The Pauper's Pit
This work, receiving it premiere here at the Fringe, draws upon the Greek myth of Hero and Leander, and by way of Marlowe and others, arrives at the 21st century from the pen of Andy Dickinson who also took the role of Leander.
Initially it is perhaps curious to see Venus (Irini Athanassiou) as a schemer and Cupid (Alex Burnett) as a snotty whinging teenager. Cupid seems to excel at the things teenage boys do, like sleep and complain when asked to do anything by his mother. However, for little more than a wager, the story of Hero and Leander's doomed relationship unfolds after a few false starts.
There are some nicely observed touches, and Alex Bennett shows how a grumpy teenager can become, well, something more! Holly Hinton plays Hero in a calm, measured performance of note. The whole team have obviously worked hard on this and there was scarcely a missed beat in the whole show.
If you are unsure about the story of Hero and Leander, check it out beforehand (there's always Wikipedia!) but it works well enough without expert knowledge. Not a rip-roaring comedy, but one that will raise smiles in any audience.
From a Biblical workout program, to a pirate themed Ready Steady Cook (wittily named 'Ready Steady Hook'), to a Welsh detective agency in a town where everybody knows everybody, Al and Ned cover a vast range of amusing ideas throughout their sketches, which they also break up with song, dance and a lot of banter between the two actors.
As the piece progresses with more and more sketches, we see Al and Ned as their relationship gets more and more strained until a battle of auditorium sized proportions ensues. It can definitely be said that during the entire piece, Al and Ned display astounding amounts of exuberance and enthusiasm that shine throughout. They seem to create a sort of childlike humour which at times is amusing, but others is a bit garish. Be prepared for a lot of Welsh sheep jokes and bad language towards the end! The clever use of voice-overs/music at points in the play make the sketches all the more entertaining.
While unfortunately the piece did seem to lose it's focus towards the end of the performance, with Al chasing Ned around the auditorium shouting profanities (which seemed to go on a bit too long), and then proceeding to refuse to come on stage (all of which might have been remedied with more control over their 'banter' sections and more focus on their sketches), overall Al and Ned have produced an intriguing and amusing performance.
The Barrel Room, Underground Venues
Now in its 4th year, Barrel of Laughs continues to show the Fringe audience a glimpse of what it could miss if it didn't actually get up and go to shows! Each week during the Fringe the Barrel team present a mini-review showcasing the talents to be seen at their own shows at this year's Fringe. If last night's show is anything to go by then we are in for a treat. We had four very different acts.
First up were The Shrimps, an improvisational troupe from Sheffield. We witnessed amongst other things, the Domestic Olympics with Britain taking on Ukraine in a variety of 'challenges' shall we say! Their comedy was sharp and touched a chord, with the audience playing their part to the full. Everyone had a good time!
Next up were an act well known to Fringe goers here in Buxton - Clever Peter, winners of last year's Best Comedy award. They too did not disappoint, with a series of well written and observed sketches. Spaghetti westerns, what grandfather may have done in the war and how directions for actors have a life of their own were all sources of much merriment in the Barrel room.
The next two acts were both stand-up comedians. Andrew O'Neil treated us to some wry observational comedy with some curveballs thrown in for good measure. Just remember how good Billy Connolly was at this sort of thing and you get the idea! The audience were with him all the way, and for me he was certainly someone I'd go and see again.
Phil Buckley rounded off the show with his tales of the stupid and the dim. Upper Ramsbottom, chat up lines, and the tremendous cock up made by Brad and Angelina are just some of the tales you will hear in his show here at the Fringe.
All in all a really fun night and if the others are this good I'll be back for more. Oh, and the music was just right. Thank you Tom.
The Pauper's Pit 11th & 12th July
Clever Peter won the Best Comedy Show at the Fringe last year. They (CP are three young men) are racing certainties to be short-listed for this year. Their first night sold out, tickets for the second and final show will be like gold dust - book immediately if you don't want to be disappointed.
Clever Peter take comedy very seriously and work furiously hard, expending as much energy in an hour as most of us do in a week. Their timing is impeccable, even delivered at 100 mph you catch every word of the script; they act well, they have funny faces and their trademark primary-coloured pullovers establish a clear identity.
There must have been about 40 sketches in this show and there is no point in trying to pick out highlights; someone told me that the idea of an impotent Viking rapist and pillager caught their imagination. The running gags about kidnapping and the hopeless teleporter were well-managed. You couldn't help but feel for the housemates that loved each other whilst trying to pull some other, unsatisfactory stranger. As is evident from these scenario Clever Peter draw on the dark side for their humour.
