Review – Bluelight Comedy Magic, Borjia, Northampton, 27th April 2017

BluelightI’ve discovered a new (to me at least) fixture on the local comedy circuit – the Bluelight Comedy Magic show, which has been going for some time but last night had their first outing at the rather swish and showy Borjia bar in Northampton. All proceeds from the evening went to Rape Crisis to support their important work (and I won a very fine looking bottle of champagne in the raffle into the bargain!)

BorjiaMrs Chrisparkle and I, along with Lord and Lady Prosecco, Prinz Markus von Köln (second in line to the Prosecco family estate) and our hosts for the evening Mr and Mrs Jolly-Japester, took our specially reserved seats across the front row. Not quite sure how we scored that, but I’m not complaining. I think we were five on a bench for three, so only a small portion of my posterior felt the pleasure of the padding, but three pints of Asahi made up for that.

TrixtaOur MC for the evening, and the man behind the Bluelight, although I think he’s now chucked in the blue light for full time comedy and magic, was The Trixta (aka Ashley), who kept everything going at a cracking pace but also left us plenty of time to get our glasses charged – always a vital element of any comedy night.

Chris Randall VegasFirst up, and all the way from Las Vegas – I kid you not – was the fantastic magician Chris Randall. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such extraordinary magic at really close quarters and yet not have a clue as to how he did what he did; but then I am a sucker for magic. Mrs C always pooh-poohs it as some inferior kind of entertainment until she actually sees it, and then her jaw drops just as far anyone else’s. The thing is, one always itches to know how someone performs a magic trick, but I am so glad that I don’t know how magic works, because if I did, it wouldn’t be magic anymore; so don’t tell me!

Chris Randall cardsMr Randall did a trick with what appeared to be dental floss, pushing it up into his neck so that it apparently went right through the skin; and when he pulled at either end of it, the skin either side of his neck got pulled out too! Made me feel quite queasy but it’s an amazing illusion. He procured two £20 notes from members of the public (including Lord Prosecco) who wrote their names on the notes and which he then made disappear, only to reappear sometime later trapped inside a satsuma! He got me out of the audience and performed a trick where torn bits of paper were strangely re-assembled to create a hat, but what particularly impressed me was that whilst I was onstage with him, he managed to get my watch off me and put it on his own wrist without my noticing. Mrs C is right – I am so unobservant. He did plenty more tricks besides, including ending up with an extraordinary display of cardsharpery. He’s one helluva magician.

Robin BootAfter a break, we next met Robin Boot, armed and extremely dangerous with his guitar and he’s not afraid to use it. If I tell you that, for his opening gambit, he sang – to the tune of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”, Toe of the Camel, I think you’ll get his general drift. That song will never be the same again. He’s a really funny guy who blends ridiculous and reasonably filthy humour with his disarmingly enjoyable guitar work to great comic effect. He also achieves a great rapport with the audience and we all loved him. Mr Jolly-Japester was required to exercise his dong during his act. You had to be there.

Dan NightingaleOur headline act for the evening was comic Dan Nightingale. One of those gifted guys who makes it all look so easy, he kept us laughing our socks off for ages. Whether it was about being a Mancunian, with all that accent entails, or being a young father with all that sleeplessness that entails, or having a wife that deleted your only tv appearance off the skybox, with all the resentment that entails, his great material just kept coming and coming. He’s a very likeable guy with effortless style and again, he really went down well with the whole room.

Bluelight in full flowAt only £10 that was fantastic value for money and also hopefully raised bucketloads for Rape Crisis. Apparently, the next show will be in June, so keep an eye on their Facebook page for further details. Brilliant fun, can’t wait for next time! (P.S. You don’t have to look too hard to spot Mrs C and me on this photo!)

Review – The Burlesque Show, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 14th January 2017

Burlesque ShowOnce again, the Ministry of Burlesque have trundled into town bringing their collection of stunning costumes, jugglers balls, magic tricks and nipple tassels. We’ve been coming every year since 2011 and it’s always a sheer delight. Last year’s show was just a tad of a disappointment as there were so many acts giving us the same sheer delight that they had given us in previous years. That equates to sheer delight for newbies, and pleasurable reminders for us old hands.

