Barrel Room 24 July (8.30pm) - 65 mins
There's a nervy edge to Elis James as he launches his one-off date to a jam packed crowd in Buxton en route to Edinburgh - the forewarnings of Preview material hint of apology rather than under rehearsal, but this imbalance is reversed as the show progresses.
Elis quotes (barely legible) extracts from his diary entries made at various points in his UK and Australian tour during the latter part of 2009/early Twenty Ten and subsequently fleshes them out plus splices in odd tidbits of social commentary and past events.
His tales, for he is a story teller, are unhurried and dispensed in an understated style which often climax in punch lines of logic, despair, naivety or the plain crude. The material is standard issue but of a finer strain - fear of all foreign destinations, nerdy fixations, spicy food phobia and pointless Visitor Attractions to name a few, but they're underwritten by personal experience and a droll self-mockery which carries you along.
The audience enjoyed the act and forgave the continuity errors but there's scope for more pace and fluidity by simply resisting the temptation to linger over well received lines along with keener editing so as not to overplay certain hands.
At his best, Elis is a reluctant rebel with an amusing cause, more focus will ensure a consistently high standard, but there was merriment aplenty for a Barrel Full of happy punters.
Barrel Room 23 July (5.30pm) - Remaining Show 24 July (7pm) - 60 minsLUNCHTIME AEROBICS WITH A REAL LUNCHBOX
We're a Sketch Show announces Max: not comedy; not topical - cue 13 or so of the aforesaid sketches and we're not arguing...it does what it says on the bottle - but it's a less than sparing application of comic tincture.
As the title suggests, this is THE Max And Iván show and they feature big time, lending all their creations the XXL treatment to render a finish where exaggerated performance takes precedence over content leaving a string of pastiche individuals and situations. It's a LCD route of entry that provides safe sex laughs without fear of harmful impregnation, but is heavily dependent on appreciation of portrayal, script subtleties are rarer than a Somali Pirate hailing from Cornwall.
For those seeking more sinful pleasure, some of the sketches hint of Not The Nine o'Clock News in terms of ambition and the dying comedian's funeral is worth the gravedigger's tip.
It's a multi faceted display with songs, wigs and a bear...plus an out of the blue stripped down Full Monty moment, no blinks necessary, you'd need to be blindfolded to miss it. But this isn't something to trade your Adult Channel viewing card for - much more a case of no parental lock required in terms of subject matter and will be enjoyed by those seeking a full-on hours viewing.
Pauper's Pit, 23rd July (and again on 24th July)
The So Be It Union are six young people who met as students in Sheffield. Last year most of them were in Buxton with the show 'What on earth is a runcible spoon?' As I recall we never found out - perhaps that's why there is a change of name for this year.
The new show is wide-ranging in it's sources and targets and while undoubtedly witty, intelligent and funny somehow the momentum built-up in one sketch doesn't transfer to the next - it's as though we keep going back to 'Go' without collecting our £200.
There were about 18 sketches - some covering fairly familiar territory, how do nervous, insecure men try to chat-up an attractive woman, for example? Others were a bit more bizarre - you'll need to meet Cardinal Ruttknacker (this is my stab at his name) to work out what is going on there.
I liked Dicky Dawkins' children's book 'Where's God?' and the idea for a sequel, of sorts, an illustrated Qur'an is one that is allowed to rest with the audience. The finale - an examination of the death rate in Australia perhaps showed the group at its best. The audience had to work a bit to follow the comedy but the sketch had a freshness and creativity that some of the others didn't quite achieve.
The So Be It Union perform with confidence, energy and panache. They act well enough to conjure up characters - well stereotypes probably - quickly so that the audience knows who they are dealing with. Physically they are interesting to look at - this is meant to be a compliment. They assume intelligence on the part of the audience - which is refreshing.
I read on the Fringe Blog that the troupe will be calling itself Dark Matters from now on. Maybe there is some uncertainty about what they want to do with comedy? Maybe they don't want to get into a rut? There is clear potential in the writing and performing of this group whether an independent director could help give a bit more shape and coherence to the comedy I don't know.
