Review – Sand in the Sandwiches, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 25th May 2017

Sand in the Sandwiches I’ve always been a fan of John Betjeman. My earliest recollections of him are his TV interviews with Michael Parkinson, where he would come across as slightly bumbling, endearing like a favourite uncle, and with a wicked sense of humour. My big connection with him came with his TV film of Metroland. I went to Merchant Taylors’ school, in the heart of that mythical metropolitan county, and remember seeing the film crew at Moor Park station coming to record a sequence of him playing golf and watching the security guard refuse entry to a driver who just wanted to cut through the estate (after all, it was private!) He also filmed in Amersham, where I had many friends, and his Metroland journey ended up north of Aylesbury, where the train ran no more, at the little halt known as Quainton Road Station. That’s now a tourist attraction where Thomas the Tank Engine often comes to entertain, and I don’t know what Betjeman would have made of that.

SITSBetjeman played by Edward Fox? An interesting concept. Like Betjeman, Edward Fox often cuts a larger than life figure on stage, making full use of his extraordinary voice with which he can make magic. His sonorous loquaciousness swirls around his throat like a 20-year-old Tawny coating the sides of an antique cut glass. He can stretch out a sentence, a phrase, even a word, so that it lasts so much longer than it would appear on a page, giving your brain uninterrupted opportunity to appreciate its full significance. I first saw Mr Fox on stage back in 1979 in Michael Elliott’s gripping production of T S Eliot’s The Family Reunion – he was every inch a star then and it has not diminished one iota since.

Edward Fox in SITSBut as Betjeman? Betjeman didn’t sound like Edward Fox. He had quite a thin voice, somewhat tentative and lacking authority; the voice of the quiet, unassuming man that I believe Betjeman truly was. I always thought of Betjeman reading his own work as like listening to someone observing life from the sidelines, rather than participating in it. He would obsess on minor details in the background, and allow the reader/listener to fill in the gaps. But here’s the thing – Sand in the Sandwiches works absolutely! Mr Fox’s Betjeman acquires the patina of age; he is a more rounded personality, not bumbling but resolute. Moreover, Betjeman’s poetry responds beautifully to his interpretation. Miss Joan Hunter Dunn has never been so physically relished as she is in Mr Fox’s eyes; Oscar Wilde has never been so firmly removed from the Cadogan Hotel.

E Fox in SITSHugh Whitemore has taken a number of Betjeman’s works – both popular and less well-known – and woven them seamlessly into a sequential narration of important events in Betjeman’s life, to create this charming and insightful one-man play. There are his well-documented days at Marlborough, and vivid recollections of friends like W H Auden and Tom Driberg; there are also the private experiences like the extraordinary day when his train stopped for ages at the station nearest to his father’s office, and he wondered whether he should visit him. It’s not all whisperingly reverent either. When Mr Fox tells us how it is decided he should address his new father-in-law, or Churchill’s reaction to Driberg’s marriage, or his own reaction to the Manchester Guardian’s opinion of his becoming Poet Laureate, he has us in stitches.

Sir John BetjemanI thought this play could go one of two ways – it would either be serenely terrific, or it would be po-faced and dull. I’m delighted to tell you there’s nothing remotely po-faced nor dull about it. Mr Fox holds your attention from the very start to the very end; his delivery is intricate and exquisite; if he left a long gap of silence, you wouldn’t dare try to fill it. A surprise hit; after its few days in Northampton, the show has a week at the Theatre Royal Haymarket followed by visits to Cambridge, Malvern, Woking, Brighton and Bath. If you’re a fan of Betjeman, you’ll adore the reminiscences and the chance to hear his words again. If you’re a fan of Edward Fox, you’ll wallow in his effortless skill at bringing these words to life. Highly recommended!