Lili La SHowever, this year they rang the changes in true style. The biggest and brightest change was in the beguiling personage of our new host, Miss Lili la Scala. Mrs Chrisparkle and I have seen Lili once before, in Edinburgh last summer, where we decided to partake of one of her Another F*cking Variety Shows, a late night cabaret entertainment where Lili introduces us to a range of artistes plying their trade at the Fringe; and it really was a splendid show. For the Burlesque Show, she looked perfect in the elegant setting of the Royal Theatre, entertaining us with songs old and new. Mashing up two different Let Me Entertain Yous is an inspired way to start a show; I really love how Lili retros a modern song into a cabaret setting. In Edinburgh she gave us a moving but refreshing Space Oddity; in this show we enjoyed her semi-operatic version of Female of the Species. She has a winning combination of demure and daft which makes her quite irresistible in many ways; what the late Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle would have called Strictly a Female Female.

lena-maeStarting the show, and finishing us off, so to speak, was the delectable Miss Lena Mae with two classic Burlesque strip routines, full of allure, humour, teasing, and costumes with surprises of their own. We hadn’t had the pleasure of her company before and clearly it’s been long overdue. She conveys all the joy of what she’s doing out into the auditorium and we love her back for it in return. Classy, sophisticated and with more than a twinkle in her eye. We also had two (well two and a half really) delicious helpings of Miss Abigail Collins; Peggy Suedfirst in her guise as Miss Garden Verandah, where, in a floral-inspired outfit, she performs her amazing hoop act, and secondly as Miss Peggy Sued, who spent the interval in the bar introducing herself to unsuspecting punters (well, draping herself across them) and then came out and did her extraordinary balancing act. It’s unlike any other you’ve seen – basically she picks on two blokes and then does the splits whilst balancing on their shoulders. Well done Gary and Steve for your sterling effort. It was lovely to see Miss Sued back cavorting on stage, pulling her leotard here and there to prevent it from chafing her personal areas, singing and dancing like there’s no tomorrow.

Alexandra HofgartnerMore acrobatics – of the slightly more traditional kind – were provided by frequent visitor Miss Alexandra Hofgartner, effortlessly weaving herself in and out of a hoop in the sky with only a long chiffon for extra support. Miss Hofgartner exudes dignity with everything she does and is always a wonderful addition to any Burlesque show. Another new face to us, Robin Dale, gave us an intriguing juggling act with wine glasses (sometimes filled with “real” wine),boon-and-bailie then came back in the second half with his friend Jack Bailie to perform further feats of juggling whilst they both took their clothes off. Fortunately, protective top hats were at the ready to prevent anyone in the audience from having a stroke. A very funny act, but be careful where you sit, or else you might get Robin’s thong flung in your face.

Pete FirmanAnd you can never get too much Pete Firman. We’ve seen him perform his magic many times and on each occasion he perplexes me. Just a few tricks for this show – the cards that magically keep increasing in number, the rope that gets cut in two and somehow self-heals, and the £20 note taken from a member of the audience that disappears and is found, not in a monkey-nut but sealed inside his zipped wallet. I specifically watched him like a hawk during that last trick because I was determined not to take my eye off where I think the note was kept during most of the act. Fat lot of use that was; although I think I may be one stage closer to working it out. Just maybe. The audience proved something of a handful for Mr Firman, though. His choice of assistant for the rope trick was Pat in the front row. Would she get up and help him? Would she buffalo. But Mr F was not in the mood for picking on someone else. Resistance was futile. When she finally got up, after much persuasion, she had no need for alarm, it all went swimmingly well. Would the same thing happen with the £20 note trick? Mr F’s victim was the shy and retiring Phil – not! If ever a magician’s assistant gave as good as he got, it was our Phil. I think I actually saw Mr F – temporarily – stumped for a response. I guess that’s always going to be a risk when you call on bright sparks from the audience.

And, as an audience, we really were fired up by the whole show, from start to finish. Our willingness to get stuck in and react noisily to whatever shenanigans was happening on stage, helped this particular instalment of the Burlesque Show to be (probably) the most enjoyable I’ve ever seen. We even miaowed incessantly at Stage Manager/Producer Miss Kittie Klaw as she cleared the stage ready for each new act. She responded with some miaows back and the occasional bum-wiggle. Every act really performed their socks off (literally in a few cases) and it was a very funny and sexy night’s entertainment. Fantastically well done to one and all!