Underground Venues - Barrel Room, remaining performance 24 Jul, 10pm
Kent Valentine's evening of long-form storytelling catches fire when he embarks on a cautionary tale of how he made napalm with his friend Pete in his mother's garage - and as this is to be an educational show we are given some detailed instructions. You first need a friend who's a 'dick', and it soon becomes clear that Kent is that friend. Surprisingly there are only three ingredients - "petrol, Styrofoam and a blatant disregard for your own personal safety". Oh, and no concept of the future! He guides us through the ensuing mayhem with verve and style.
This self-deprecating Australian has us on his side by now and we bear with him through some less assured territory - at one stage he himself points out that an analogy between recycling and shooting a Chinaman in the face isn't perhaps his best. It does illustrate his arresting choice of imagery however and the night's journey is full of surprises. I particularly appreciate his childhood recollection of his father pointing out the depressed and angry men smoking outside a betting shop and calling it a 'sadness shop'. Or his assertion that cider is a drink made from fermented apples and distilled violence.
Ever self-deprecating, he not only describes himself as a 'stretched out 12-year-old girl with a beard' but sketches out a graph of enjoyment, explaining that though things may have dipped right now, they will soon pick up. In the meantime we are to treat it like bad sex - he will 'plug away' and we will pretend to like it!
And soon enough it does indeed pick up again as he embarks on a discussion of fatherhood culminating in a tale about a mad, early morning dash across London carrying a pram he has picked up for his daughter. Having had an overnight journey back from Scotland fuelled by Red Bull, he feels that he doesn't look like a perfect Dad - and doesn't even have a baby on board - but his attempts to put the pram in 'stealth mode' to disguise its emptiness only gets him into more trouble!
Such disasters are comedy gold and Kent Valentine is an alchemist well worth catching. His final performance is tonight (Sat Jul 24) at 10pm.
The Barrel Room
Phil knows how to work a crowd. His amusing and extremely funny stories, supposedly recounted from real life events, almost had me crying with laughter and there wasn't a single vulgar word that less capable comedians use to pad out their lines. On the contrary, Phil's act moved smoothly from one piece to the next.
I won't go into any detail about the act itself, since this would give away many of the punch lines. Suffice to say, Phil gets good laughs from very topical stories; when are children too young for a comedy show, the strange clauses in the small print of consent forms, the funny ways brochures can advertise events (a special note for the Grimsby fishing heritage centre), and what can happen to you whilst participating in extreme sports, such as crocodile baiting. The story lines take an unexpected twist that have a ring of truth about them. Phil built up the anticipation in the stories and then delivered the punch line as if he was fishing for trout, and on most occasions the crowd was caught. The only small criticism I could possibly make (and this is just a personal comment) was that too much of the time was taken up telling us about the hecklers, although the last story about the students experimenting with waste products was very good. Phil probably needs to get to the good story a bit quicker and he could probably fit in another laugh into the act.
Phil delivers the humour well and his act is far superior to some of the comedy shows I've seen. This is a professional comedian who has some good material with good potential. It's a comedy show that will have you laughing.
THE GREEN MANALISHI WITH THE TWO-PRONG CROWN - PENTAGON OPTIONAL
Dispensing with the more structured/themed approach of previous incarnations, Andrew O'Neill flexes with his vegan muscles in presenting a show that's heavily pregnated with preview - think Rosemary's Baby rather than John Radcliffe. It's a sign of increased belief, but importantly the audience shares that confidence in the performer who happily passes an endearing self analysis over proceedings, as he decides upon the merit of various sections and punch lines.
Predominantly unrehearsed, some of the material sticks and some slivers away stillborn, but it's all fresher than a sacrificial goat so we forgive and forget quickly as his honesty, self irreverence, love of greenhouses and Seal of Rassilon prevail.
