1st June – and we’re off to a flying start with the first of several shows at the Plymouth Fringe, an event we haven’t attended before. We are upstairs in the Barbican Theatre, the show is called Invisible City and is being put on by a new theatre company called Nova.
Always happy to help out artists, we were hosting Lowri and Jen who comprised Nova (along with with original sound design by composer Mat Martin and set courtesy of designer Buddug James Jones). For a change, it looked like we were mixing proper theatre with our comedy – an excellent piece which, as good theatre should, made us think about how people can still be lonely in a city full of other beings.
With the Plymouth Fringe falling neatly into my school half-term holiday; the very next day (2nd June) we were back at the Barbican Theatre again for Get Yourself Together with Josh Coates. It is a story of downs and some ups, of depression and trying to find work and it’s told from the heart. Again, more theatre than comedy, and what humour there was, was quite dark.
We then walked over to the Jill Craigie Cinema (part of Plymouth University), a largish space, for How to be a Man with Jon M Coleman. A very small audience was in attendance. There were lots of clothes on rails, an inflatable doll of indiscriminate sex on one side and a shop mannequin on the other. Some Heath Robinson style special effects in the way of recorded voices, speakers and remote controls and Jon strutting around the stage, doing costume changes and giving us his version of how hard it is to be a chap in today’s world. One or two good points but on the whole, this left us fairly lukewarm. We’ve heard this lament before, in several different incarnations.
Some dinner and then into the Theatre Royal’s packed Lab (down, down, down in the depths) for Szgrabble with Nick Hall. A thoroughly enjoyable romp with Nick playing multiple parts in this spy thriller based around – well, you can guess that bit! We loved it. Three shows in one day; just a bit of practice for later in the week!
The 3rd of June found us at the Nowhere Inn for Bill Jones and Graveside Manner. The Inn is just off Plymouth City Centre and is a small space. The room was quite full however with people perching on bar stools, settles and squeezing around to get the best view.
Hailing from Stroud (allegedly) Bill’s poetry is dark, dry, wry and perfect for warped senses of humour (ours). Twisted and bitter lines about his lost love; the portrayed (on an easel!) Mavis (subject of some brilliant rhyme), were the main theme of the show but there were lots of other wee alleyways and some general story telling thrown in for good measure. We came out into the sunshine, feeling glad for the brightness, having been shown just a little of the darker side. So ended the Plymouth Fringe for us – we are looking forward to next year!
A little later the same day and we were off to our old favourite The Calstock Arts Centre for another old favourite, Pat Monahan and The Disco Years, his last year’s Edinburgh Show.
Bounding onto the stage space in suitable disco gear and medallion, Pat works his usual magic, bantering with the Calstock regulars (white and mostly middle class). Explaining some of his ethnic background, Dad – Irish, Mum – Iranian, he soon gets onto the subject of dance. Various audience members are involved, some willingly, others not so, to give their versions of different dances. The man I’m married to, gets dragged up to give his version of Irish Dance; nearly ending in a hospital visit, but managing to get up off the floor in one piece!! It is all, as always with Pat, tremendously good fun. We are glad that we aren’t running hugely late because the very next day we are off to…
Wells Comedy Festival 4th and 5th of June 2016.
The Festival actually started on the Friday evening (3rd) with a two and a half hour long Gala in the Little Theatre, but we were in Calstock and don’t get to see this bit. We joined it in The Globe pub (upstairs) at 1:30pm on the Saturday. The festival was running in two venues, the aforementioned Globe and The Little Theatre.
We departed Saltash in good time in the morning, called in at Street for some breakfast and a quickish saunter around the shops and were parked up at our B and B (The cheap and cheerful Sherston Inn) before trekking off to find The Globe and our first show, Sam Simmons – Not a People Person.
What can I say about Sam? Surreal, silly and sidesplitting are just three of the adjectives that come to mind. Using various objects and bizarre costumes he delivered a show that had me wondering “Whaaattt?” but we were loving every minute. At one point he was chair surfing the audience with nothing but boxer shorts and a large, fake penis smacking people in the face as he climbed over them. Yes people, it was pretend prick, a cosmetic cock, despite (according to Sean), what some members of previous audiences had thought (and complained about).
In an aside to this write-up, the room above the Globe pub seriously needs some air conditioning fitting if it’s going to continue to be a future venue for this festival. In almost all the shows we attended there, the room was full and unbearably hot. It was warm outside but we were absolutely sweltering upstairs, even with the windows cracked wide open. A typical Edinburgh room you may say; ideal for getting acclimatised!