Review – Pete Firman, TriX, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 12th November 2016

pete-firman-trixThis was the fourth time we’ve seen Pete Firman strut his stuff on the Royal stage, but who’s counting? That’s twice as part of the Burlesque Show, and also once in his own right as Trickster a couple of years ago. He’s obviously more streetwise now as the Trickster has become TriX; and he does exactly what it says on the tin, giving us trick after trick after trick, with nary a clue as to how he manages to achieve any of them.

petefirman-spellsI could just cheat now and refer you to my previous reviews because, essentially, his style hasn’t changed, his approach is the same, his Eric Morecambe-like patter hasn’t budged, his brilliant rapport with the audience is unaltered, and he still calls on members of the audience to help him out with all his tricks. He also still astonishes us with his bowling ball, with his sleight of hand card tricks, and with the mysteriously disappearing and reappearing £20 note; I know we’re being misled by those monkey nuts but I just don’t know how. I loved the tricks where £30 flew from one pocket to another; where a member of the audience was levitated, where five different types of drinks emerge out of the same Sainsbury’s juice carton; and I could go on but I’d be spoiling it for you.

petefirman-cardsHe is a brilliant entertainer; his magic stops you dead in your tracks and completely baffles you. He’s also very funny in a cheeky young whippersnapper sort of a way – I know he’s not that young, but he is in comparison to me. Mrs Chrisparkle and I were discussing in the interval with Mr Smallmind what we thought about Mr Firman’s not inconsiderable use of the F word. Mrs C found it refreshingly adult. Mr S thought perhaps it limited his audience. I sat on the fence. But he certainly does have a very lighthearted view on how a magic show should come across to the audience; no po-faced illusions here.

Pete FirmanNot a lot more to say really – two hours and a bit, crammed full of trickery and tittering. No need for support acts or beautiful hostesses when you have the population of Northampton to draw on to accompany you on stage. That was the penultimate night of his tour, so you’ve missed it now, I’m afraid, unless you catch him at the Soho Theatre for the week commencing 22nd November. But I’ve no doubt he’ll be back with another collection of mind-bogglers before too long. And I’ll certainly be booking.

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2016 – The Naked Magicians, 23rd August 2016

Naked MagiciansOne of our criteria for deciding which of the thousands of shows at the Edinburgh Fringe should be the ones that we choose to see, is that we should see shows that we’re not normally going to see back in good old Northampton. So our next show certainly falls under that heading. Proving that they have nothing up their sleeves, it’s The Naked Magicians, at Pleasance One at the Pleasance Courtyard, 60 Pleasance, at 22:30 on Tuesday 23rd. This is what the blurb has to say: “’It’s R-rated magic at its stunning best’ (TheGlobalGoddess.com). Following sold out shows and rave reviews in Australia, Asia, USA, Canada and New Zealand, the world’s funniest and naughtiest magic show The Naked Magicians is coming to Edinburgh! ‘They are hot, mind-blowing and seriously hilarious. Five stars!’ (Radio B105 FM, Brisbane). This boisterous R-rated magic show strips away the top hats and capes, promising full frontal illusions. Good magicians don’t need sleeves and great magicians don’t need pants. This show proves just that. ‘The most entertaining show of the year’ (AussieTheatre.com.au).”

Naked Magicians and bunnyI admit I’m just a little concerned at how the show will pan out – I hope it’s all done in the best possible taste, as Kenny Everett used to say! The magicians themselves are Christopher Wayne and Mike Tyler – I’m sure it will be a lot of fun, I just hope they don’t ask Mrs Chrisparkle to give them a hand with any of the tricks! Check back about 11:45 tonight to see if it would have made Sooty blush, and by then the preview blog for our final show this evening should be available to read too.

Post-show update:

I confess that the nearer this show got, the less I was looking forward to it; having been seriously embarrassed and irritated by the hen party mentality of the audience when we went to see The Full Monty. However, that was a proper play in a proper theatre, but this is a magic entertainment show with a twist. Not only were the audience simply out for having good natured fun, but the guys also performed the show with great style and humour. The magic is also pretty amazing, I’ve no idea how they did any of their tricks; and they also end up with a terrifically funny finale. This is a thoroughly good entertainment for…if not all the family, then by far the majority of them! 

Review – Jamie Raven Live, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 22nd June 2016

Jamie RavenI have a confession to make, gentle reader – it’s been three weeks since I last saw a live performance. I’m very sorry. It won’t happen again. To break my fast, I suggested to Mrs Chrisparkle that we might like to see Jamie Raven Live. Although, let’s face it, we wouldn’t want to see him dead. “Who’s he?” she asked. “I don’t actually know,” I replied, “but I believe he does magic.” Mrs C looked at me askance. She appreciates that I like magic but she can’t conceal her own sense of irritation at the genre. “Go on then…” she said, with all the enthusiasm of a vegan opening a leather factory.

Jamie Raven came to prominence – as he tells us early in the show – by coming second on Britain’s Got Talent to a three-legged dog. And people ask us why we don’t watch it? Anyway, within the first three minutes of last night’s show, anyone who didn’t know who Mr Raven was, had been fully informed, as we watched clips from his BGT appearance and the judges going wild about him. We know it was three minutes as a digital clock counted down to Mr R’s arrival on stage. “Well that’s one way of padding out three minutes of a show”, sighed Mrs C dubiously, already regretting her decision to give way on this one.

