Coming at the end of a fabulous but exhausting weekend at Machynlleth Comedy Festival in Wales where we had been sleeping in a tent for three nights, we were both feeling fairly tired when we sat down near the front of this lovely little theatre to wait for Mark Steel (of Radio 4’s Travel Diaries) to come onstage.
Dave knew Mark’s name and reputation but I didn’t know him at all and did not know what to expect. I was assured (by Dave) that it would be worth the extra effort added on to an already very long few days. For our event, there was a digital projection of Mark, behatted, in front of the local ancient bridge so covered in ivy that hardly any brickwork could be seen.
Mark came on to no announcement and launched straight in to his material. His show revolves around having done some research into the local area before the gig and sharing that with his audience plus notable or memorable facts from other places to which he has been. At our event he wandered off at a tangent a few times but would eventually come back to his main thread each time.
Once he had set one of the punters straight on the fact that he was well aware that Ivybridge’s bridge WASN’T actually only made of ivy and was weight bearing, we had some lovely stories about various places in the UK including Milton Keynes, Abergavenny (especially amusing to us as we had literally had to drive through that selfsame town twice on the way to Machfest and back again) and Monmouth. There was also a bit of audience interaction that could have ended up in a bit of a domestic with people visiting from South Brent.
One thing you can’t accuse Mark of is shortchanging his audience regarding time on stage. He came on at 8pm, did an hour and fifteen minutes and then after an interval did the same again! We certainly got our ticket money’s worth.
There were (despite Mark’s admitted best intentions) some generalisations around West Country folk, farmers, and country ways, all of which were lapped up. Mark also gave us a lovely range of accents, all very well observed (even the Scottish one!) which always goes down well with me – I do love a good accent and admire people who have an ear for voices.
Turns out that the thing Ivybridge is most famous for is that the man who invented the modern belt buckle was a resident there. (However on checking this later I found it might not be so!)
Mark Steel seems like a thoroughly nice chap who’s not afraid to use the odd sweary word now and again and certainly got a lot out of a nearly full house. In fact it’s the biggest audience we’ve seen at this venue, which is good because we’ve seen several class acts recently at the Watermark to much smaller audiences than was deserved.
We’ll be at The Watermark again to see Katherine Ryan on the 9th of November – a long way off yet and on the other side of the Edinburgh Fringe. We’ll see you there!