Such an evolution, or more correctly natural selection, of material maximizes the scope for interaction based on audience response and our self confessed transvestite is never found wanting, even when confronted by a front row of stripy shirted punters - threatening death by strobe effect.
It's never a totally comfortable gallop when this Devil rides out, viz the final tale of heroic violence when he dons Daily Mail gloves in a cause as futile as Rocky Balboa's but we cheer accordingly and salute a performer who's fearless on all counts.
This is not his polished best, but there's enough slants and random deviations to give flashes of how brilliant he can be when freed from the tyranny of new material - whether you're an Angel or a Witch, or indeed a happy medium, he's one not to miss, either at Edinburgh or during a lengthy Autumn tour.
As he confesses, he's not a conspiracy theorist but admits the Queen's a Lizard - by Royal Appointment beckons surely.
James Sherwood filled the Barrel Room tonight for the first of two gigs previewing the material he is taking to Edinburgh next month. His appearances on Radio Four have obviously won him quite a following, so it was a very friendly crowd to try out a new show on. Sherwood even got laughs with his apologies for working from a script contained in a large blue folder.
For all his protestations, the musical part of the show was polished and lapped up by an appreciative crowd, some of whom appeared to be about to collapse with laughter judging by the squeaks and snorts going on around me. The first couple of songs were two alternative openings for a show. Funny, but I began to worry we were in for a navel-gazing show about doing shows. Not to fear, Sherwood moved on to the strongest part of the night and a series of songs inspired by the coalition government, culminating in the highlight for me, the Ian Duncan Smith song, surely the most unlikely inspiration for a love song ever.
Less assured was his foray into stand-up, Sherwood was more hesitant away from the piano and the material, though good in parts, would need to be considerably tightened up, but I did love the comparison between an irregular heartbeat and a jazz drum solo. The end of the routine based around in-jokes with old college friends was indulgent and that humour is never quite so funny when exposed to an outside audience.
James Sherwood is a likeable and entertaining performer and the show went down a treat with his fans - I overheard "fantastic" and "I loved that" as I left the room, not too mention the guy outside singing the closing song "You're not perfect." It wasn't quite perfect for me, but if musical comedy is your thing, get along to see this. You'd better book fast, it's popular stuff.
Underground Venues - Barrel Room, remaining performance Jul 18, 10pm.
Teakshow comprise Jackie Stirling and Johnny Hansler and their hour of sketches is as packed with verve, lunacy and comic inventiveness as you possibly could wish for.
They are both actors in their day jobs and this clearly shows in their firm control of timing, accents and sheer stage presence.
They begin as 1920s' lovers bemoaning the fact that they live in an "era of grace and refinement" and are thus unable to give voice to the rudeness they ache to express. If only they could round off a perfect evening by uttering the word 'bottom' or worse.
Happily times have changed and Teakshow are now able to let rip in a series of twisted sketches full of original and gloriously rude situations.
As an RSPB member, I particularly liked the west-country bird watchers (or "whorenithologists") whose love of feathered friends was in danger of being taken to wild extremes as they lusted after lapwings and ogled nature films as if they were porn.
Another sketch had Jackie doing a hard-sell sales pitch for a male robot "for the ladies", whose bionic crotch lit up promisingly and who delivered various chat up lines ranging from the gallant to the downright dirty. Worryingly, the females in the audience seemed to enjoy operating the remote control handed round between them.
There was an inventive range of subjects, from the Scottish vicar with very firm views on what constitutes a "proper pudding", to the posh Buxton police officers who really only wanted to deal with cats stuck up trees, preferably in the more genteel parts of town.
There is just one performance left - tonight (Sunday 18th, 10pm) so catch them while you can.
Billed as a Nine-to-five office worker, former anarchist who now lives in middle-class suburbia hating the local kids. Roland takes us on his own personal journey as to how he has arrived in Buxton doing stand up.
All original material. There is some terrific interaction with the audience. His encyclopedic knowledge of towns and cities in Britain produced some great one liners to sum up the home towns of his audience. Some of the material was a bit close - which he acknowledged. It was better when he stuck to pointing out some of the advertising clangers that had been made.