J RavenHowever, then on came Mr Raven and the rest of the show was…well…magic. After his first trick, Mrs C was staring at me incredulously with an I take it all back, this guy is brilliant look. The evening is a showcase of a terrific blend of large-scale tricks (illusions? Experiences? Stunts?) that fill the entire stage and also close-up sleight of hand with individual members of the audience that we can all see by use of a close hand-held cam. He performed some tricks with the couple directly to our right so we were able to observe very close up at first hand – and he completely baffled us. The whole show is just under two hours of surprise after shock after how did he do that. Actually, there was one trick that we felt we might have guessed how he did it – maybe… slightly… but we’d have to watch it again to confirm. And then we’d probably be wrong anyway.

There were two aspects to his act that really impressed us as being “different”. Most magicians I’ve seen (mainly on TV) are, to some extent, a bit of a smartarse (and I mean that kindly). The late Paul Daniels, for instance – brilliant magician – had a persona that was cocky and confident. My other current favourite magician, Pete Firman, tempers that big-headedness into a funny self-deprecation. Jamie Raven doesn’t bother with this at all. He is extremely respectful and polite, meeting all his victims/volunteers with “Hi, I’m Jamie, pleased to meet you” or “Hi, I’m Jamie, nice to see you”. He’s an entertainer who never feels the need to make any of his public who help him with the tricks feel remotely threatened or alarmed – in fact he dispenses several hugs with genuine sincerity – and I feel that’s a most refreshing change; all the gentlemanliness of David Nixon but with 21st century bite.

JRThe other impressive thing (apart from his brilliant magic) – and what made him particularly stand out for Mrs C – was how modern and accessible the act felt. When he gave us his version of putting someone in a box and then piercing it with endless swords, only for them to emerge at the end completely unharmed, he didn’t use a glamorous Debbie McGee-type assistant (nothing against her of course) but one of his ordinary backstage guys in a black t-shirt who did it straightforwardly as part of his job and without any posing at all. Another of his tricks was to shake one can of Coca Cola so that it would explode if you opened it and then hide it amongst several others as a game of Explosive Coke Roulette. No glamorous champagne effects – just every day and realistic props. Definitely magic for today’s era.

I could tell you all the tricks he did but I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise for you if you’re going to see the show. Suffice to say, they stunned us all into amazed appreciation. But I have a couple of observations. Now, I don’t know how magic works (and I kinda like it that way). Somehow, if a magician does magic, it works and it’s magic (obviously). If I tried to do magic, it would fail because I don’t know how to do the trick. It’s black or white – you can or you can’t. So what I really don’t understand is, how can a magician get a trick nearly right? For that’s what happened with one of Mr R’s items last night. Basically it’s a routine that takes the concept of coincidence, but where he shows over a course of coincidences how actually unlikely a coincidental outcome is (if that makes sense). Five members of the public, wearing five badges, on five chairs, with five different colour pens colouring in five different parts of a drawing. The odds on Mr R predicting the outcome are not in four, five or six figures but about fourteen figures if I remember rightly. But one small part of the prediction was wrong; one aspect of the coincidence didn’t arise. How can that be? Either it works or it doesn’t, right? This isn’t a criticism of Mr R – although you felt he was annoyed with himself for not getting it entirely right – but to me it’s absolutely fascinating; maybe magic isn’t black or white after all.

Jamie RAnd another thing. There’s always that suggestion that there might be plants in the audience. I think that feeling has probably died out over recent years but I remember my dad was always convinced that was how magic took place – and in other areas of entertainment, you only have to look at One Man Two Guvnors, for example, to realise the possibilities are endless. For his final trick, Mr R had already identified in advance one card from a new pack that members of the audience would randomly choose. To select three members of the audience, he threw a ball blindly into the crowd and the first person to catch it had to to stand up and say whether or not they wanted it to be a red card or a black card. As he was introducing this trick, I just knew he was going to throw it at me. I was in Row F of the stalls, close enough to be visible from stage – maybe – but not close enough to be easily involved in the show. But I sensed he caught my eye. I knew I was going to catch that ball. I even swapped my plastic glass of Shiraz from my right hand to my left in expectation of a catch. “I’m going to throw the ball in this general area of the audience” he said, as he waved in my general direction. Then he turned around and lobbed it over his head. Sure enough, it landed in my lap. I stood up. “What colour suit would you like to choose” he asked me. I told him. (I won’t say it here, because I don’t want to influence any future shows!) But sure enough, I chose either red or black – and then had to throw the ball randomly to someone else – and it was someone I didn’t know – and they then chose one of the two suits in that colour, and then they had to chuck the ball to someone else to give the card a value. I won’t tell you how the trick resolves itself, but I can absolutely guarantee that a) I had no previous contact with Mr R, nor b) the other people who picked up the ball, so c) our choice of card was completely 100% random. But I don’t think it was random on his part because I am absolutely certain he deliberately chose me to pick the colour. Why, I don’t know. But I am sure it wasn’t an accident. One of life’s great mysteries!