Review – Tez Ilyas, Made in Britain, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 20th May 2017

Made in BritainWe have a specific spot we like to sit for the comedy shows at the Underground, gentle reader. They normally have two banks of chairs – three or four rows at the front, then a gap, then the seats at the back. I like to take the back row of the front bank – and sit on the aisle – that way you’re close enough to the action to feel involved but sufficiently far away not to get roped in. Usually. Imagine my disappointment on entering the Underground for Saturday night’s Tez Ilyas show to discover the front bank of chairs was just one row deep. A front row glistening in glamorous isolation. No chance. We instinctively sat on the front row of the back seats. No one sat in front of us.

Enter Mr Ilyas for his welcoming introduction. I knew what he was going to say. Our seating positions as a group were not acceptable. He said he’d turn his back and count from 1 – 10 in Urdu and when he turned around he expected everyone to have moved one row forward. He did so. And so did we! It was a very nice start to our audience/performer relationship: he delivered, we responded. One thing though – it meant we were catapulted to the front row. Dang my breeches!

Tez-Test-Card-We saw Tez when he did Screaming Blue Murder here last October, when he mistook Northampton for Peterborough (ouch!) and then slagged off our cricket team (double ouch!!) – and it’s fascinating to discover that he remembered those schoolboy errors, as though they keep coming back like a nightmare. I reckon Mr I probably keeps a collection of his faux pas in a box under the stairs and takes them out every so often for a happy reminisce – he strikes me as that kind of guy.

But that’s probably at the heart of why his stand-up is so endearing. He comes across as just a regular guy; no airs or graces, no persona he’s hiding behind – just the real him and as a result you feel as though you really understand him and his life after an hour and a half in his presence. Most other comedians I’ve seen and enjoyed weave imaginary material into their real-life experience to create a funnier version of the truth. But you get the feeling that absolutely everything Mr I says is the truth, and nothing but. Even if it isn’t, and he’s pulling the wool over our eyes, that’s a real gift.

TezI use the word “welcoming” in the second paragraph in two ways; first, it was a general welcome as we’d just arrived, none of us had met and he was being polite and offering the comic equivalent of canapes and cocktails. (No cocktails; alcohol has never passed his lips. Well, almost never…) But his style is also welcoming; he doesn’t ever make you feel uncomfortable, even when he’s talking directly to you (who’s my MP? What am I drinking? What’s my favourite Disney film? Where do I rank ISIS on the scale of despicability? I confessed all) You imagine at home he’d be the most gracious host. He seems genuinely chuffed that we came out to see him.

guz-khanAfter he’d got us at our ease – and we’d played musical chairs – he introduced us to his support act, the fantastic Guz Khan. We’d seen Mr Khan with Johnny Vegas at the Leicester Comedy Festival earlier in the year and he’s a revelation. An ex-teacher, you know with that commanding presence the kids would have sat up and listened (well, I would have). He has brilliant material harking back to his school teaching days; but also really clever edgy observations such as the surprise use for a WhatsApp group and also his unconditional love for all his children. Mrs Chrisparkle and I were genuinely delighted when we realised he was coming on, and he went down a storm. Even if he did say I laughed like Jimmy Savile. (I don’t.)

tez-ilyas-againThe second part of the show was solo Tez, taking us through his life and experiences and opening up a whole new understanding between different racial backgrounds and cultural practices – but underlining that we’re all Made in Britain. He plays with his name; we are his Tezbians, even though at home he is not Tehzeeb; he said it meant the Scourge of Beelzebub or something like that but I Googled it and what he didn’t say is that it’s a girl’s name, so no wonder. He has telling, competitive material about not being mistaken for an Indian – catering industry observations aside. He points out the nonsense (that I’d never considered) that the Jungle Book characters are all voiced with classical western accents (viz. “Shere Khan: How delightful”) – how stupid is that? He talks about his unlikely but ultimately disappointing experience with Tinder and I absolutely get where he’s coming from. And there’s so much more. Primarily you come away with an understanding of how the openly Asian Tez has precisely the same aspirations, foibles and concerns as anyone else – including that tricky subject of how you refer to another race. Personally, I really don’t like the phrase “people of colour” because we’ve all got a colour of sorts, so what the hell does that mean? Tez has his own observations on this and some rather delectably embarrassing examples. But I’m not going to tell you about all his material because a) I can’t remember it, b) it’s not mine to tell and c) it’ll ruin it for the rest of you. Trust me though that the time flies by.