All in all we all enjoyed the show and when he declared that he was happier now than he had ever been earning high salaries and driving big cars whilst working in advertising - you could tell !
Well done - and don't worry about your script Roland, keep going with the flow it works!
Nat's Kitchen - 16 July (9pm) - Remaining Shows: 17 & 18 July - 60 minsEASY LISTENING FOR GENTEEL FOLK
Stripped of a working PA minutes prior to transmission would force most radio stations Off-Air - not this Bright n Shiny quintet who bravely choose to broadcast nonetheless. It's testimony to their polished delivery and performance that we never consider retuning, maybe it's the rarified atmosphere!
There's an infectious enthusiasm amongst the company which translates into audience goodwill - throw in material that's primetime Radio 4, and you almost feel the license fees justified. The material's as safe as houses and is never threatens controversy - even the Muslim bomber has to buy a carrier bag.
Some 26 sketches later, we've dealt with traffic wardens, nanny state legislation and a fair number of job interviews as well as experienced a large chunk of WW2. Established targets take precedence over the contemporary and the bash-the-celebrity list is B-lifted straight from Heat magazine, yet the audience enjoyed and even the hardest souls were singing along to the closing Station jingle...and they even had the decency to admit to an act of Pythonesque plagiarism
This isn't designed to be the cutting edge of satire, but it's a high quality transmission which pokes fun without threatening to remove your comfort blanket - the staging and venue add to a sense of live broadcast and the sheer physicality of performance means it's hard to simply listen.
The show's repeated on Saturday (17th) & Sunday (18th) and should be seen if the Shipping Forecast ranks in your weekly Top 10, if not try my favourite sketch, Jamie's Drunken Munchies - now that's worth a National Campaign.
Pauper's Pit 16 July (5pm) - Remaining Shows 17 July (5pm), 18 & 19 July (3.30pm), 25 July (5pm) - 55 minsTOUGH ON LOSERS, TOUGHER ON THE CAUSES OF LOSING
Over recent Fringes, Johnny Indigo Façade (Matt Pritchard) has consistently delivered the best entertainment value per ticket Dollar spend - present day austerity has not diminished this yield.
2010's theme is 'Winning' - at all costs - in Johnny's case. Commencing with the birthplace of this mantra, an undeserved Sports Day defeat, he explains how this humiliation triggered his metamorphosis into a ruthless winner. The explanations are delivered in his trademark style - amusingly structured, Power Point charged and dotted with wonderful audience involving magic.
There's a more personal feel to this piece than previous years; less science and more poetry, though the climax of the high octane verses are pleasingly more Cooper Clarke than Keats. In ditching his calibrated white lab coat, Matt increases his exposure to the radiation of performance, a brave decision for someone who's not a natural moth to limelight. It proves a true case of the man who cannot lose and a successful evolutionary step, the added humanity was an intangible the audience could relate to and something with a half-life that lingers in the mind afterwards.
First night nerves and continuity hiccups will fade later in the run and work is required on the Face Game and 'all things tortoise' parts which require greater clarity and stronger punchlines but for the remainder of the show read highly recommended - on viewings to date it's a Top 5 show of this year's Fringe, which may be insufficient for Johnny, but is plenty for us losers in life.
The Barrel Room, Underground Venues
16 July (and again on 17-18 July)
Mark Allen is an observer of life - so his comedy can be thoughtful, reflective; it is not a relentless battery of jokes. There may be problems in this for Mark and the audience, as each tries to work out what the other expects and requires. There were moments in this opening night where it seemed that Mark was looking for a bigger response from the audience, which in turn was looking for more laughs out of Mark. By the end of the set an understanding had been negotiated.
This was the first time I'd seen Mark perform and I liked his style and approach to his work. His starting point - and theme of the show - was in asking what good might come out of slowing down the pace of contemporary life? He gave a number of examples of how life is more and more compressed - in terms of experiences (the diminution in size of energy drinks) or communication (the 60-second news bulletin). His premise being that we need more time and space to meet people, to exchange ideas and that as a result we'll be more patient and compassionate.