Jamie Raven LiveRefreshingly fun for all the family – there were loads of children in and they got a fair say in the action too. His tour continues through June and July and also in November, throughout England and also Jersey and Inverness. Fantastic entertainment – I absolutely loved the show. And Mrs C did too – so hopefully I now have a new convert to magic! You should definitely go!

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2015 – Card Ninja

Card NinjaTime for another mix of comedy and magic with Javier Jarquin’s Card Ninja show. Let’s read the blurb: “Back due to popular demand, multi award-winning comedian Javier Jarquin returns to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with Card Ninja, a riotous and dazzling display of comedy and card stunts. Following his journey from mild mannered card player to silent assassin using playing cards as weapons, Card Ninja is a one-man comedy show with upbeat humour and smooth audience interaction for anyone who’s ever wanted to be a little bit Ninja.”

Javier JarquinMrs Chrisparkle and I saw Mr Jarquin at one of our Screaming Blue Murder nights in Northampton and he was great entertainment – and, loving a bit of magic as I do, I vowed that we would try to see him again when he had his magician’s hat on. So this production, 15:45 at Sin (great name) on Cowgate, is the perfect opportunity. Hopefully after three quite meaty plays we’ll be ready for some sleight of hand hilarity. It’s not a long show, so check back around 4.30 to see if his magic is as good as his stand-up! The next preview blog will also be available to read too.

Update:

Amazing skill and loads of turtle power! Fast and funny and he’s lethal with those cards. Great fun for all the family. Ninja! 

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2015 – Piff the Magic Dragon – Breakfast at Piffany’s

Breakfast at Piffany'sSo I’m going to copy and paste from the first paragraph of my previous blog as it suits the same purpose, mutatis mutandis! OK so this is another of the productions that breaks my rule about only booking shows in Edinburgh that we can’t see back home in Northampton, because Piff the Magic Dragon has played our beloved theatre in the past and hopefully he will again – but we haven’t yet had the chance to see him, and Piff the Magic Dragon – Breakfast at Piffany’s fitted perfectly into our busy schedule, so it was a no-brainer!

Piff and PifflesGosh, writing blogs is a piece of cake. I remember seeing Piff on TV and I thought he was hilarious – it was on that programme where the magician had to fool Penn and Teller. I’m pretty sure Piff passed the test. I love his down-in-the-mouth sullen expression, like he’s really having the most miserable time. Here’s the promotional blurb: “What do Shania Twain, David Copperfield and Penn & Teller have in common? They’ve all had Breakfast at Piffany’s, and this year you can too. Direct from Las Vegas, Piff the Magic Dragon and Mr Piffles return to the Fringe with new tricks, old snacks and sweet, sweet prizes. ‘The right amount of wrong’ (Las Vegas Review Journal). ‘Jaw-dropping … An hour with Piff is priceless’ **** (List). ‘Piff the Magic Dragon steals the show. A stand out act’ (Metro). ‘A complete mastery of his craft’ (Scotsman).”

Piff Penn and TellerShamelessly lifted from his website, this tells you some more about the show: “Part magic show, part game show, part cry for help, Breakfast at Piffany’s sees Piff split the audience into teams to fight for points and prizes, and along the way witness incredible magic tricks, delicious snacks, surprise special guests and epic thumb wars.” Sounds – well – magic, really. The show starts at 22:40 at Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows, and I can’t wait. If you’re still up, check back around midnight for our instant reactions – and you can also find out how tomorrow morning’s shaping up for us.

Update:

Well I was advised earlier by a friend that Piff didn’t in fact fool Penn & Teller but it doesn’t matter much. He is a great magician and his sullen, deadpan act makes him the Jack Dee of the magic world. I found the structure of the show slightly annoying – being split into teams who gained points in the most random method, and at times the backing music was unbearably loud and distracting. But it’s all very funny and very clever, not to mention highly surreal. A very enjoyable way to end the day!