Comedy Reviews

JULIET MEYERS: THIS FLIPPING RESCUE DOG HAS RUINED MY LIFE - Juliet Meyers

The Underground venue at the Old Clubhouse was a complete sell-out. The audience of around 50 people, mainly dog lovers, had come to see Homer, the rescue dog and his human partner.

This was Juliet Meyers, who has been a talented stand-up storyteller for the past 20 years. She kept us spellbound by her amusing tale of their first meeting at the dog rescue centre. Homer wasn’t her first choice, she inspected other canines of differing breeds, but there was an attraction between the nervous golden canine and his future owner.

The poor dog was trembling and not as pretty as some of the others, also, he had a Portuguese background, so initially found difficulty in understanding English commands. This didn’t detract from their relationship and the pair soon bonded and now he follows Juliet around with obvious unconditional love.

Homer was with us for the entire show. He initially toured round the audience. This was apparently his way of doggedly saying “Hello” but, as most dog owners suspected, also finding out whether anyone had a doggy treat in their pockets. Eventually, he returned to the stage, having given up the search, sighed and lay down while Juliet held our attention with her excellent hour-long, humorous and descriptive account of their adventures and Homer’s doggy exploits, which ranged from peeing on the carpet and sniffing other dogs’ bottoms, to unfailing obedience and an immediate reaction to the word “sit”, when tempted with edible treats.

Juliet kept us enthralled by narrating the pair’s exploits and also by sharing her amusement at some other dog owners, who use dogs as substitute children, to the extent of even dressing alike in matching coats and hats! Turning to the pampered pooches at Crufts dog show, she was amazed that the judges even felt the dogs’ testicles, so if they (the dogs, not the judges) had been neutered, false ones were stuck on!

This was word perfect stand-up as it should be. Thank you Juliet, the audience loved you both,

Jackie Corrigan

CHARMIAN HUGHES: SOIXANTE MIRTH - Charmian Hughes

What do you do when you reach sixty and start to look back on your life and what you have and haven’t achieved? You write a stand up show called (‘soixante mirth’ - geddit?) of course. Well, if you are Charmian Hughes you do.

It takes courage as a mature woman to stand exposed in front of an audience wearing only a dress made from curtains opening up about missed dreams. Charmian uses the trick of summoning up her past self at 10 years, 14 and 23 to discuss one to one what went wrong. How could she ‘forget’ to have a pony? Why did she not get that handsome boyfriend? How could she sell out, marry a conventional man and accept the domestic life?

Charmian had the mixed audience on her side from the start and the older members laughed in recognition about the subject she and all girls took to prepare for womanhood. An O’level in being married called ‘Domestic Science’. This, she reminisced, was a ‘science’ and so took place in a laboratory. Strangely the laboratory looked like a kitchen. ‘O’ levels, she explained for the benefit of the younger audience members, were like GCSE’s but with joined up writing.

The encounter with herself at different times of her life led Charmian to ask, ‘Who am I really?’. Quite a profound question as we can all look back and remember past hopes, however naive and unrealistic. We really are different people now from the ones we were before. Supporting Charmain’s recollections were diaries and even novels – apparently authentic – that she had written as a girl which she quoted from. Early in the show we are given the key to happiness: ‘accept what you know will not happen’, which in Charmian’s case included missing out on being a supermodel.

Part of the audience on this wet Buxton night were doubled with laughter for a large part of the show while others wore wry smiles and nodded in recognition. It would have been interesting to study the audience to see how the response was age related. In any case there was something for everybody here not just for Charmain’s contemporaries. There was a strong finish from Charmian singing a song in ‘franglais’ which she had prepared to greet her hosts on an exchange visit to France. It was a variation on ‘Je t’aime’.

There is one more performance on 22nd July which is earlier at 9:30pm (you can always watch Casualty on iPlayer) and of course the weather will be less wet.

Brian Kirman

TWONKEY'S CHRISTMAS IN THE JUNGLE - Mr Twonkey aka Paul Vickers

I saw Mumbo Jumbo Hotel at last year’s Fringe so I was pleased to see another Twonkey show in this year’s programme and I did enjoy Christmas in The Jungle, set in the depths of Peru in July.

This isn’t the easiest show to describe, and for once this reviewer was lost for words. Zany? Bizarre? Surreal? Although the show contains references to cannibalism and knickers, the best description I could think of for Mr Twonkey is a children’s entertainer who has gone off the rails. One whose CRB check would make interesting reading.

The show involves an enormous variety of props and costumes, sound and lighting effects and a lot of puppetry. Mr Twonkey also sings a number of songs and has a splendid voice with the occasional touch of Elvis. There’s never a dull moment in this fast-paced show.

So what’s the show about? Well, it’s an intricate story and my attention span is slightly impaired after 18 days of Buxton Fringe. I can’t say I followed every bit of it, but that’s not Mr Twonkey’s fault. Let’s just say after all sorts of adventures it works out well in the end.

There’s one more chance to see Mr Twonkey: Today (Saturday 22nd) 5.30pm at the Old Clubhouse. I guarantee you’ll leave with a smile on your face, it might be a confused or bewildered smile, but it’s still a smile and that’s what matters!

Sam Slide

BRAIN RINSE, PUPPETRY OF THE AUDIENCE - Mike Raffone

Mike Raffone has come in off the streets to entertain you so the least you can do is show up!

After 30 years of performing interactive comedy in street theatre shows, he is the consummate pro and I guarantee you will be in safe hands if you turn up to the hilarious Brain Rinse - even if at times you may well smell a whiff of danger!

Despite some tireless publicity efforts including a stint with the Fringe’s carnival float on one of the hottest days of the year, Mike found himself faced with an audience of just five at his first show last night. It is a tribute to his comedic talent (and I must admit, possibly ours too) that he managed to create such a party atmosphere with so few of us.

It is a good idea to have a drink before hand and also to rustle up some friends before coming along, but rest assured, though interaction is very much part of it, if you really don’t want to go on stage you won’t be made to. With five of us, let’s just say we were all an integral part of the action as we took part in a succession of mad TV-inspired sketches under his hectoring, faintly unhinged direction. Whether he was playing an army major or a frustrated orchestra conductor (“Up till now I have been waving this - if you get this wrong I will insert it!”), he had a fantastic presence on stage and supreme ability to get the best, or arguably the worst, out of us all.