The problem - for a stand-up - is that this critique of early 21st century European urban life is not necessarily funny. It was apparent that if Mark were to stick to his self-appointed task he would have to work hard to find the jokes. It never was a sidesplitting set - the humour was more wry in character. At times it was quite painful as Mark exposed aspects of his own behaviour - and many may have recognised it in themselves - where a lack of tolerance towards others was revealed in violence of thought and language.
Mark planned to give up technologies that speeded up contact - if not communication exactly - for a month, to see if that changed him and how others responded to him. This included the use of mobile phones and the Internet. One consequence he observed and reported was that he started whistling - which will never be universally approved.
I shouldn't want to say much more about Mark's account - you should hear his own conclusions about his experiment in modern living. You might also want to hear how the Ludlow Sausage Festival could be a metaphor for the new, more-considered approach to life.
Kooky Babooshka Girls, it seems, are a force to be reckoned with; purely because from beginning to end it was simply a laugh riot.
After some warm and friendly contact with the audience before they began, it was clear that the sadly small audience was on their side.
From the baby named "Trojan Mace" to the messed up School Nurse; and from the "Pride and Prejudice" style family planning to the moment the Byker Grove Holy Men recalled the death of the infamous Jeff, these talented women displayed some fine comic timing and hilarious word play.
Far from the man - maiming, husband - hating venom that can be found in the material of some other female comedy artists; these four ladies presented intelligent sketches that were easy to watch and easy to laugh at.
Despite a slightly unpolished show, it was like an extra strong dose of "French and Saunders" - not something that I shall forget in a hurry.
The Pauper's Pit
15 July (and again on 16th)
Improv has been with us 20 years or more now and there isn't much more that you can do with it. All you can do is to go on late, hope the audience has had a drink or two and is in a party mood and give it everything you've got. That's the formula and The Noise Next Door have got it sussed. You can expect plenty of gags about sex toys, sexuality and how weak the gags are. On the opening night the 'cast' included Harry Potter (some puns that sounded anything but white-hot improvised comedy) and George Michael (umpteen chances to find homosexuality funny - or not).
The Noise Next Door are five white, young men. They have plenty of individual and collective nerve; they trust each other and they work hard to manage the situation they are in - hence Chaos Control. It's impressive to see and hear them escape the corners they've got themselves into.
They're good at what they do. Go with a couple of mates, join in with the booing and shouting and you'll have an hour of forgettable fun.
The success of the film Prick Up Your Ears and its recent revival as a West End play means that many of us are more familiar with the life of Joe Orton rather than his work. The enfant terrible of mid-sixties British theatre was murdered by his lover, Kenneth Halliwell, in 1967 leaving a legacy of only 3 full length and four short plays. The Erpingham Camp was originally produced on TV before being revised into this version for the stage shortly before Orton's death.
So this is a rare opportunity to see a black comedy by one of the great British playwrights, and it's good to see the MADS Bunch (aka Macclesfield Amateur Dramatic Society) making the trip across the Cat and Fiddle to bring it to the Fringe. They were rewarded by a large audience for their first performance.
Erpingham, played very well by Matt Coath with just the right degree of bumptiousness, runs the eponymous holiday camp as his own personal fiefdom, but when the incompetence of his staff causes a near-riot his bullying and intransigent attitude cause the situation to spiral out of control.
Pete Thompson, as the proletarian rabble-rouser Kenny, brings just the right level of menace and ludicrousness to his role as the Tarzan-costumed ringleader, and Leanne Lake as his wife nicely balances between vicious harridan and proud mum-to-be with her refrains, "I'm pregnant, it's our first" and "Hit him!"