Very likeable, very funny and with instantly recognisable observations about how we all rub along together – or not. Truly the comedy of revelation; you may well come out of this show a different person from the one who went in, and there is no finer compliment I can pay to a performer! There are only a few more dates left in his tour but he’s got a new show coming up in Edinburgh this summer and I’m pretty sure we’ll be catching it. Highly recommended!

Review – The Grapes of Wrath, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 16th May 2017

The Grapes of WrathI bought Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (intimidatingly big fat book) and Of Mice and Men (welcomingly slim volume) when I was 16 with the intention of improving my mind, and let’s face it, it needed a helluva lot of improvement. At the time I found novels really hard going, so these were always going to be a challenge. They went with me everywhere; I took them to university; I took them to my second university (yeah, I know, you wouldn’t credit it); I took them to my first flat; my first house; my second house; my third house; and when it came to moving yet again, this time we had to downsize and a lot of my books got taken to charity shops. The Grapes of Wrath was one such sacrifice. And I confess, gentle reader, in all that time I never read it. I’ve still never read Of Mice and Men either, but that’s easier to accommodate.

Time to leave OklahomaStill, I’ve read the synopsis on Wikipedia, so that’s a start; and I can confirm that Frank Galati’s stage version, that ran for 188 performances on Broadway in 1990, is very faithful to the original book. It’s a massive tale, overflowing with pathos, with powerful themes of tolerance, injustice, and loyalty; it’s an environment where banks evict you from your property through no fault of your own, you’re lucky if you can get a zero hours contract and where fat cats grow fatter by exploiting the weakest of society. Thus it’s still incredibly relevant for our own time. There’s a large cast of distinctive characters whose dilemmas and reactions intrigue and surprise you. Put all that into a stage adaptation and it’s got to be great, hasn’t it? Hasn’t it?

Saw startI have to be honest to one of my theatrical mantras which is that I’d prefer to see a brave failure than a lazy success. I love to be challenged in the theatre by off the wall ideas that may not work but you can see how the creative team were maybe trying to subvert material, or question responses. Even if at the end of the day it doesn’t work, it’s much more rewarding than a bland drawing room comedy just phoned in by a complacent cast.

Grandpa being difficultThis, however, is something completely different. It’s theatre, Jim, but not as we know it. I ask myself if director Abbey Wright is trying to obstruct us from simple story-telling, because so much of what happens on stage really gets in the way of the plot. The play opens to a man playing a saw like a cello. To be fair, he does it expertly. The note he plays gets taken up by other members of the band, and it’s just minutely off-key. That sets the tone for the rest of the performance. Discordant, random music that doesn’t in any way please the ear bursts in when you don’t expect or want it. The car salesmen are ludicrously represented by three of the cast on adjustable aluminium stilts. The boy, whose father is dying in the final scene, is wearing a Superman outfit. Another of the nameless travellers the Joad family encounter on the way to California is wearing a T-shirt with the legend “Are we there yet?” (Is that meant to be funny?) and yet another, who’s in charge of one of the camps, is wearing a high vis jacket, very 1930s. The hordes of people all hoping for a better life are standing silently still within a screen looking for all the world like The Girl with all the Gifts’ Hungries, only better dressed. In a scene I found excruciatingly embarrassing, the cast members all perform a ridiculous dance routine, marked by stylised jerky movements and to what purpose? Simply because they could?

Camp tensionImportant scenes take place on a terribly lit stage so you can barely work out who is talking to whom. Perhaps worst of all, the final, moving, image of the dying man being nursed by Rose of Sharon is totally ruined by the clunking of the movement of the set back into position. Surely there could have been some way to avoid this? It was like a phone going off at the vital moment in a funeral. The production is absolutely crammed with these bizarre, jarring intrusions, so I can only assume this is a deliberate form of unsettling the audience, as if the simple story of the Joad family wasn’t unsettling enough. In fact, I feel the production does not give the Joads and their acquaintances the respect they deserve.