Audience comments included: “It was all right till he kissed me”, “We five will always have this experience…”, and possibly from the man who was asked to give us his “sex face” in one sketch: “What happens in the URC stays in the URC”.

It really is impossible to summarise this experience - there were party poppers, there was a running theme about looking for your inner Ninja and there was a very large donkey’s head. You only live once. Have a party. Have your brain rinsed before it’s too late.

Stephanie Billen

ACCIDENT AVOIDANCE TRAINING FOR CUTLERY USERS: LEVEL 1 - Ian Crawford

Ian Crawford’s life changed forever when he 12. A tragic event set him on a course, and Buxton figured in that course. All around us are dangers and risks; some are obvious and our awareness is already heightened. Successful campaigns have changed our attitudes to alcohol, tobacco, driving and exercise. But just about all of us have a danger in our homes - one that we encounter casually and ignorantly every day, and Ian is doing his best to end that cavalier ignorance.

We may think of knives, forks and spoons as our friends. They help us to eat tidily. They make for enduring wedding gifts. But every time we take an item of cutlery from the canteen we risk injury or even death.

Ian's presentation included graphic images that served as grim reminders of the possible consequences of casual cutlery control. Some have asked if this is - like some diseases and epidemics - a western phenomenon. Ian presented compelling data to show that chopsticks can be similarly lethal - so legislation removing cutlery from our kitchens is not the answer. (Though Ian has yet to investigate the use of flatbreads - such as chapati - as a safer means of carrying food to the mouth).

There could be a case for labelling: “Spoons kill” or putting a heavy tax on cutlery and using the money for running community-based training.

Buxton is now a slightly safer place, having a cadre with entry level training. We need more people trained and we need courses at Levels 2 and 3. Ian Crawford has shown himself to be the man for the job and it is vital that he comes back to Buxton schools and homes as a matter of urgency. This ladle go far.

Keith Savage

ABI ROBERTS: FAT GIRL DANCING (WORK IN PROGRESS) - Bawls Out Comedy Productions

Abi is warm, witty, vivacious and the perfect hostess meeting and greeting her audience on the way in, building that rapport from the go get, and diminishing all those nerves about sitting on the front row at a comedy gig.

As billed, this is very much a work in progress show, which is positive because the switch between scripted and improv means lots of (non intimidating) crowd interaction, resulting in a more intimate gig to suit a wide audience.

Lots of laughs, particularly when thoughts turn to murder because of a snoring spouse! Gags about Bakewell Tarts and Johnson’s the Cleaners can be attributed to this Buxton Fringe, so listen out for them in future performances (kudos to Anne and Rob on the front row).

The shows ends with an Aretha classic sing-a-long with Abi and the audience in fine voice, leaving you feeling like you have had a fun night out with a great crowd.

Karen Wain-Pimlott

HOW NOT TO KILL YOURSELF WHEN LIVING IN THE SUBURBS - Adam Vincent

Adam Vincent’s performance is all you would expect (and more) from the self-help-meets-morbid-meets-comical title. An Australian stand-up comic and writer for Channel 4’s ‘The Last Leg’, Vincent reflects on suburban life; marriage, kids, family, and friends with a healthy dose of existential reality, dark humour, and dolphins.

He begins with a comparison between the life of his London friends to his own in Bedford: making witty connections among eclectic bar scenes and life in the fast lane to the stress and shenanigans of a simple family trip to the park. One of Vincent’s strongest comedic traits lies not only in his clever, well-crafted monologue but too in his visual comedy, physical presence, and enthusiasm on stage. He executes the perfect movements with the perfect timing, alongside sharp and unique content, to create his morose style yet keep the atmosphere upbeat and lively.

One of the major themes of Vincent’s show is the darker side of human reality and behaviour; those intrusive, imperfect, and judgmental thoughts that (no matter how much we may deny it) are present in all of us. Praise should go to his ability to portray this in such an honest way alongside bringing hilarity – targeting the comedy on both himself and the audience. Despite a few awkward moments, it is one of the most difficult things to make an audience feel comfortable enough to laugh about such topics; even as I write about them the skill of Vincent to lighten their crudity and allow an audience to laugh will be emphasised, as they resonate much more bluntly on paper without such.

He talks openly and unashamedly about sex - discussing with the audience his almost complete preoccupation with sex and the often unfavourable effect of this on his marriage. He comments on a holiday taken with his wife – debating fire escape routes in which he would be safe but not his wife: could he stay with her if she had third degree burns? He discusses his past considerations of suicide with a friend, but how could he do it if statistics show his son would follow in similar footsteps? His friend then comments he could always “make it look like an accident.”

A hilarious account of the human experience in all its glory and its grotesque, Adam Vincent brings to the crowd a wonderful show focused on compelling anecdotes, his personal shortcomings and middle-aged life as a parent and husband in the suburbs. He offers an exciting new perspective on comedy - with talent that makes you laugh when you know you shouldn’t, he is as hilarious as he is outlandish.

Amy Wilson

ABSOLUTE IMPROV! - To Be Continued...

For a great Improv show you need a great audience. Well the late 10.30pm show at the Arts Centre did not disappoint. The audience flocked in, primed from the previous year's successful appearances and we were off. Martin, Caroline and Peter, Edinburgh Fringe veterans, were our experienced cheerleaders encouraging us to call out our names, pulling out the suggestions for characters and situations from Glastonbury portaloos to performing in the nude.

One clever piece was, where Caroline and Peter had to complete a conversation between themselves starting each sentence with the next letter of the alphabet – quite difficult on the Q, Z and X.

Other volunteers manipulated the actors body movements whilst they had a discussion dictated by the audience.

Finally a young couple Barry and Sheila, in the front row, got into the spirit of the whole event with their current marital state being discussed by the cast. They had been handed a metal bucket, ladle and rattles and through the use of the bucket banging as a no, and the rattle as a yes, they guided the team through the state of their relationship – I think that they are still together!

Like most good comedy shows you can never quite remember what it was that you laughed at and before we knew it the time had slipped by and the show was over.

Jonathan Rowlands

HANCOCK'S HALF HOUR ONE MAN, MANY VOICES - James Hurn

The show begins with a loud sigh and the audience get an instant sense that this celebration of the 60th anniversary of Hancock’s Half Hour is in safe hands with the talented actor and impressionist James Hurn.