In general, if the delivery of the dialogue was a bit snappier and the tempo of the production faster, it would allow the comedy to fizz rather than be quite so telegraphed, but this is a competent production. One area in which it excels is in the use MADS have made of St Mary's Church in their staging, there are posters up for the activities available at the holiday camp (my favourite being the unfortunately cancelled Ugliest Woman Competition - I felt I had a chance), the self-righteous and overbearing Erpingham's use of the pulpit was just right, and the anointing of Riley as Entertainments officer assumed epic proportions in this setting.
A nice touch was the free programme MADS had produced, there's an informative piece on Orton, and a boon for reviewers, a cast list!
The Erpingham Camp is on at St Mary's Church on Dale Road at 7:30pm and 9:30pm on Friday 16th July.
The incompetent Bernard McWilson and Eddie Sproxton have been left in charge of the office while their boss is away, but they are about to embark on adventure involving a box that holds your one true desire. The plot is thin, but hey, it's only there to serve what is essentially a sketch show. And the sketches come thick and fast as Bernard and Eddie encounter a series of increasingly odd characters.
The pace is frenetic throughout, so if you didn't like the last joke, one you do like will be along within seconds. There is plenty to enjoy at this pace, but little time for nuance and at times the constant high pitch can become too much. Eddie and Bernard are fairly likeable characters and the sketches work best when at least one of them is present, and are less effective when two unfamiliar characters appear, such as during the extraneous poetry sketch.
The near ubiquitous device of breaking out of character to comment on the play and to each other is nicely handled and works well in bringing the audience onside, and having the stage hands on-stage throughout worked well in this context.
There was a sense that they were straining too hard to shock, and at times it comes off - particularly the nudity (male) which was genuinely funny-shocking (particularly in a venue as intimate as the Barrel Room!) - but too often it comes across like a naughty teenager trying to impress his mates.
The self-confessed weak ending was actually one of the highlights for me, I enjoyed the "professional theatre critic's" take on the performance, and the last line of the show was the funniest of the night for me.
Continues at Underground Venues on July 14th and 15th at 10pm
In recent years the cinematic zombie mythology established by George A Romero in Night of the Living Dead has been brushed off and sent out to a new audience finding a new resonance in the dystopian world they convey. Zombies have never been bigger right now, in films, comic books and now in this funny and affectionate show.
The show takes the form of a lecture given by Dr Dale (a slick motivational speaker), his helpers Donald (a craggy old survivalist), Judy (an efficient research scientist) and his eager-to-please nephew Tristan. Together they take the Barrel Room audience through the fundamentals of how to weather the storm when zombies start to wreak bitey carnage across Buxton.
Certainly I now feel better prepared than I was before. I particularly responded to the martial arts showing how to rip a zombie's head off (bearing a certain resemblance to a social dance of the 1970s), and the masterclass in recognising the tell-tale sounds of a zombie in its various states, from 'flaccid' to 'attack'.
All this and much more besides was delivered in a genuinely funny and surprisingly jolly tone that the Barrel Room audience lapped up. And like any good motivational speech, Dr Dale ended by directing us to websites, a forthcoming book and the soon to be seen sequel, which one can only hope, they bring to Buxton next year.
Underground Venues - Barrel Room
7.00pm to 8.00pm - 9th July 2010
Fringe 2008's Best Comedy winner, Helen Keen combines shadow puppets, tin foil, rockets and quirky ven-diagrams together with her contagious enthusiasm for science and space to create this sparkling new cosmos comedy.
Even as a small girl with a postman daddy and an unproportionally large head (with an imagination to match), Keen was fascinated by the stars in the night sky, and the boundless possibilities of space travel.
With her wide-eyed eagerness and zest, Helen tells us that we will be zipping through time, and our means of transport becomes me. You see, I volunteer to become our 'worm hole' (wearing a silver cape and headband with a cartoon worm on!) - in fact, our "space/time continu-worm." We start our voyage in 1980s' Yorkshire, where fun shadow puppets show our big-headed (literally, not metaphorically) heroine gazing at the night's sky, where anything is possible - from moon-walking Michael Jacksons to ET on a BMX. From here on things can only go up!