Does this look like a helpful stagingAn additional side-effect of the terrible situation they find themselves in, is that the characters are, for the most part, beaten by life, destroyed by circumstances; and, unsurprisingly this knocks the wind out of their sails. The cast convey this devastation very accurately by constantly talking in monotone; and, as a result, it is literally monotonous to watch. There’s very little flexibility to their vocal range – they’re down at mouth and down at voice too. There’s only one scene where there’s any real sense of life, and that’s where Tom, Al and Noah go swimming in the river – admittedly a very nice piece of stagecraft, and you may get splashed in the first three rows.

CasyThere was also a strange disconnect between some of the actors – as though they had rehearsed their speeches alone, independently, and this was the first time they had met and put their lines together. With a few notable exceptions, it very much felt like “A: It is a tough life we have here.” (Pause – over to you, B ) “B: Yes, you are right, extremely tough, don’t you agree, C?” (Pause – expectant look at C) “C: You took the words out of my mouth, B.” And so on. Exceptions to this were a beautiful, thoughtful, flowing performance by Julia Swift as Ma, straining to keep the family together at all cost, and a delightfully wry performance by Brendan Charleson as Casy, the preacher who took the benefits of his position but has now moved on. Daniel Booroff, also, gave some refreshing quirkiness to his characters of Noah and Jim Rawley at Weedpatch.

DanceA compelling tale of human determination done a grave disservice by a clumsy, clunky production. Mrs Chrisparkle wondered if it hadn’t had time to “bed in” yet, but it’s already been to Southampton, Nottingham and West Yorkshire Playhouse, let alone being in its final week in Northampton, so it can’t be that. A brave failure? I’m not sure. I just didn’t get the vision behind the production at all; and of all the 50-odd Made in Northampton plays I’ve seen over the last eight years this is the most “amateur” in the pejorative sense of the word. Gives me no pleasure at all to say that!

Review – Christian Kluxen Conducts Tchaikovsky, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 14th May 2017

Christian Kluxen Conducts TchaikovskyTime for us to welcome back the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra once again for an evening of Italian, German and Russian music. Our conductor for this concert was the exuberant Christian Kluxen, one of those guys who really gets behind the music and cajoles every nuance out of the orchestra with every flex of his body. We’d not had the pleasure of Mr Kluxen’s company before, so I can only assume the photo on the programme is a little out of date; since then he has grown a full hipster beard so that he now resembles the Fred Sirieix of the Classical Scene.

Christian Kluxen They weren’t accepting interval orders at the bar (sigh) which can only mean one thing – a short first half. Our first piece of music was the famous William Tell overture by Rossini, with its irredeemably nostalgic final movement that reminds patrons of a certain age of the Lone Ranger. It’s easy though to forget the three other sequences that lead up to the finale, with its beautiful dawn opening – fantastic work by the cellos, the dazzling thunderstorm that follows, and the pastoral calm of the third part. But the final section must break through and does so almost before the pastoral has finished, and from there on it’s guns-ablazin’ and horses at the gallop. A delightful way to open the concert and the orchestra absolutely had it nailed.

Martin RoscoeNext was Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No 1 in G Minor, Op. 25. A piano soloist on the programme always causes a hiatus as the violins have to scatter to make way for the Steinway to be wheeled on. Meanwhile, the displaced musicians huddle round the back of the stage like they’re sneaking a fag break. It’s a very bizarre sight, but I guess there is no alternative. Enter Martin Roscoe on stage, an unshowy, quiet looking man with a sensible attitude to sheet music (i.e. he has it on display and continually looks at it) but who nevertheless unleashes passion at the keyboard when it’s required. The concerto is full of stunning tunes that Mr Roscoe hones and cares for as he coaxes them off the keys, and he is a true master of his instrument.