Hurn performs three episodes of the classic radio show, written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, voicing all the characters himself. Armed only with a microphone and a series of scripts, he brings back to life the original cast of Sidney James, Hattie Jacques, Bill Kerr, Kenneth Williams and, of course, Tony Hancock himself. There is no makeup and no costumes; only a stage dressed simply with a chair, a microphone stand and a hat stand adorned with an Anthony Eden and a tweed flat cap, the headwear associated with Hancock and James respectively.

It all starts with a prologue, written by Hurn and delivered off stage, with ‘Hancock’ and ‘James’ discussing that the show is “back by popular demand” and that “they are going to bring it back with a cast of one”. “How are they going to do that?” asks ‘James’.

This feat is accomplished by Hurn’s remarkable skill at imitating all the characters. Each time a new voice appears, there is a wave of laughter in recognition of another familiar and beloved character. His impressions are so good that if you were to close your eyes you would imagine yourself in the audience of a live radio show in the 1950s. However, by doing so you would miss Hurn’s ability to transform himself physically with a sneer here (Williams), a twinkle there (James) and even by replicating Jacques’ graceful hand movements. Of course, he also achieves Hancock’s melancholic hangdog impression to a tee.

The three episodes of H-H-H-H-H-Hancock’s Half Hour performed from the original BBC radio series are: Sunday afternoon at home – a bored Hancock and friends try to amuse themselves to no avail; The Missing Page — Hancock’s visit to the library results in him becoming frustrated when he reaches the end of an engrossing thriller; and The 13th of the series — a superstitious Hancock refuses to record the thirteenth show, risking his contract with the BBC, so he seeks the help of the Head Druid (James) who sees this as a chance to make more money from the hapless Hancock. There is a short interval of 15 minutes for you to stretch your legs between the second and third episode.

Like the original radio shows, this performance is equivalent to putting on a cosy pair of slippers, making yourself a comforting pot of tea and relaxing into your favourite armchair.

“It has been a while,” says ‘Hancock’ in the prologue. “Doesn’t time fly,” replies ‘James’ — and the following two hours did fly.

Sian-Elin Flint-Freel

HARRIET BRAINE: TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE ART - Harriet Braine

I went to this event with high expectations. Harriet is an early career performer who has already garnered a number of awards and much positive press coverage. She won the Funny Women Stage Awards (2016) and the Best Newcomer Musical Comedy Award (2016) and was a finalist in the Gilded Ballroom’s - So You Think You’re Funny Award (2016). Harriet has written and performed in the BBC 100 Women Season. She is one of Culture Trip’s 11 up and coming comedians to see because ‘her range of impressions have hit home all over London’. Very promisingly she is said to be: ‘a breath of fresh air in a world that still likes a “knob” joke’ (Huffington Post).

I was not disappointed - Harriet Braine is a multi-talented force of nature! When interviewed after one of her awards Harriet said that she hopes to now do some really special gigs, perhaps to develop a decent show. Harriet – you certainly achieved that – and some!

Harriet engaged playfully with her audience – gently chiding latecomers, questioning one audience member with panache and probing our collective knowledge – come on we must know who won the Turner prize the year Tracey Emin was a nominee! Halfway through her act Harriet had us all delightedly belting out a raucous chorus.

With echoes of the humour and skill that Mitch Benn delivers so well, Harriet does the original songs sung to familiar tunes combo. We tapped our feet to some of our favourites and listened intently – every one a winner! Polished accents and impersonations took us seamlessly on an art history tour from Scotland to France to Spain to Mexico and Germany stopping off (trust me, it works!) for Postman Pat and a laugh out loud take on how chat up lines have gone horribly wrong for her. If I had to pick a favourite it might be Harriet’s reflections on an event in her real-life day job as an archivist – laughs of recognition all round. Harriet has an exquisite ‘party piece’ that we heard briefly in an early song and fully in the last one –generating much hilarity.

The venue was full and the audience connected with Harriet from the start – there was appreciative and enthusiastic applause throughout. There were whoops of delight after some lines and sustained and heartfelt clapping at the end. Harriet left the stage to shouts of encore! – pausing briefly to confirm with the organisers that time had indeed run out. How happily we would have settled back into our seats for more of Harriet’s insights into art and life!

We all left with a spring in our step and wide grins – and that appreciative murmur you hear when a great time has been had by all! Harriet is off to Edinburgh, her alma mater, to perform this show for much of August. I wish her the audiences and success she deserves. Festivalgoers are in for a treat.

Sandra Jowett

BEN VAN DER VELDE: SIDEKICK - Ben Van der Velde

The first night of Ben Van Der Velde’s Sidekick was unfortunately a non-runner due to a disappointingly small audience.

Now, Ben has been a regular performer at Buxton Fringe for as long as I can remember and always has a place on my list of shows to see. I’m sure the theme of this years’ show will give Ben ample opportunity to do what he does best, story-telling. Ben’s stories often meander in various unexpected directions but always get back on track for an interesting ending!

With his infectious smile and unruly hair, Ben is a loveable character. He could rob my granny or eat my hamster and I’d still be a fan. So come on everybody, give Sidekick a try on Thursday 20th July, 8.30pm at the Old Clubhouse.

Sam Wood

HARRIET KEMSLEY: FREAK - Harriet Kemsley

Harriet Kemsley is a shining new stand-up comic; energetic and engaging, with refreshing content that’s expertly executed. She opened the show in a bright green sarong fashioned from a hoodie for “the crowd’s own good” (covering an unplanned denim mini skirt) and continued to own the stage with her charming, happy-go-lucky attitude throughout.

The title - “Bad at Doing” – originates from the Latin translation of dyspraxia; a condition at the centre of Kemsley’s show. She parodies her recent diagnosis, and how this has brought to light many other calamities in her life; though as she describes, far from them all. Kemsley openly satirises doctor’s reports, Donald Trump and other disasters where her clumsiness is often emphasised by her “put together” Mother. She is unashamed and unapologetic, allowing the audience into what is essentially a very personal level, yet always keeping the atmosphere light-hearted and deriding of the pure absurdity surrounding some of her experiences.

