Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 26th October 2018

Screaming Blue MurderHurrah for another Screaming Blue Murder, and another episode in the continuing mystery saga, Would Dan Evans Get There On Time? Answer: No. This time there was a crash on the M1 which put a 25 minute delay onto his journey. I’m beginning to think The Gods of Comedy have got it in for him. And perhaps they have. Every so often you get a really weird Screaming Blue Murder; something about the dynamic in the audience that just doesn’t gel. This was one of those weeks. Firstly, they’d changed the staging so that it looked really showbiz. Black curtains in front of a lit-up, shimmering red curtain, to create a very glamorous effect. Not the usual cellar where the bodies are kept look that we’re accustomed to. Dan did his usual let’s meet the front row routine, and got on well with the ladies from the Danes Camp gym, and then he moved on to another couple (no names)… and that’s where it all got a bit difficult.

Dan EvansIt’s a bit bizarre to have to review the audience rather than the show, but to make sense of the evening, this particular Screaming Blue needs it. So, back to this couple; to be fair, he was fine. A cheery paper salesman whose answer to the problem of the diminishing need to buy paper because of the Internet was to “sell more paper”. Absolutely. She, however… I’m sure she’s a lovely person but she came across as a cross between Rosa Klebb and Lord Snooty. She sells people (her words) and lives in an “undisclosed location” and clearly looks down on Northampton. Normally the audience is quite happy to go along with the usual “What’s Northampton like?” “It’s sh*t” routine, but this time – no. “If you hate it, why don’t you leave then?” came an unexpected bellowing voice from behind. An audience silently quivered, not knowing where this was going. Dan continued with as much jollity as possible, but it wasn’t long before the voice came back with “Get her a lead”, which really was a bit much. If anyone had shouted that out about Mrs Chrisparkle, I would have stood up and demanded satisfaction with a duel in the car park. Instead, Dan turned to a couple of guys in the corner and tried to spark off them but they were as sullen as hell.

Luke ToulsonFirst up was Luke Toulson, who came on thanking Dan for putting us all at our ease and making his life easy! We’ve seen Mr Toulson twice before and he’s always good value. He’s done some of the material about collecting the kids from school before, but we loved his pretentious critiques of school plays, and the urge guys get to propose the higher from the ground they are. He ended with a great sequence about the one hour slot to deliver your sperm sample for testing and a great play on words about a medic’s wages. He was just what we needed to set the evening back on course.

Caroline MabeyNext was Caroline Mabey; we’ve also seen her before and, last time, frankly, she wasn’t very good. This time, well… she’s gutsy and has some good material but I still think she’s trying to be someone on stage that she isn’t. She reminded me very much of a younger Helen Lederer, with an act crammed full of self-deprecation; trouble is she doesn’t really get us on her side at the start of her act, so we end up just being onlookers rather than participators. I can see how it all would work perfectly on paper, but on stage it just doesn’t quite hold together. Mind you, the weird vibe of the evening certainly didn’t help.

Michael FabbriWhat the night needed was for the last act to bounce out, stamp their authority on us, and not let up until the final joke – and that’s exactly what Michael Fabbri did. We’ve never seen Mr Fabbri before and it’s been our loss. He uses his material and sharp delivery to take control without ever being aggressive or too laddish like some comics. There’s a fantastic sequence about spending the night in someone else’s hotel room, but his set was full of sideways looks at life and what I can only describe as inventive moments of ridiculousness. He was great, we’d love to see him again.

There are two more Screaming Blue Murders this year – hopefully they’ll run a little more smoothly than this one did. Alas, we are unable to attend either of them, so I hope you’ll go on our behalf.

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 12th October 2018

Screaming Blue MurderAnother Friday night, another sold-out Screaming Blue Murder comedy club night. Last time, our genial host Dan Evans never made it to Northampton as his old jalopy gave up the ghost at Milton Keynes, and Meryl O’Rourke bravely stepped up to the mark. But lightning never strikes twice, etc, so surely he’d be there on time this week….surely…. But a 45-minute delay on the trains meant we were denied the pleasure of Dan’s company until the first interval. I dunno…. beginning to get a complex here.