As the show moves on, we realise that this is not just a 'fun' performance - we may learn something, too! Again, her puppetry (assisted by colleague and co-writer Miriam Underhill) is put to good use, but this time to explain the science behind orbit! Furthermore, thanks to Keen's abundant fervour, it is almost impossible not to become enthralled by the lives of those behind-the-scenes but essential scientists and theorists who put rockets (and apparently also cats and monkeys!) into the sky, not to mention man on the moon.
Some of you may have seen Rocket Science in 2008 here at the Fringe, but don't be discouraged! V2 is definitely worth a look, and although most of the material is similar, there are some fascinating additions to this show, such as an introdution to American rocket propulsion researcher Jack Parsons, who turns out to be a goat-sacrificing satanist, but has a great body (phwoar)! Actually, that's Helen's opinion; I thought he had man-boobs.
The hour zooms by (maybe it is something to do with my pivotal worm-hole role, but more likely it is due to Keen's infectious energy). Either way, my heart sinks when Helen Keen wraps up the show, and finishes the boiled sweet she has been sucking for the entire performance. I look forward to her new Radio 4 series based on the show. In the words of 1920s' 'Rocket Club' members: "Onwards to Mars!"
Ah... the Barrel Room, Friday evening. The perfect venue if you like laughing: dark, hot and fetid, and packed with punters up for it. This is the start of a series of three stand-up comedy nights but there are no first-night nerves here. With four acts on the bill, none have time to pall - they come in half hour bursts and when they're good it's way too short. Luckily you can see all these performers in longer, more fulfilling chunks, later in the Fringe. Comedy Compere is former Buxton resident Tom Crawshaw - and he's a funny fella in his own right, with jokes about the loss of the Buxton Discount Centre and how you couldn't put a price on the part it played in the lives of Buxton shoppers - but if you did, it'd be 99p. The locals loved that.
Crozzy - in drag, I hope - kicks off the entertainment. Crozzy, like a former Fringe stalwart Mrs Barbara Nice, is from Stockport. What a difference 18 miles makes to an accent. There's some audience participation with poor Pete and we are whizzed through a guide to improving his lovelife before Piff the Magic Dragon takes the stage for the second slot of the night.
Piff (Best Comedy Winner 2009) is a comedic step up again in terms of content and delivery... and outfit. His deadpan delivery and fabulous dragon costume are a winning combination. He even does magic. It seems to involve exploding rabbits, much to the consternation of the young woman 'helping' the act. Definitely one to catch again.
After a welcome break (it's very humid) we're back with experienced stand-up Helen 'It is Rocket Science' Keane, who brings a touch of establishment as TC (The Compere/Tom Crawshaw) announces she will soon be featuring on Radio 4. Her breathless discourse on life in the back of a London garage - rented of course - and singledom is very funny. She likes to put a pessimistic spin on mainly optimistic situations, she says. A problem shared is a problem halved - unless it's herpes. That sort of thing.
The evening finishes with Gerry Howell, described as a one-man Mighty Boosch which is hefty praise to live up to. Initial impressions are promising, with a definite nod to the ramblings of Eddie Izzard and flights of fancy that meant this reviewer had to sharpen up to keep up - it is hot down there, did I mention it? His verbal twists and turns are dazzling and, despite giving the impression it's all off-the-cuff, he knows where he is going - I think. Wacky and brilliant. There are still chances to catch him doing his own thing for a full hour. Do it.
Fancy an hour of entertainment with a man in tasteful drag? Then the Crozzy Show is for you. A fun filled hour and plenty of audience participation with Crozzy, who will help you solve problems you didn't know you had and chat to celebrities across his telepathic hot line......