At 30 years old and 6 weeks married, Kemsley also discusses her position in life; as a modern woman trying her best to be a good citizen and a good daughter. She highlights the hilarity in family and childhood (the antics of family weddings, drunk videos and being her Mother’s “greatest achievement”), social movements (for she is a woman who marches for rights and gives to her local food bank) and newly-wed life (analogised as a shift from travelling carefree in a car together, to throwing your keys out the window entirely and simply enjoying one another’s company).

While these topics may seem to be somewhat typical of comedians, Harriet offers a contemporary perspective - coming away from merely blunt self-deprecating humour and husband complaints - and into a place of brilliant comedic timing, stories and dynamism.

The highest praise should go to Kemsley’s crowd interaction. She was not too invasive nor ignorant, not too dependent nor independent; showing the Buxton crowd her wit and sparkle while receiving consistent laughs and contribution.

With an extensive list of achievements and much more on the horizon (a 6-part TV series and Edinburgh Fringe to list a few) Harriet Kemsley really is one to watch. Don’t miss out!

Amy Wilson

MAISIE ADAM: LIVING ON THE EDGE - Maisie Adam

Looking through the Buxton Fringe programme I was first attracted to this show by Maisie’s happy face. She’s also described as a Yorkshire lass, and I’m a Yorkshire lad, so this all looked promising.

Not so promising was a delayed start caused by technical problems at the Old Clubhouse which left the stage with a single spotlight and no microphone. Maisie appeared unfazed by all this and a spoken intro from the wings was followed by a confident entrance to the stage. After a gentle warm-up Maisie explained that the title Living On The Edge referred to the edge of adulthood. This formed a theme for the remainder of the show, without excluding some other material.

A series of stories covering growing-up and loss of innocence included the embarrassment of family party games, the hazards of gap-year travels and some truly bizarre experiences at drama school. An item about the Brownies has changed my view of this organisation forever. This all made for an enjoyable hour with a well-structured show delivered fluently. The limited technical support created an atmosphere that was more cabaret than comedy club which actually helped Maisie’s friendly personality shine through.

I’m sorry to say I hadn’t heard of Maisie Adam before this years’ Buxton Fringe. That’s probably because she has only been on the circuit since October 2016. In that short time there have been nominations, awards, and a semi-final place in the prestigious So You Think You’re Funny competition. Tonight’s show was sadly a one-off in the middle of a national tour taking in all the major Fringes and Festivals, but this is a name to watch, and hopefully one that will be back in Buxton soon!

Finally, for anyone who knows my preference in stage clothes, Maisie’s shirt gets top marks!

Sam Slide

BOBBY MAIR WON'T MAKE YOU HAPPY - Bobby Mair

Bobby Mair is a clever, young stand-up comedian with quite a dark, subversive sense of humour but also a touching honesty. He told me that he came to the UK, after winning $10,000 in a talent competition, because he’d heard there was a vibrant stand-up scene here.

Quirky looking and physically slightly awkward – well he did have a trapped nerve in his neck - right from the off, Bobby engaged very warmly with the audience of mostly older people (except for the 15 year old with blue hair whom he picked on - in a nice way) describing an older gentleman as “The Ghost of Christmas Future” and telling another woman that as she laughed at everything, he would save her if there was a fire.

Tonight was a show he’s working on for The Edinburgh Fringe. As such, it seemed a little rough around the edges, in a charming way, with jokes he appeared to be trying out. He told us he was recording it on his phone and held up a scrappy bit of paper on which he’d scribbled things and then later crossed them off if there was an awkward pause. He told us, “I like you guys: if you don’t like a joke, you’ll just sit and wait for the next one.”

Bobby’s comedy subject matter was pretty wide-ranging with some of it observational and some of it pretty random; he opened by saying he enjoyed watching strangers fail at things and reporting friends’ photos or posts to FaceBook. At one point, he described a festival without drugs as “a refugee camp with music” and asked the audience what the opposite of a woman in a Bhurka was – with a very clever answer. He went on to talk briefly about travelling, his health, being newly married, Theresa May and other world leaders but he didn’t talk about what it was like to be Canadian in the UK. Sometimes he spoke very softly, or whispered and other times did some angry shouting – which varied the pace and tone to good effect.

Where Bobby’s show became really interesting (and slightly more edgy) was when he veered into Mental Health and told us he had a Borderline Personality Disorder. He said life in his head was like a rollercoaster ride and described how he is always felt a bit paranoid – even with his friends. This, I felt, was really brave. He also shared how he’d been adopted and how he searched for his birth family and found them.

I really enjoyed the show and felt the audience did too. Bobby is original, clever, sometimes painfully honest and very entertaining though I’m not sure the venue felt as relaxed as a pub would have done, as there was nowhere to get a drink. In any case – I’d really recommend this show. Bobby is certainly a comedian to watch. Sorry to disappoint Bobby, but you did make us happy tonight – really.

Karey Lucas-Hughes

JO D'ARCY: D'ARCEHOLE - The Comedy Agency

Jo D’Arcy has worked as a teacher of English and Spanish in secondary schools for several years and her teaching skills, including the use of visual aids, were used to good effect as she drew upon her rich and varied experiences to engage the small but appreciative audience in a ‘lesson’. The audience were quickly drawn into Jo’s world and introduced to some of the characters that inhabit the modern classroom. Throughout the performance, Jo recounted anecdotes and incidents that the audience in turn, found amusing, surprising and, occasionally, horrifying!

Many comedians try to interact with the audience and sometimes this can be an uncomfortable experience for both parties. Not so with Jo. Jo’s act requires audience involvement from the start but she skilfully and humorously encouraged and cajoled members of the audience who quickly became fully engaged in her ‘lesson’. Her energy and enthusiasm for teaching and the children she taught is evident throughout.

By the end of the show, there was a feeling that we had been involved in a funny and creative enterprise and unusually for a comedy act we also felt a collective sense of achievement.

Vernon McGarey

JOSH PUGH: A BOY NAMED PUGH - The Comedy Agency

Freddie Quinne's show replaced the cancelled Josh Pugh one

Preston born Freddie Quinne was our ‘stand in stand up’ for the evening and rose to the daunting challenge of entertaining an audience who had arrived expecting to see another comedian.

By his own admission his adult humour is aimed more towards the ‘young and boisterous’ crowd, but Freddie is instantly likeable and judged his audience well. Engaging the crowd with conversation and banter alongside his ‘work on progress’ set gave it a much more intimate feel, and the crowd were on his side.