Because it is a short piece (and that is why we couldn’t pre-order interval drinks) Mr Roscoe took pity on the assembled crowd and gave us an encore: June, from Tchaikovsky’s Seasons, to whet our appetite for the second half symphony. I’d never heard this before and thought it was absolutely sublime. A simple, haunting barcarolle, I’m going to have to add it to my collection of classical CDs.

RPOAfter the interval (yes we did get our drinks) we returned for Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 6 (Pathétique). It’s a bold, exciting work with a number of themes that everyone recognises, that build to a dramatic climax. Most people thought the end of the third movement heralded the end of the symphony and started some rapturous applause; but no, the twist in the tale is that there’s a fourth and final movement that disconcertingly trades down from the triumph of the previous movement and ends not with a bang but a whimper. Such a mournful end will always be associated with the fact that Tchaikovsky himself died only nine days after conducting its debut performance. Those last few notes of the symphony were played so movingly by the RPO that the audience was stunned into silence, not wishing to break the moment by applauding. I think we were in a shared state of shock. A fantastic performance by the Royal Philharmonic that has made me go back to my recordings to listen again to some of these pieces and to want to explore anew – and I don’t think there can be any finer recommendation to a concert than that!

The RPO will be back in June with some more Mendelssohn and Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony – should be a blinder!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 12th May 2017

Dan Evans‘Twas the night before Eurovision, and all through the house not a creature was stirring, because we’d all gone out to the Screaming Blue Murder comedy club. Our genial host Dan Evans was on cracking form as usual, sparring ever-so-gently with the people from TCL Landscaping, a 40-year-old birthday boy, a Jumbo-sized guy who dwarfed everyone around him – and Kate. Dan tried to rope Kate into a bit of banter but she wasn’t having any of it. But she didn’t just go coy and sheepish, she went on the offensive and all it went a bit Pete Tong. Sit anywhere near the front in a comedy club and you might end up part of the action. Dem’s de rules. Never mind, better luck next fortnight.

Debra Jane ApplebyOur first act was Debra-Jane Appleby, quite a posh name for someone who isn’t really that posh. We’d seen her here six years ago (gasp!) where she was our commère for the evening. This time we got to see her act and there’s no doubt about it, she’s really funny. She had some brilliant bits of business – like the visual image of your entitlement to a pension getting further and further away, and her material about trying to be gay because you don’t know until you’ve tried it. She’s also great with addressing her weight issues, in which capacity I can definitely feel her pain. A fab start to the evening.

Bobby MairNext up was Bobby Mair, new to us, and once seen never forgotten. A wonderfully warped sense of humour, he delivers his material as though he was your local friendly psychopath. He’s the kind of guy you can trust to say the wrong thing at a funeral. Indeed – he picked one guy at random from the audience and empathised that if his wife were to die, the benefit of it would be that he could at least f*ck a stranger. I loved his material about music festivals and their similarity to refugee camps; but he’s the kind of comic who keeps the material coming at irregular intervals which in itself unsettles you and pulls you up short with a devastating punchline out of the blue. I can say no more. Utterly brilliant.

Christian ReillyOur headline act was Christian Reilly, whom we’ve seen many times before and always puts on a tremendous show of musical comedy, parodying styles and performers, changing their lyrics and always for the better! His Bryan Ferry material was absolutely hilarious and as for his Donald Trump sequence… well yes indeed. He has just the right level of attack and he went down an absolute storm.

Three fantastic acts this week! One more Screaming Blue on 26th May before it hibernates for the summer. You should come!

Review – The Addams Family, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 10th May 2017

The Addams FamilyWhen you think back to The Addams Family, in what year, would you say, did they first appear? No Googling now. No, you’re wrong. They actually first appeared in print cartoon form way back in 1938. The TV series started in 1964 – the very same week that “rivals” The Munsters started; The Addams Family beat them by six days. Since then, we’ve all more or less forgotten about the Munsters. But The Addams Family has been kept alive by a series of films, and in 2010 this stage musical appeared on Broadway, where it did pretty well, running for twenty months. Since then it’s toured all over the world, but this production, by those nice people at Music and Lyrics, is the first time it’s hit the UK.