Joe WellsInstead it fell to opening act and all-round political comedian par excellence, Joe Wells, to act as his own MC warm up before delivering his own 20-minute slot. With Mr Wells, you’re in a very safe pair of hands. We’ve seen him twice in Edinburgh, where you have to queue early to be sure of getting in, such is his word-of-mouth success. Us Northampton comedy crowds aren’t known for our fondness for political comedy, so I did wonder a little how well he would go down. I needn’t have worried. His brilliant political observations, as well as the other gems in his act were as well received as I have ever seen any Northampton audience respond to political comedy. What I love about his material, and his delivery, is the way he swipes the comedic rug from under your feet and sends you hurtling in directions you never foresaw. And hats off to Mr Wells for being complimentary about Northampton. Quite right too.

Dan EvansAfter the first interval Dan finally emerged out of the murkiness that is London Northwestern Railway to give us a slightly belated warm up. He had his hands full with front-row Angie, ebullient and no inhibitions, and they were a pretty good match for each other. There was also Architect Nick with his plans for a million-pound rugby club in Towcester. We weren’t impressed. But we were all aghast at Dan’s tale of the delay at Wolverton station being punctuated by the sight and sound of a guy opposite him in the train clipping his nails; not discreetly into a free newspaper but proudly on to the floor. We all retched.

Susan MurrayNext up was someone we’ve also seen before a few times, Susan Murray – something of a Screaming Blue regular, this was the sixth time we’ve seen her here! She delivers a lot of great material based on accents – as she herself confesses, her Brummie voice isn’t an accent that goes skiing – and there’s a lot of mileage to be gained from her relationship with her strongly Glaswegian parents. She delivered a suitably savage put down to front-row Angie which hit home perfectly. Always very funny and quirky.

Stefano PaoliniOur headline act was someone completely new to us – although he’s been on the circuit for yonks – Stefano Paolini. He truly does have a gift for accents and vocal gymnastics, and we loved his “foreign languages in British regional accents” section, as well as his reminiscences of his interview with the school careers adviser, which were every bit as useless as mine was all those years ago. And he beatboxes – but not just in a show-off way like every other beatboxer, but integrating it into comedy routines which works a treat. He brought the house down and I’d definitely look out for him in the future.

Next Screaming Blue in two weeks’ time. Two questions – will you be there? And will Dan?

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 28th September 2018

Screaming Blue MurderBit of a weird Screaming Blue Murder this week! With an incredible line-up announced in advance, and not surprisingly sold out well before the night, there was only one thing that could go wrong… and that was our genial host Dan Evans being trapped halfway en route, on the motorway in a car that wouldn’t go! A few frantic calls hopefully got him safely home but not via Northampton, where he had a show to compere…! So Meryl O’Rourke, who was scheduled to be our opening act, ended up as MC.

Meryl O’RourkeWe’ve seen Ms O’Rourke a number of times before, both as an act and as a commère, and she’s always superb with jokes that involve vaginas and mingling with the crowd; sometimes literally, sometimes both at the same time. However, at first, her sudden change of role seemed to put her off course as she was no longer comfortable using her prepared material in her MC role. As a result, we were a little under-warmed-up for our first act. However, she made up for it after the interval with some brilliant material that had everyone in hysterics. So kudos to Meryl for sticking with it and coming up trumps!

Ian CognitoOur first act, therefore, was the person who I am sure was meant to be the headline act, which again was cause for a little discomfort – primarily on his part. It was the excellent Ian Cognito, who, despite telling us he’s never won any awards, was the recipient of the Screaming Blue Murder Chrisparkle Award for stand-up of the year in both 2015 and 2016. He did his usual faux-aggressive, rough diamond act, with blisteringly funny observations, many of which go so very near the knuckle. He seemed to find a kindred spirit in front-row Reg, the lorry driver, and he even gave him a Kit-Kat after the interval. Amongst his gems, we discovered a new definition of cockney, what’s got a hundred balls and f*cks rabbits, and a charming new sentiment to be tattooed as a tramp stamp. He’s an irresistibly funny man who never lets the energy drop. Because we had basically lost an act over the course of the evening, Mr C did quite a bit longer than his contracted twenty minutes – probably double. A true trooper indeed.

