A road trip for my birthday had us stopping in Street and the wonderful Bookbarn in Hallatrow before arriving at our country hotel in Limpley Stoke five miles outside of Bath.
A beautiful sunny day and a wonderful view of the idyllic countryside and we were remarkably chilled. Even more so when we saw we had a lovely looking village pub, The Hop Pole, at the end of the hotel drive.
We debated going there to eat before going in to Bath for the show but decided to head in and find somewhere near to the theatre. This was the wrong choice as it turned out. We arrived and parked around the corner with two hours to the show, navigated ourselves to the front of the theatre where the manager noticed us and came to ask if he could help. We asked where there was anywhere to eat nearby and we were advised to go to a pub 400 yards down the road, but when we got there we found they had stopped doing food six months previously. There was a takeaway Chinese and burger bar but after traipsing around looking for another alternative, we ended up having to grab a sandwich from the local Co-op and ate in the car. Cheep and cheerful, and reminiscent of Edinburgh during the Fringe.
Finally, we got into the venue, bought drinks (typical theatre prices – £1.50 for a small diet coke), and settled down in our seats. The place had loads of character but looked a bit in need of attention.
The show was just after the end of the Bath comedy festival and it seemed the locals were all comedied out as it was a sparse turnout, maybe a few also put off by an hour show entirely in verse?
Those of us who were there were in for a treat.
Alexis sauntered on stage with no introduction and this informality immediately set everyone at ease.
Having seen him many times as his iconic comedy character Marcel Lucont, hearing him speaking in his real voice was most disconcerting for a couple of minutes. Carole and I both looked at each other when he first spoke, and smiled.
The story told entirely in rhyme, was of his travels, and lost loves before finally finding the one.
There were a couple of lovely callbacks to his Marcel Lucont character, when talking of trying to speak French on a journey to Morocco.
The characters he introduced were fleshed out and loveable and the show wove like a tapestry.
It never lost momentum and had constant moments to make you laugh and smile.
Alexis was a tremendously engaging storyteller and it was a quite beautiful piece of work.
We left very happy to have made the long trip to see it, and for me it was my favourite show of the year so far.
With it being an hour show, we got back to the hotel relatively early and adjourned to the aforementioned Hop Pole for some pre birthday beverages.
The new landlord, there for just five weeks, was incredibly friendly, as were the locals. We got to taste some samples of Ashridge Elderflower Cider and the local beer and cider.
Come midnight and the start of my birthday, I was forced to drink a Flaming Sambucca, we eventually retired to our hotel for a really comfortable sleep, with Carole getting up at 8 am to go out for a run along the Kennett and Avon Canal, which she reported back as lovely.
We originally planned to pop into Salisbury on the way down to Southampton but decided instead to pop into a couple of smaller towns on the way.
First stop, Frome, home of our friend Tim O’Connor who mentions the town in his set. The car park attendant nearby was a really helpful guy and pointed us in the right direction to get a vegan breakfast. (Tim should use this ‘character’ in his set, alongside Barry the Taxi driver). We had a lovely chilled out couple of hours poking around the lovely charity and independent shops and I found a chicken bag for Carole which she loved. It was my birthday but as usual she got the presents!!
A second stop in Warminster found some more charity shop bargains and eventually we arrived in Southampton mid afternoon. A quick look around the Ikea next to our hotel, and we were ready to meet up with Carole’s son Matt who is studying at Southampton Uni.
Why Southampton? Back in January I got a communication from Jongleurs, they had found out about the world record and offered me free tickets to any of their shows I wanted to go to in the South West. We have always been a bit wary of big shows like this as in our experience they can often be very rowdy and not necessarily about the comedy. But with it being my birthday and the chance to visit Matt and our friend, the wonderful John Robertson on the bill, it seemed the time to give it a go.
Birthday dinner at TGI Fridays was nice, but not the sort of place we would normally choose. The schmaltzy service makes me cringe and I wish they had not found out about my birthday as I had to endure a public happy birthday singing announced to the whole restaurant. The balloon hat was quite fun though!!
With trepidation we walked across the road to Oceana where the gig was. A large nightclub venue, and the sort of place we would normally avoid like the plague. Matt told us horror tales of his visits there as part of his student experience.
We were greeted nicely and shown to our spot on the end of a long table in front of the stage. So long, we were quite a distance away. it turned out there was confusion and we were then asked to move because there were more of the party there than first anticipated. We were given a posh booth to the side of the stage, lovely comfy seating, but the view wasn’t brilliant.
Normally this kind of gig can be full of birthdays, stags and hen dos which can be quite rowdy and detract from the comedy.
Tonight there were a couple of birthdays, myself included, and a stag do but I have to say for the entire evening everyone acted impeccably and I could not find fault at all with the audience.
We also had a huge bonus with drinks, whether we were in happy hour or something I don’t know, but Carole and Matt shared a four pint jug of cider for only £7.60 and I got four bottles of Koppaberg bought for me for a tenner.
Before the show began Mike Gunn walked by and I got him to be signature 104 in Steve Best’s Comedy Snapshot Book. Fortuitous timing as he was due to rush off straight after opening to close another gig in Portsmouth. He was clearly not impressed when the start of the show was to falter quite badly.
Sally-Anne Hayward, our MC, came to the stage and… the microphone did not work. Cue techie and an eventual abandoning of the start of the show.
Eventually Sally-Anne, got through her well delivered interactions with the crowd and brought on our opener Mike Gunn. Then the microphone failed again. Leading to a somewhat awkward ten minutes while the techie replaced the mike with Mike prowling around on stage like a caged lion, not really knowing what to do. Eventually new microphone in hand, Mike delivered his set but, in honesty, the momentum of the gig took some getting back.
A quick bit of Sally-Anne again then Inel Tomlinson, who was new to us. Very enjoyable, though I though a bit generic, Carole and Matt were united in thinking he did better than Mike.
A break, more drinks and then Sally-Anne did a lovely little set before bringing on our headliner, the force of nature that is John Robertson.
Tonight he decided to address the microphone problems earlier in the night by not using it at all. He has such a booming voice and presence, he does not need it. He is also quite a snappy dresser, and tonight there was a big change from his usual Dark Room get-up of black leather and corsets with him coming on in a very sharp red suit. Material, he didn’t really use any tonight other than a knock knock joke. But he interacted with the crowd throughout, riffing off them and jumping off the stage at times to wander.
A commanding performance that raised the roof and left everyone happy.
Based on tonight, our preconceptions of Jongleurs gigs have been slain. We had a thoroughly fun night, if not spectacular, and would certainly consider going again though probably not all the way to Southampton. Maybe when we visit Bristol again for a weekender.
Sunday started with Carole out for another run along the Southampton waterfront before we drove to Dorchester for brunch. We did not have much time to waste as we were trekking up to near Okehampton to add four new rescue hens to our flock.
Joining our current girls are Camille, Beattie and Rose – named after ‘The Birthday Girls’ which seemed appropriate for my birthday. As well as that we have Sara(h), named after Sarah Kendall, Sara Pascoe and Sarah Millican.
The poor little girls are fresh out of cages and its always wonderful seeing them actually learning how to be a chicken.
They are already showing their characters, with Sara(h) being the bottom girl in the pecking order, but also the most inquisitive. I always fall in love with the underhen.
The weekend was one to show how nice life can be at times.