Observational gags about social media frustrations and his sister’s endless unattainable wish list for her perfect man had us all laughing along in relatable agreement.

This would make a great night out with a group of mates, and if Freddie shoe horns in a joke about the O2, remind him that this was inspired by his evening at Buxton Fringe!

Karen Wain-Pimlott

THE CARROT NAPPERS by Keith Large - Carrot Napper Productions

Vinnie had one job…to guard a 17 foot prize carrot. How difficult could it be? He was used to dealing with drunks, thugs, hen parties and single nights as an unemployed bouncer but a cunning carrot napper was at large and had foiled him!

The play is set in Topside, an allotment plot in the town of Coalshed. The dirty deed took place at the show whilst the crowd were distracted by Alan Titchmarsh; the carrot was switched with a fake one resulting with disqualification and Albert handing the trophy back. (so now we have TWO 17 foot carrots!) Vinnie’s reputation as a bouncer is in tatters and we open finding a furious Vinnie (Peter McManus) and a vengeful Albert (Mark Theobald) plotting and planning its’ recovery from chief suspects Onion Head and Weed Killer Willie.

Topside’s famous “Love Shed” is central to the plot and it is clear that Albert has found it a useful love-nest for his own liaisons as well as his biggest vice, Steam Railways magazine. We also discover that Coalshed has an underground gardening magazine, The Big Carrot where PO Box numbers are key to arranging clandestine meetings. By enlisting Vinnie’s girlfriend, the very flirtatious Lisa (Eleanor Burke) into the plot, a honey trap is set to trick the alleged ladies-man Onion Head (Chris Leaney) in order to recover the prize carrot. And this is where the fun starts!

A carrot caper ensues. Excuse the pun but there are so many in this play, cleverly woven into the dialogue. Some make you smile, some make you cringe whilst others make you laugh out loud – members of the audience certainly did appreciate them! Each character is played with such enthusiasm; it is a fast paced play and the whole cast should be applauded for their energy which engaged the audience into the plot. Yes there are jests and quips throughout, surely a given when writing about vegetables “show us your onions”, “notches on my showcase turnip”, “the bigger the carrot – the better the lover” to name just a few gems. It is a sort of a farce really of the good old fashioned kind, harmless fun, thoroughly enjoyable with excellent writing. Audience responses were “brilliant, loved it” “very funny” “a little short, I wanted more”

The play was recently published in print to support the Stroke association and this could be purchased on the door. It makes a delightful read and interesting to see other work by Keith Large included in it. I hope he and this cast will return to Buxton Fringe 2018 with another offering; I am sure they will be welcomed enthusiastically.

Sandra J Cooper

RICHARD PULSFORD: PHRASES READY - Mirth of Forth Comedy

Definition of a pun: a joke exploiting the different possible meanings of a word or the fact that there are words which sound alike but have different meanings.

Richard Pulsford, 2014-17 UK Pun Finalist, really did exploit those different meanings of words. He was a like a well-oiled machine of mirth. I’m sure he’s sick of the comparison, but if you like Milton Jones’ style of comedy then you will love this show (and his shirt).

The audience was small but Richard treated them to a plethora of puns…some were giggled at, some very much groaned at. Part of the fun of puns is to work out how the punchline is going to be arrived at and this show really had you thinking in places.

Despite some technical difficulties Richard presented his power points of puns, I would have loved to hear the musical choice that was due to accompany them. However, the musical power point at the end had me singing all the way home, in fact I’m not sure I will ever make those words leave my brain.

A likeable stand-up comedian with great material, if you like puns than you’ll love this!

Jayne Marling

PUNEL SHOW - Darren Walsh & Mark Simmons

As I admitted in this show, I have a slightly fraught relationship with the pun as the basis of humour. On the one hand, I find them irritating in conversation; on the other, in the right context (and as someone who writes pantos I should know), a wonderful guilty pleasure. Punel Show is a hugely entertaining panel game, hosted by the gloriously silly Darren Walsh and Mark Simmons, with guest contestants, the wry Nathan Cassidy (‘on tonight 7pm’) and the impossibly chilled ‘Dylan the sound guy’. The audience were there to have a good time and that’s what they got. The puns came thick and fast – some hilarious, some groaners, some slow burners, but all fun. The show confirmed that I possessed far more empathy with the pun than I expected, as I managed to guess the meaning of five of them before the contestants. The guests will change over the run of this show, but whoever you get, you’ll have an hour of daft one-liners, silly sight gags and infectious audience participation – you’re sure to have a good time.

Robbie Carnegie

LOVEHARD: MURDERED BY MURDER - LoveHard

The scene is quickly set for the evening of murder and mayhem which lies ahead.

Strap yourself in as the two fabulous actors, Tyler Harding and Jacob Lovick, switch between several characters at breakneck speed with the aid of a ‘whoosh…’. My particular favourite is ‘Arabella’, but all characters are memorable.

With only a slight sinister undertone of “Murdered… to death”, this comedy captures the audiences’ attention and has them in hysterics throughout, culminating in a flurry of flashbacks and a surprise grand finale.

The silliness does not detract from excellent acting, a clever witty script, and a very accomplished performance.

A right raucous romp from beginning to end. Please come back in 2018 with more shows and hilarity!

Karen Wain-Pimlott

HOW TO GET TO FIFTY WITHOUT PAYING ATTENTION - TMT

Saturday the 8th of August was an amazing day, the sun blazed down and the crowds enjoyed the spectacular Buxton Carnival. Later on, it was my privilege to witness Nick Brookes’ reminiscences about his ramblings through life, when he, like many of his predecessors, had stumbled from one situation to another as he claimed, without paying attention.

This lack of concentration was something that his audience found impossible to do, as the volume of Nick’s presentation varied from a loud booming, rather like the ear-splitting reverberation of an ocean liner leaving port, followed by a quiet whisper, so we, his audience of seven, certainly sat up and paid attention!

Nick assured us that he had reached the mature age of fifty and produced his birth certificate, claiming that proved it, but he kept it close to his chest, and I suspect that his age may have exceeded that milestone in life. He then intelligently cited examples of amazing discoveries that had been found by apparent accident.