With a good hour between shows there was time for some fresh air and a drink before heading back up the stairs again for Bridget Christie and Mortal – Work in Progress. We love Bridget, her shows at the Stand in Edinburgh are always packed out, quite literally standing room only, and so it was nice to be able to have a seat for a change. There’s quite a bit yet for Bridget to do before Edinburgh, when the show will be beautifully polished – however there was a fair bit of distraction from a very cute baby who was sitting with his mum and dad in the audience – and Bridget couldn’t resist a cuddle.
A change of venue then to the just as packed but cooler environs of The Little Theatre which is just around the corner from The Globe. We were there for Arthur Smith, not seen by us since The Civic Centre in Totnes several years ago. Arthur’s show, Mindlessness, was a bit rough at the seams, but the theme was there, sending up the current pre-occupation with Mindfulness, annotated with multimedia and spoof examples delivered as confidently as only a comedy veteran can. Another good show!
Back around to the Globe and upstairs for Lou Sanders – What’s That Lady Doing? Work in Progress. Lou really is a force of nature, a law unto herself and someone for whom the seven second profanity delay on live broadcast transmissions was invented. We both really enjoyed this – however it ends up it will be something special.
Nipping to the bar for some drinks and food, we were soon back upstairs (where it wasn’t getting any cooler!) for Spencer Jones Presents Herbert’s Eggy Bagel: A Work In Progress.
Spencer was in skin tight costume, a portrait of his Dad (who he strongly resembles) on stage behind him. His show is a study in the absurd. Ordinary objects are transformed by his weird sense of invention, nobody knows what’s going to happen next, and Spencer guides us all along, muttering to us and himself to reassure. Excellent and one for the surreal fans.
Stewart Lee presented his show, Content Provider, at The Globe twice on the Saturday, at 5:30pm and at 11pm. We’d saved him for the late show and so up the stairs we went one more time. As ranty as usual, and in great form, despite the late hour and the hot room. Stew’s Comedy Vehicle on BBC2 has recently been cancelled (why – it’s great!) and so he had something to say about that (and plenty of other subjects) as you would expect. Lee holds nothing back usually, in his opinions of his critics and his audiences and life in general. No change for this show!
So we toddled back to The Sherston, where we found a very comfortable bed awaiting us. After four pints of cider each and six shows, we were more than ready for a good night’s sleep.
I was up early (8ish!) the next morning for my now traditional staying-away-for-the-weekend Sunday morning run. I’d enquired about a route from some Globe customers the night before. The sun was already quite high and temperatures were rising as I jogged off to the town centre and right past the Bishops’ Palace and out through the fields to the pretty village of Dulcote and back in a loop through trail and under trees.
Later, showered and breakfasted we presented ourselves back at the Globe for Andrew Hunter Murray. Currently on the BBC2 comedy show No Such Thing As The News, Andrew has also starred in Austentatious and contributed to or appeared in several other TV and radio productions. His show, Round One, was excellent. Andrew playing the character of a quiz master (amongst others), the audience being the teams. Our technician appeared to be playing more than one part too! Great fun.
Katy Brand‘s show – I Was A Teenage Christian – Work in Progress. Katy was at The Little Theatre, thankfully, it being a bit cooler. We’d never seen Katy live before and didn’t know quite what to expect. What we got was a story about Katy’s youth, her background and about a lonely, impressionable, young teen who was ripe for a bit of fundamental Christianity. What happened to make her see sense? A good yarn told well, if not yet showing too much of Katy’s comedic side.
Round the corner (again!) for the wonderfully silly, feel good Pat Cahill and D.O.T.T. Dressed in full overalls with gaiters and bells, Pat’s is a breath of fresh air. With various references to local traditions, Morris Men etc, Pat led us into a hour of whimsy and lighthearted observation. Thoroughly enjoyable.
Our penultimate show. The Little Theatre once more and Mr T, or as he is properly known: Tony Law. He was part of the original Soho Theatre gig at the tail end of 2011 that switched us on to live comedy and we have loved him ever since.
Tony, as he tells us in his show, has been through a rough patch recently, but has come out of the other side stronger and still full of his trademark themes, silly outfits and ideas. There was a mix of old (Aztec witch doctor and the usual, great accents) and new ( an Alsation who takes no notice of his owner!) as well as updates on the trolls – oops, twins. Always fabulous.