On the first night the audience was initially subdued, and Crozzy worked hard for every laugh he got. This man gets an 'A star' for trying. Much of his show is reactive, because of his reliance on audience participation, and on occasion it seems to flounder as direction of the dialogue dries up. Asking people, 'if they have cheated on their wives' isn't actually the best material, since you could quite easily find yourself with a tight liped audience. However, once we had joined hands to charge the physic hot line, things flowed more smoothly. When he spoke to the stars across his hot line it was clear that Crozzy has a crush on Peter Andre. We were entertained by 'Dan' from the audience who mimed how to make Rubarb wine, with running commentary from Crozzy. Not necessarily the most funny choice, but still very amusing and Crozzy did very well to make it work. Crozzy can actually come out with the occasional good one liner. A blind date show with three men from the audience selected to dance and voice their chat up lines was the best of the sequence. The audience loved this, as they voted who would be lucky enough to go on a date with his adopted daughter. The show finishes with an interesting twist as Crozzy gets arrested for stalking Peter Andre.
On the whole, this show is about entertainment and Crozzy achieves this. Better selection of some good traditional warm up material would probably get the audience on his side a little quicker. Crozzy would do well to study the early broadcasts of George Formby or Authur Askey, who were a bit more subtle in how they questioned the audience.
Be prepared for spiritual mediums, personal questions, dance, singing, laughter, date shows and plenty fun and games
The Barrel Room, Underground Venues
8th July (and again on 10th and 12th)
All I really want to say about this show is "Go and see it - there are two more performances. Be there for one of them."
However a little more is expected and required - some of you won't take my word alone, you'll want evidence to support my demand.
First off, Gerry Howell is a good performer to watch and listen to. He works hard (without making it look too hard) at connecting with and engaging the audience. You'll quickly feel as though you've known him all your life, he is one of your best friends.
Gerry/Frederick, as a character, is interesting, witty, self-aware and self-deprecating - but he doesn't leave you feeling bad about yourself. You feel better for knowing him. He falls in love; he struggles to get a job; he finds it hard to explain himself; he misunderstands and is misunderstood. But you feel he can succeed; you want his life to be a fulfilling one.
This is not cutting edge comedy; there is nothing in it that might be described as tasteless. Frederick apologises for using the word 'penetrated' lest it be thought of as implying sexual activity.
The Fantastic Reality of Frederick Goodge tells a story in a fairly straightforward way. There are some quirks as the narrative moves from one 'reality' to another, but the philosophical points - about the nature of truth and how we encounter it - are gently made. There are some minor diversions from the main narrative as other ideas enter Frederick's consciousness - but we're soon back with the main story.
It might help to know a bit about the South London suburbs - Croydon, Orpington and Pratts Bottom (unusually not played for laughs) all feature - but no matter if you've never got that far around the M25.
An affection for Peter Sarstedt's hit Where Do You Go To My Lovely? isn't mandatory either - but you'll hear fragments during the play which shares something of the warmth and wistfulness of the song. All-in-all an engaging and compelling play and performance. Do see it.
Pauper's Pit 7 July (11pm) - Remaining Shows: 8 & 10 July (6.30pm), 9 July (11pm)HOW NOT TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON
Twelve months is a long time in Dragon folklore; a year ago Piff The Magic Dragon swooped without ceremony or fair warning with a last minute entry and deservedly won 2009 Best Comedy Act with a beautifully understated performance, predominantly raised on wry banter interspersed with a the odd trick of his tail.
Perched upon a 2010 opening night slot suggests even fierier entertainment, yet there's little to douse once the smoke rises. A show built predominantly around magic, not only continuously admits to being in preview, but hints of massive under preparation in parts. Even acknowledging the threadbare script, it's a struggle to find redemption via deadpan delivery which oversteps the dour to feign disinterest and deny charm.
Only the 'hare' sketch intermittingly reminds us of yesteryear glory whilst the opening character (John van der Put) and the closing 'fingerbobs' are at least consistent in over indulgence.
A slower, more confident, engaging approach would reap immediate benefits - this Dragon needs to look his audience in the eye. Meaningful editing and a superficial polish would also make this dragon's den more inviting
There's quality lurking in the magic, but presentation-wise it's a test for the keenest voyeur and one can't help feeling that this is a somewhat toothless dragon compared to the previous incarnation.