Nick made us laugh, his repartee was faultless. Although he claimed to have stumbled through life, his intelligent and well researched production belied that fact. He was word perfect and it was a thoroughly enjoyable hour of entertainment. I don’t believe that this gentleman encountered all the inept, inattentive examples of mistakes that he claimed he and others had made.

Jackie Corrigan

ALFIE MOORE: GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER - Alfie Moore

Alfie Moore is very funny. If you haven’t seen him, you should. And if you have heard him on the radio, go and see him in person. He makes people of all ages laugh. In this sold-out gig he had a diverse audience absorbed from start to finish. A policeman from Scunthorpe, he talks from experience -which may be unusual for a stand-up comedian- adding to his authority and making him the funnier for it.

In this relatively new show, Alfie Moore gives us the police insider’s guide on how to bump someone off. Actually, it is probably more about how not to bump someone off as we get stories about the many sorts of things that go wrong during a murder that can lead to being banged up for life.

It could all be terribly morbid. But black humour through a stream of anecdotes and true stories has the audience howling whilst wondering vaguely if they should be laughing at this. Even the vegetarians in the room enjoyed the stories about cannibals. Gulp.

Those who are familiar with Alfie Moore’s work, either through his previous performances here at the Buxton Fringe or his popular series on Radio 4, will know that he likes to involve the audience. This makes the show much more immediate and intimate. By making it part impro, he is taking a risk. Alfie Moore is not only willing to take the risk, he thrives on it. The interaction pumps both him and the audience up. With the help of the audience he selects a murderer and a victim, all of course in the best possible taste. John, whose major crime seemed to be his addiction to wearing sandals, was a fine victim. Barbara his vengeful wife cracked under minimal police pressure. The contract killer shouldn’t have worn that far too easily recognisable floral shirt.

Mr Moore is occasionally not very politically correct. And thank goodness for that. Having worked as a policeman for many years and being able to see the funny side of life provides a rich comedy seam for the rest of us.

At the end of the show, Alfie Moore did something I haven’t experienced before. As we all left, he stood at the door and shook hands with everyone, thanking them for coming. Much appreciated. Especially after all the murders.

At the time of writing, Alfie has not got any more Fringe dates booked, but given that this show was a sell-out, he is open to persuasion. If you do want to see him, calling up the Underground Box Office to see if another date has been added may work. The box office is on my speed dial.

Jonathan Davey

THE ALL NEW 10 COMMANDMENTS - The Monks

Billing yourselves as a Christian comedy sketch group could immediately set up expectations in an audience that might cause problems, or make people come merely out of curiosity, but The Monks overcome this immediately with some original audience participation. This included giving away an exotic vegetable (but please don’t go in anticipation of getting one of your five a day) and “Get into Heaven Free cards” and responding to an audience member who claimed to be called Moses.

The Ten Commandments were for the most part the ones we know and love, but each given a contemporary interpretation. Sadly, ‘Thy shall not use thy mobile in the quiet coach’ did not make it into the New Top 10. Given such as well-known structure - even though they were not delivered in strict Old Testament order - it would be too easy to hint at the denouement of some of the sketches in a review. The duo’s originality shone through though, for example, in the one based on Kevin’s dissatisfaction on finding the Bible didn’t seem to work properly and was not a digital gizmo.

Kevin Moore and Yazz Fetto identified themselves as black and half-Iraqi respectively, started with their take on diversity and political correctness, and then moved on to deliver a pacy mixture of sketches, punchlines and wordplays, and characterisation. It’s a matter of personal taste, but the most successful seemed to this audience be the longer ones based on characterisation, such as ‘honouring your father’, as Yazz tried to persuade Kevin that the care home he’d lined up for him was just what he wanted. And Kevin was later able to switch effortlessly into the role of a somewhat evangelical black pastor.

In short, the audience - only a few of whom identified themselves as church-goers - appreciated the humour and energy of the pair and left the show well satisfied with their uplifting experience.

Graham Jowett

NATHAN CASSIDY: THE MAN IN THE ARENA - The Rat Pack Productions Ltd/Nathan Cassidy

Nathan Cassidy is back! Comedy Award winner in 2014 and nominated in both 2015 and '16, he brings two shows to grace the Buxton Fringe in 2017 - this stand-up show and a theatre piece that you can still catch tonight at 7pm. This implies either great creativity and a font of material or over-weening self delusion and I'm happy to report that on the evidence of last night he is very much in the former camp.

When I saw him on Friday night as part of Barrel of Laughs, he was reflecting on how far he'd come in his career and how a few short years ago he'd been playing above pubs to 60 people... leaving it to us to register that nothing had changed. For his own show on Saturday night the audience was only 10. However, this didn't phase him: "I cap my audiences at 10", he quipped "though I do lock the doors so they can't leave". Two jokes for the price of one.

Though he started by referencing the 1910 speech by President Roosevelt that gives this show its title, he was immediately sidetracked into apparently whingeing about a negative review that had said he would never be as good as Bill Hicks. At the same time he repeated almost mantra-like that it was "not about reviews". Yet just how he measured up to Bill Hicks became the grit to his comedy pearl, getting him on to the concept of Best-ness, something he cast doubt over by calling to mind the kind of pointless celebrity afforded by having the longest fingernails or other such "achievements" recognised only by Norris McWhirter. (Cassidy would probably appreciate the Fringe's care to avoid the word Best in its Awards, saying instead that it "recognises excellence").

Excellence is certainly what we were exposed to on Saturday as he began to develop his main theme of bravery - all he wants from a review is to be found "brave, generous and better than Bill Hicks". He "bravely" found Trump and Theresa May brave - the latter being "brave to wear those trouser suits", and he took the opportunity to share with us some brave comedy commenting on how we are all missing Dodi but that, despite her name, no one remembers Di who died in the same car.

Returning to the show's title, Man in the Arena, he criticised most forcibly and with touching emotion those who attacked the valiant efforts of the security staff during the recent Manchester bombings; they were bravely doing their best - and at least doing what they could.

In a beautifully structured hour of comedy, Cassidy was brave and generous - and having seen Bill Hicks I can honestly say that he is as good as him and that is surely enough for anyone.

Dan Osborne

AMADEUS MARTIN: BINGE THINKING - Amadeus Martin

Amadeus Martin has performed at the Buxton Fringe a few times now, but this is my first time seeing him. He is a likable and naturally funny performer who needs an interactive audience to push things along. Tom and Zara “like the shop,” were brilliant audience members and became his go to people throughout the show.