Robert WhiteOur second act, and by default our headline act, is someone else who always gives brilliant value entertainment, Robert White. Despite his very successful recent appearances on Britain’s Got Talent, he’s still the same, quirky, hilarious and ultimately terrifying comic, with his brilliant off-the-top-of-his-head song lyrics and saucy interplay with the guys in the audience. This time it was good old Reg who got up on to the stage to help Robert with his unique version of I’ll Do Anything. No matter how many times you see Mr White he never fails to render you helpless with laughter, and he was on terrific form.

Next Screaming Blue is on 12th October. Hopefully Dan’s car will be working again!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 14th September 2018

Screaming Blue MurderHurrah and Huzzah, it’s the return of Screaming Blue Murder! After those dark Friday evenings of the summer (well, they were quite light actually, but you get my meaning) where all you could do was to relax in the sunshine and fresh air, eat healthy salads and drink homemade fruit smoothies, it’s a welcome back to spending Friday nights in a dark, overheated cellar room at the Royal and Derngate, knocking back the vino collapso and enjoying the finest comedy on the circuit.

Dan EvansAnd it was a welcome back to our usual genial host, Dan Evans, who was on fine form as he set us all at our ease, including Ian who was celebrating his 57th birthday (youngster!) and the attractive young couple in the front row – it turned out that she was a trainee social worker specialising in child safeguarding, and he worked in recruitment for Help for Heroes, trying to get ex-forces people back into work. As you can imagine, the scope for taking the mick out of them was minimal!

James BranThis was one of those rare occasions when all three comedians were new to us. First up was James Bran, a likeable young chap with a rather cerebral approach to his comedy, which we both appreciated. He had some good material about living in the technological age and a great story about dealing with those “have you been involved in an accident” calls. He built up a nice confident rapport with the audience, and, whilst it was never wet-your-pants hilarious, it was intelligent, well structured, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Rob KempOur next performer, and a change to the original line-up, was Rob Kemp. He’s another really likeable performer with tons of zest and a really positive approach to his act. He’s clearly naturally a very funny guy but his material is more than somewhat on the eclectic side. He started to lose us (and he knew full well this was happening) when he tackled what I’m sure was a very clever parody of the 1982 movie The Thing. However, unless you’re really au fait with the film – and I reckon 99% of us weren’t – so much of it went over our heads. It was a shame because you could tell there was so much preparatory work that went into his act but sadly a lot of it was wasted on us! So although he largely missed the mark, he was still strangely admirable!

Sean MeoOur headline act was Sean Meo, a former professional snooker player but that was some time ago and does not feature in his act. He has quite a dour, semi-aggressive persona, and he spends his act constantly walking from side to side across the stage, like a frustrated caged tiger. His material is devastatingly funny, but not for everyone; he opened with some brilliantly comic observations about ISIS, at which one member of the audience took offence, shouted out “you should be ashamed of yourself” and stormed out. I can completely understand that; if your son had died in Helmand Province, for example, you’re unlikely to find that kind of stuff funny. However, Mr Meo simply carried on, making the observation that she made the mistake of taking it seriously, and to his absolute credit, it didn’t affect the comedy flow in any way. The best way I can describe his entire set is as being superbly offensive – I’m sure you’ve got the idea. His timing is immaculate, his delivery sure-fire. You have complete confidence in his ability to hit the comedy nail on the head again and again. We thought he was fantastic, and would definitely seek him out again.

As always, a fabulous night of comedy, with a sell-out audience. Next one is in two weeks’ time. Will you be there?

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 – 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 – 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!