Our last show of the festival, at the Globe, was the Comedians’ Cinema Club with their presentation of Hot Fuzz. There’s a very local link here as the original movie was filmed in and around Wells. Indeed, one of the audience members, the mother of the festival’s founder and organiser Ben, was an extra in the movie!
So, four comedians playing the film’s multiple parts to a hot, crowded late night room. The cast were: Amy Howerska, Sooz Kempner, Matthew Highton and Will Seaward. Some very dodgy West Country accents, a lot of sweat, tight shorts, police outfits and slidey helmets (!), not to mention several dairy free cornetto type ice creams. This was, as you would expect, a fast paced spoof that very roughly (with the emphasis on roughly) followed the original story line – and if anyone started to go off at a tangent, Amy was there to bring them back, being the only one who seemed to have a handle on the movie. The audience were loving it; a few Hot Fuzz geeks amongst them, occasionally prompting the cast! It was quite anarchic but a great round off to the festival.
This final show over ran slightly, not too much, but we had a long journey back (we weren’t staying another night as I had to be back at work the next day!) so we didn’t want to be too late out. What a great time we had over the two days. Wells, we hope to be back next year!
It was six whole days before our next show on the 11th June. As far as I know, we’ve never had to do any proper homework before going to a show; a sort of pre-view viewing so to speak. We were going to Graeme of Thrones (sic) in The Brewhouse, Taunton. Long before going to this, as soon as Dave had spotted it was happening and bought the tickets, we invested in a Now Box for several months viewing of the Game of Thrones series. We were G o T virgins and so had to start from scratch! We thought we’d better get up to speed or we’d have no idea who was who and exactly how far the original was being sent up.
I was very glad we’d put in the hours as for sure we wouldn’t have had a clue. The show comprised three comedian/actors, Ali Brice (Graeme), Libby Northedge and Mark Davison who all end up playing multiple GoT characters. The production is a play within a play. There are plenty of GoT in-jokes, dodgy props , a back story going on “offstage” and some great set pieces including Sansa Stark’s first period – I am still picking pieces of that out of my handbag two weeks later! Dave ended up in a lot of trouble ( for sniggering, along with many others, at Libby’s “getting into the zone” method acting) and being dragged up on stage to perform a “blinding” (although he took a few seconds prompting) and showing us all his fancy fencing (as in sword play, not garden edging). All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable gig – we both just wished we’d had a go on the Iron Throne!
A little nearer to home on the 24th June. The Watermark in Ivybridge once more with Jeremy Hardy ( Jeremy Hardy Live 2016).
Jeremy Hardy’s brand of political comedy was right up my street. Leftist, current, pointed, and just ahead of Brexit as it was, full of cautious optimism. He rattled along at a hundred miles an hour and packed plenty into the first 45 minutes before the break and a good hour plus in the second half. Star of Radio 4 and TV, he is a confident performer who gave us our money’s worth. We like that.
So to our last show of the month on the 24th – Lewis Schaffer – Free Until Famous, at the Calstock Arts Centre. This happened to be the day after the EU Referendum and a lot of people were still in shock from the news, over their cornflakes, that the UK would be (if the government followed through on the result of the vote) leaving the EU.
To quote Dave: “Only Lewis Schaffer can go to a rural community the day after Brexit and do the entire first half about it, stirring up a placid crowd into near blows. It was wonderful to watch. We were in stitches. I think watching Lewis can be like a reverse enema, where they are shoving it all back inside you. A cathartic experience, but one we really enjoyed.”
It didn’t help that when Lewis asked “the question” on who had voted Leave/Remain, one middle aged blonde lady replied loud and proud (paraphrasing here as I can’t remember her exact words) “I voted leave, and it was all about immigration”. There were other members of the audience spluttering their reasons for Remain. It all got a little heated.
Luckily Lewis was back “on message” for the second half; telling a story about his relationship with a Thai ladyboy (or was she?). At any rate; he maintained for the most part that “she” was a girl with a penis. The penis was the one part of her he had a problem with. The thing with listening to Lewis Schaffer is that he’s the verbal equivalent of one of those “write your own story” choices books. The minute you question the story line, he changes it. He gave us about three different endings within ten minutes. Did he? Didn’t he? Who knows. Parts of it seemed very heartfelt – that’s all I will say. I enjoyed it.
Loads of good stuff coming in July including Sara Pascoe, Stuart Goldsmith, Ellie Taylor, Zoe Lyons, Matt Price to name a few. Dave is going to London on Sunday the 3rd of July for ARG – Actually Really Good, in Shoreditch Town Hall.
Until then. Keep the comedy coming!