This show felt like a work in progress that veered in many directions, I guess the title Binge Thinking really held true. He wanted suggestions from the audience, but they were a bit quiet, however hard he tried to work them, so frequently fell back on his cue cards. Some trains of thought worked, others didn’t and some could have worked had they had a punchline! He seemed to have quite a bit of material on transport and much hilarity was had from Buxton’s very own tram.

Binge thinking is one man’s journey around many different topics but he always ends on the same observation … that’s f*****g weird!

Jayne Marling

NICK HALL: THE ASSASSINATION OF SPENCER PERCIVAL - Nick Hall

Spencer Percival is the only British Prime Minister to be assassinated. He was also responsible for presiding over the abolition of slavery in Britain. These are two of the facts about Spencer Percival presented by Nick Hall in his historical comedy.

Nick starts getting into character by donning a frock coat and wig. He takes the audience through the life of Spencer Percival from birth to death. The show contains a lot of jokes based on finding similarities between events in Spencer Percival life and the modern day. Nick makes the valid point that very few people have heard of Spencer Percival despite him being significant historical figure. Neither does anyone have any knowledge of his very polite killer who apparently believed that he had total justification for committing murder and that the jury would acquit him.

This is an interesting historical story told in an entertaining way. Nick is taking his show to Edinburgh where you can see it for free at an Italian restaurant.

Alex Watts

DONAL COONAN: MR GREBE IS TAKING YOUR CLASS TODAY - Donal Coonan

I wish that I had been lucky enough to enjoy a supply teacher like Donal Coonan alias Mr Grebe, during my school days. His topic is one of a supply teacher, who is thrust into unknown class (the audience, in this case of ten), for a day.

He is a star in waiting; his interaction with the audience, alias his captive pupils for a hypothetical day was phenomenal. His topics are educational, this didn’t seem put us off, and even some of us were drawn, by the sheer attraction of his personality on to the stage to assist in the demonstrations.

Not only is he knowledgeable in all the subjects that he covered, which ranged from Sociology and Philosophy to such activities as PE and Art. He made them all memorable and enjoyable and his involvement with the audience was superb.

One was an analogy of the effect of Newton’s law of moving objects, in this experiment two male members of the audience, one in white and the other in black shirts simulated the effect of white and black snooker balls ricocheting into the hole. The physical and chemical attraction of magnets gave him an opportunity to climb the steps and make advances towards an attractive young lady on the front row. She apparently enjoyed the attention.

His acting was a cross between knowledge and comedy, the topics were the type of subject that is covered at length by the high school curriculum, but he condensed all of them into the restriction of one hour! His routine is a cross between charades and factual demonstrations.

His props were contained in a carrier bag; he produced a fluffy green robe to demonstrate the evolution of a caterpillar, through the chrysalis stage to the final miraculous appearance of a beautiful butterfly and in another demonstration he became a human example of loft insulation. In this case, a broad stretch of the imagination was required!

His agility was ideally demonstrated by his musical interpretation of “Art” in which he gyrated with an easel; again a display of his agility, his perfect synchronisation brought the audience to their feet to applaud in amazement.

“Mr Grebe” has infectious body and facial expressions, he is a latter-day cross between Basil of Faulty Towers and Mr Bean, but unique in his attraction of obtaining such rapport with his audience. He is never at a loss for words and instantly uses every comment as a source of repartee for his next demonstration.

This is a superb, well demonstrated source of great fun and excitement for all who are fortunate enough to viewed Mr Grebe, I feel privileged to have encountered him and hope he enjoys the recognition that he deserves.

Jackie Corrigan

BARREL OF LAUGHS - Underground

No wonder this long-established comedy event tends to sell out; it has to be one of the best bargains of the Fringe with the chance to enjoy half a dozen Fringe comics in one glorious tasting session.

In the first of three such nights, stand up Amadeus Martin, who like all the acts has his own show at the Fringe, proved to be an assured compere. Adept at warming up an audience, he avoided blandness with the odd edgy joke, as when he looked out at the sea of white faces and wondered, as a black man standing on a stage, whether we might all “start bidding”.

Award-winning Nathan Cassidy had a nice line in dark humour, imagining the forgotten stand up comedian of the Titanic, still cracking jokes as the ship went down: “I hear the captain of this ship has a lisp. That’s unthinkable…” Quick-witted, he was at his best on language - especially the antiquated terms adopted whenever we use transport and have to “alight” or “stow our belongings”.

Donal Coonan’s character-act as supply teacher Mr Grebe was a complete contrast. Being too old for my own good I felt the shadow of Rowan Atkinson over his set but Donal was very funny, building up from a sticky interrogation of the audience on what we had learned with our last teacher to a wonderfully surreal demonstration of the lifecycle of a butterfly.

Likeable Stuart Laws had fun with the “quick show of hands” banter traditionally used by stand-ups to get the audience on their side. I also enjoyed his refreshingly different material about paper rounds and the odd concept of going into a newsagent and demanding a “hard copy of yesterday’s internet”, then asking for it to be brought to your house by a small child.

Laws has a double-act at the Fringe with Annie McGrath who also came on in the second half. It would have been interesting to see them work together. As it was she seemed slightly uncomfortable at first but won round the audience with her intelligent, sometimes risquee, middle-class schtick on coping with a boyfriend, needing a cleaner and holding your own at school reunions with contemporaries like actor Emma Watson. Her self-consciousness also worked in her favour in places as she played with audience expectations and the very nature of comedy.

A well put-together evening concluded with ultra-tall punster Darren Walsh. Not everyone likes puns but his were very good (eg: “How many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb? Phwoar…” or “There was a terrible incident in the Indian restaurant. My naan had slipped into a korma”) plus he had the great idea of asking audiences to come up with random subjects - nothing stumped him. His visuals were also surreal and entertaining, particularly the laugh-aloud “terror-wrists”.

As Amadeus, who had some fun material of his own, generously reiterated, all his colleagues have shows at the Fringe so do check them out. On the variety displayed last night, there is bound to be something you will enjoy.

