsurprisingly, perhaps, considering how much of his material stems from his domestic bliss with his Slovakian wife and two incredibly difficult children.

Andrew BirdAmong his gems, we learned how so many of the problems that face women are named after men; how sometimes you can be relieved to be in the company of Millwall supporters; the problems of having a cream coloured settee with infants around; when you should, and shouldn’t, give someone a birthday card; and what you should really be thinking about when you give a sperm sample. I also loved his (100% accurate) portrayal of how posh people treat their friends in comparison with working class people. The beauty of his comedy is its recognisability; the show is two hours of pure truth, bundled together in a fantastically funny package.

When the time came to wrap up, I couldn’t believe the evening had flown by so quickly. Mrs Chrisparkle and I were laughing about it all the way home, and, indeed, a few days later, we’re still quoting our favourite bits. This is a performer for whom surely greatness awaits – if not, there’s no justice in this world. If you get the chance to see him in action, don’t hesitate!

P. S. As this was the end of his tour, he was having the show properly and professionally videod and edited for future audiences to see what they missed. We noted there was a tiny wee camera at the foot of the stage looking directly out at the crowd – and, from what we could gather, aimed firmly in our faces. Apologies in advance if we ruined the video!!!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 22nd March 2019

Screaming Blue MurderAnother packed house for 2-and-a-half hours of fun courtesy of the Screaming Blue Murder team – the best value comedy in town. This season’s dates have been rather spread apart which means that when the next show comes around, you’re really in the mood for it. And that was all too evident this week as the audience were really up for a good time and, if I may so myself, as an audience, we were all pretty terrific.

Dan EvansWe welcomed our usual host Dan Evans, his three amazing guests and, as ever, his two sumptuous intervals. This week Dan ended up talking to Liz and John from Earl’s Barton – the crowd couldn’t decide whether to be sniffy about them or jealous of them; the jovial man who runs the Northampton auction house (I recognised him from my auctioning days), and the front row girls who were all one-upping each other (“I’ve got a house” “well at least I’ve got a baby” etc). He handled it all with his usual remarkable bonhomie.

Paul PirieThis was one of those great nights of comedy when you’ve seen all the acts before so you more or less know what’s coming but they were all on such cracking form that they all surprised you with their excellence. First up was Paul Pirie, whom – I have to say – we didn’t really enjoy much when we saw him here way back in 2012. However, this time he was rip-roaring sensational. He bombasts you with a ton of brilliant silly observations with a very powerful delivery, interspersed with some genuinely wacky and funny voices. He’s not one of those comics who give you thoughtful material for your brain to continue to peruse for the next few days; he’s a wham-bam thank you ma’am sort of chap – blame the Red Bull. His set was jam-packed with material, most of which I can’t remember because it was so “of the moment”; although I do remember he said he failed RE at school; which is about as impossible as failing lunch.

Karen BayleyNext up, and another favourite, was Karen Bayley. It’s been a few years since we’ve seen Ms Bayley, and, although it’s still largely the same I’m a cougar watch out young man routine that she always gives, the passage of time meant that it still felt fresh and really funny. She did build up a fantastic rapport with the audience – and not just the women this time, which makes an enjoyable change. You sense that though her material is bawdy, deep down she’s probably quite sensitive and polite, which creates a curiously interesting stage persona. Very funny indeed.

Roger MonkhouseHeadlining on Friday night was Roger Monkhouse, whom we’ve also seen a few times now and who has cultivated a young fogey personality. He has a terrifically self-deprecating tone and uses it to great advantage with some rather savage observations about life and relationships, whilst dipping into the inevitable horrors of politics. His material is always solid and on the ball, and he too went down tremendously in the hall.

One of those occasions where it all came together, with host, guests and audience all on top form. Seven weeks to wait until the next one. Seven!! That’s mental cruelty.