The castIt’s a fairly simple, and maybe surprisingly moral, story. The Addams Family, who delight in the ghoulish, and wear the macabre on their sleeve as though it were from Tiffany’s, are having their annual meeting of their ghostly ancestors because that’s what happens when you’re an Addams. Young Wednesday Addams has been seeing a “normal” boy – Lucas – and they want to get married, but Wednesday knows her parents are going to be a problem. Lucas and his parents are coming around for dinner, in the hope that they all get along swimmingly so that Wednesday and Lucas can announce their engagement. Unknown to the rest of the family, Uncle Fester has refused to let the ghostly ancestors (remember them?) depart back into their own world until they help him ensure that Wednesday and Lucas get married. Lucas’ dad is an intolerant Conservative (with a Large C) and his mum is a mousey little thing and they’re both way out of their comfort zone at the Addams Family estate. Gomez really only wants to see Wednesday happy, but will Morticia come to terms with a) her daughter marrying a “normal” boy and b) the family withholding secrets from her?

Gomez and MorticiaNo question, this is a terrific production. It looks thoroughly gorgeous. The costumes, the lighting, the set are all totally spot on. The way the cast have been dressed and made up to look like the original characters is absolutely extraordinary. It’s like the 60s never went away. Alistair David’s choreography is slick and evocative; Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s book (they also wrote Jersey Boys) is funny and smart – although I thought our audience on Wednesday evening responded fairly feebly to it, at times I thought it was only Mrs Chrisparkle and me who were understanding the jokes! Andrew Hilton and his eight-piece orchestra filled the theatre with rich, solid, lively sounds. Andrew Lippa’s score includes a few great show toons – Full Disclosure, Just Around the Corner, Happy Sad, and (my favourite) Crazier Than You.

Morticia and the spiritsAbove all, every member of the cast absolutely gives it everything they’ve got. Cameron Blakely’s Gomez is riveting throughout. Chucking every Flamenco/Spanish idiosyncrasy at it that he can, his physical comedy is brilliant and his range of vocal expressions are just hilarious. He’s a perfect blend of caring family man and total smartarse. I’ve seen Mr Blakely a couple of times before and he has rather specialised in being the best thing in some iffy productions, so it’s great to see him leading a total success for a change! Samantha Womack is also brilliant as Morticia, absolutely capturing that elegant but mournful look, delivering all the comic material with a knowing charm, and of course she absolutely excels in the musical numbers. I’m still upset that she doesn’t include her Eurovision appearance in her programme bio, though; you really shouldn’t be ashamed of being chosen to represent your country. Carrie Hope Fletcher is superb as the lovelorn Wednesday, coming to terms with becoming a woman yet still wanting to torture your kid brother; and Les Dennis is totally unrecognisable – and extremely convincing – as Uncle Fester, part narrator, part moral guide, part weirdo.

Grandma and FesterDale Rapley – the excellent Horace Vandergelder to Janie Dee’s Hello Dolly a few years ago – is delightfully pigheaded as the very Ohio Mal Beineke, and Charlotte Page’s Alice Beineke is a wonderful creation; the talking Hallmark greeting card who regains her mojo in a subplot that owes a lot to Rocky Horror. Dickon Gough cuts an immaculately gloomy figure as the grunting Lurch (one of the best curtain call moments for a long time), Grant McIntyre conveys a splendidly spoilt Pugsley, Valda Aviks a suitably batty Grandma and Oliver Ormson stands out as the one and only uncomplicated character as the somewhat hopeless and hapless Lucas.