Stephanie Billen

STUART LAWS & ANNIE MCGRATH: STAND-UP COMEDY - Stuart Laws & Annie McGrath

Stuart and Annie strike you as intelligent and likeable people and for those reasons you want them to be successful. However that wish can take us only so far - and that is not very far when it comes to it. I don't know why they want to be comedians; nor do I know what makes for a good gig in their book, but I don't think this was what they were looking for.

With an audience of 8 in a venue that seats 90, and two of those clearly the wrong demographic, you got the impression that they would have readily cancelled, but “the show must go on” and it all happens again less than 24 hours later.

As a reviewer I feel an obligation to try and be helpful to the audience and to the performers. Let's start with Stuart and Annie if I may?

Annie is 27 and is happy that she is not pregnant. On the other hand she feels that life is tough for her generation, older people had it easier and there is a case to be made for dying young. Why is it, she asks, that up until the age of about 26 women are urged to be careful and not get pregnant, but around 27 they are frequently told that the biological clock is ticking? I am sure that there is plenty of material to be mined here - though as Annie pointed out it may be a bit dark.

Which raises the question - rarely satisfactorily answered - “Must comedy make you laugh?” In this instance I would suggest that you won't necessarily laugh out loud - in which case you have to be comfortable with the silences.

Stuart is clever, cleverer than me - though I did get the post-modem pun and the badgering gag - but he needs to accept that not everyone will work as hard as he is. Some audiences just want a night out. He is also troubled by strange things, things that may not bother you - so it may be necessary to accept the world as he sees it. Though what is the problem with five adults in a car? Both of them need to try and trust the audience more - though I can see that this might be difficult.

To audiences I say, both Annie and Stuart are working on new material; in time it will become more fluent but right now it's a little sketchy. Be prepared to work with them and accept direct questioning and challenges - you will laugh and you may have some of your assumptions about life rattled.

Keith Savage

DARREN WALSH: S'PUN - Darren Walsh

Warning: this show has loads of puns. In fact, about 98% of the jokes are some sort of pun, ranging from the weak to the excruciating, but with the common demoninator of all being utterly hilarious. Darren claims to have about 3500 puns in his armoury and in his 40 minutes he must have subjected us to a few hundred at least. It wasn't all puns; the eponymous washing machine (don’t ask) was used to provide the opportunity to treat us to some scatalogical interludes with bizarre impressions and a demonstration of how a scouse accent can be used to comic effect when pronouncing the names of wines and detectives (please, don’t ask). Darren uses sound and vision at various points to comic effect, with the inevitable pun for a punchline. I especially liked his ‘dusting prince’ joke - to get it you have to be there. So if uncomplicated hilarity with loads of wincing is your cup of tea, then Darren is the brew.

Fred Rolland

RICHARD CARPENTER'S CLOSE TO YOU - Matthew Floyd Jones

I yield to no one in my love of The Carpenters – not just their music, with Richard’s lush arrangements and Karen’s extraordinary voice – but also the deep well of sadness that hangs over their work, even without the benefit of retrospect granted by Karen’s untimely death. As such I was very much looking forward to Matthew Floyd Jones’ show.

In many respects this wasn’t the show I was expecting. I anticipated an hour of camp, witty pastiche of The Carpenters’ work. And for the first ten minutes or so, that is what we got: the uber-talented Jones adapting the famous Carpenters songs enough to remain outside the realms of copyright infringement and playing piano, accordion, sax and clarinet as well as singing.

But then the show gradually becomes darker. We are introduced to Richard Carpenter, trapped in The Purgatorium, forced to constantly live in his sister’s shadow after 35 years, to hawk his wares on shopping channels, still unable to come to terms with the fact that he was the talented prodigy, groomed by his family to be the star until eclipsed by his shy, tomboy sister. In this cycle of despair, Richard becomes more and more bitter and tormented until offered an escape from an unexpected source, offering an ultimately uplifting and very moving climax.

In some respects, Richard Carpenter’s Close to You doesn’t entirely sit comfortably in the Comedy category. It is a much more nuanced and far more sombre affair than Jones’ 70s costume would lead you to believe. But then so were The Carpenters – sugary and fun on the surface, with deep melancholy beneath.

This is a fascinating and extremely well produced show. It has a slight dip in the middle, where a bit of audience participation with a sitcom that Richard has written seems superfluous, but overall this is a very satisfying piece of theatre.

Robbie Carnegie

KATE BUTCH IN KATE IF YOU WANNA GO BUTCHER - Kate Butch

The Underground Venues bar was packed for the first performance by Kate Butch and I was in the mood to be indulgent. After all, this was a local performer making their debut, someone we’ve got to know and like over the years in a different context. So far, so patronising.

I hold up my hand to this because this show was a complete revelation. Kate Butch is such a fully-formed creation and her performance is spot-on: intimate, confessional, and very funny. She stalks around the stage, lip-synching to outrageous mash-ups, confiding about coming-out experiences, triggering Powerpoint montages, effortlessly working the audience, suddenly not afraid to wring out the tear ducts of the audience with a beautiful, heart-wrenching show tune. It’s a bravura showing, so assured and well-judged that you can’t quite believe this is a debut.

Obviously it’s rude in places, but Kate is such a warm character, so aware of the audience that she doesn’t put a foot wrong. If you see a more joyous and genuinely funny show this year, I’d be very surprised.

Robbie Carnegie

THE ALASDAIR BECKETT-KING MYSTERIES - Alasdair Beckett-King

Alisdair Beckett, King - would like to exchange his hyphen for a comma, it would make him more regal, he thinks. We, the audience, are invited into his family but in a friendly gentle way; not a don’t-sit-in-the-front-row-at-all-cost way.

Alisdair has a striking physical appearance which helps his stage presence immensely and he is easy to warm to as most of his jokes are directed towards himself so we are straight away on his side, especially as he treats the audience as his family; one half being dubbed Becketts and the other Kings.

During a fast moving hour he covers a range of subjects from red hair/blue eyes through Nazism/Veganism, hurricanes, religion (it seems he is sometimes called Jesus) and he manages to mix some of his quotations into a selection from William Blake. Full attention is needed from the audience as the show is rich with references.

Alsidair’s show is perfect for the Buxton Fringe and the Old Club House proved to be a warm venue with a good audience and so it’s a shame he ‘messed up’ (his words) and only booked one performance.

He is off to the Edinburgh Festival in August and is sure to make an impact.

Brian Kirman