Fester, Morticia, Pugsley and WednesdayCriticisms? If you think about it, the ghostly ancestors play absolutely no dramatic role at all, although they do serve as a background chorus line to pad out the big numbers. And I really didn’t understand Fester’s obsession with the Moon. I sensed that I should have enjoyed his romantic number with this celestial being much more than I did, and that his final departure was probably meant to be hysterical – it passed me by, I’m afraid. Still, none of that gets in the way of a very enjoyable night out. We’re not talking serious messages here; there are no social issues to get your teeth into on the way back home. Just straightforward entertainment, expertly done. The tour visits every part of the UK between now and November, and it’s a fun, family show you’d be hard-pressed not to enjoy.

Production photos by Matt Martin

Review – Stuart Goldsmith, Compared to What, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 5th May 2017

Compared to whatWe’ve seen Stuart Goldsmith a few times now, twice as part of a Screaming Blue Murder line-up, once doing his hour-long show entitled, appropriately, An Hour; and even as one of Rob Deering’s guests in an Edinburgh edition of Beat This. Seeing him on that show made me realise that, nice guy though he may be, he has a competitive streak in him that you wouldn’t want to challenge. (Unless you were even more competitive, of course.) He does actually seem to grow nicer and nicer as the years mellow him; much of his excellent current material centres on finally becoming a dad at the age of 39 (that’s his age, not his son’s) and his genuine love of his new status radiates from every punchline. By the time he retires, he’s probably going to have become a national treasure.

He gets a great rapport going with the audience from the very start but, be not afraid, he’s not the kind of comic who ropes in “victims” throughout the whole of his routine. It’s relatively safe to sit near the front and not be picked on – well maybe just a little bit. Of course, if you pick on yourself… like the lady who heckled his first sentence with an observation about his online biography, then, yes, as they very nearly say in Chicago, she had it coming. Mr Goldsmith’s natural authority lets you know simply – but firmly – that he’s in charge, and all the audience has to do is laugh.

Stuart GoldsmithIt’s carefully scripted, but he’s not a slave to his material; inventively setting up a few ideas as he progresses, to which he can return from a different angle towards the end. He even highlights one of these at the beginning; he tells you he’s going to save the life of a tiny kitten just at the part of the show where he worries he might be perceived unfavourably. You laugh; you then forget about it; and then about 90% of the way through the show he just makes a slightly dark suggestion, pauses, and on comes the kitten. It’s a delightful way of emphasising both the slightly dark material and the fact that he wants to come across as A Nice Guy, so puncturing the dark material at the same time.

Other very funny highlights from his material involve the fun you can have with an Airbnb booking (naughty Alfredo!) and the comparison between living somewhere hectic and rat-racey – like the centre of London where life is to be lived– and somewhere peaceful and relaxing, like the goddam middle of nowhere, where life is meant to be snoozed through. Mr Goldsmith has now been tricked into moving to the back of beyond by his partner, provocatively becoming pregnant so that he had to live where she wanted. The sacrifices us men have to make, honestly. Having been bored to tears in the country before succumbing to the metropolitan madness of Northampton, I feel his pain.

Stuart GAs with last time, his material lasts approximately an hour, so, after an interval, we come back and Mr G gives us some work-in-progress ideas to see if they raise a chuckle. He took this opportunity last year to give us lots of new baby material, much of which, at the time, I thought, missed the mark a bit; but now we can see that he’s turned it into the great show that we’d seen earlier on. Just goes to prove that you can never really tell how new material’s going to develop. I must say, his wip ideas are absolutely cracking and we had easily as much fun in the second half as in the first. I loved the insider information segment, which includes how a fireman tackles a blaze; and a hilarious sequence when he compares the hands-on attitude of American cops to their British counterparts – having worked in enforcement in my younger days, I agree with this wholeheartedly! There are also the surprise benefits of suggesting you might not be 100% heterosexual, and some fascinating questions with a lady in the front row who was a full time Youtuber – you’ve never felt an audience instantly grow so jealous of someone they’d never met!

Stuart Goldsmith’s tour continues for the rest of the month before enjoying a week at the Soho Theatre London. Effortless, excellent humour; and he saves a kitten, what more could you want?