At times I wish they would work a bit less hard and make the audience work a bit harder. This is very much in-your-face comedy. You don't have to think too much - everything is explained for you and presented on a plate for your enjoyment. As such you might feel that you didn't quite deserve such a feast.
Let's hope Clever Peter return to Buxton and are persuaded to do more shows. There will be many disappointed Fringers this year who will be relying on some second- and third-rate imitations of the real thing if they want to know what they missed.
Oh, I was told that there is less buggery in this year's show; not sure about that - but certainly no gorillas.
It was with some trepidation I set off to watch this show. Having reread the synopsis I really didn't think this would be my cup of tea - at the very least I was the wrong demographic. On arrival I sat with two young women - just in case I missed the point or didn't see the humour - I needn't have worried.
The first ten or fifteen minutes were a bit shaky - but I put that down to nerves. Scripted by the cast, it was a shame they threw some of their dialogue away, I nearly missed some of the really funny lines, and I did feel it could have done with some punchier delivery. But as each family member was paraded in front of us and the characters and the story unfolded their confidence grew.
I loved the songs, all written by Alan Charnley who manages to amalgamate all those old rockers into a commendable performance as the main character, Johnny Dysfunctional. The 'boys in the band', tongue firmly in cheek, were clearly having a good time, as indeed was everyone, including the packed house.
This is a skewed take on today's celebrity culture and to say any more will give the game away. The programme states it is 'an original comedy musical' it certainly is. There were some good performances and all in all I had a great night.
I would certainly encourage people to go and see for themselves and I would definitely go again. Well done everyone.
Who is responsible for Johnny's Dysfunctionality? You decide.
Tonight in the Barrel Room we took a trip around the world with Nick Coppin, visiting Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, North America, Ireland and Scotland as he recounted his experiences on tour. But Coppin is a byways rather than a highways kind of stand-up, the stories ramble across themes as well as continents, darting down alleyways (only occasionally blind) and off on tangents, as he provides affable company on the journey.
Nik's a knowledgeable guide and along the way he raised the important issues about the world's wildlife. Are sharks racist? Why they're not as dangerous as crocodiles or bees, and the reason you can't trust dolphins.
There was some fun playing around with national and class stereotypes, and his own mixed race background. All done with warmth and no cynicism - we're all friends here. Nik hit his stride as he told us how South Africans try to make themselves more popular in London, what it takes to upset a chav girlfriend, and explaining the truth about leprechauns to a German comedian (and it IS all true).
Nik's new stand-up show is called Loquacious and he's not wrong, he's got plenty to say for himself and plenty of it is good stuff, but perhaps he could slow the pace from time to time, and give the audience a little more time to enjoy the humour. But he's an easy-going host and you'd be hard-pressed not to like him.
If you get to see Nik at his second and final show on 15th, you'll see my favourite item of clothing from this year's Fringe so far - though if he carries out his threat, next year's romper suit should be worth the admission alone...
Underground Venues, Old Hall Hotel.
What can I say? As a reviewer I do try and find something positive in each show, but as Alex admitted, this one was a disaster.
From the off he seemed to be nervous and thus not have control of his material, and less of the audience. He spent a lot of time engaged in banter, which I accept is something which helps 'bond' with the crowd. However, he didn't seem to have his mind on his timing and the script. He ran over to such a degree that his visual presentation kicked in way before he was ready. We then had the unedifying scene of Alex, his a/v support and members of the audience trying to rectify the problem. It was 35 minutes into the hour set before things were back on track. When the visual element appeared it was somewhat underwhelming to say the least, with real publicity material used by bus and train companies to recruit staff.
The theme of the show was ironically enough, presentation over substance. This had neither. Some members of the audience didn't help initially by not letting him settle into his routine and heckled and grumbled. These same people later grumbled during the show that they should get their money back.
There is a great deal one can make of the theme chosen here and I'm sure with work this could be a good show. However, Alex needs pay close attention the '5 P principle' and perhaps more rehearsal and thought will help.
It's the Stockport accent that first hits you - it's a warm colourful "come in chuck and 'avva cuppa tea" kind of voice that pre-warms the face for a smile, which in turn stretches those chuckle muscles leading up to the full laugh experience.
No newcomer is our Barbara. I call her "our" Barbara as she makes you feel like one of the family straight away with the kind of dialogue you might hear over a garden fence. No Joanna-come-lately is she either. Barbara has been garnering giggles and collecting cackles up and down the country for years. Her latest act benefits from the weight of this experience. As if that were enough for any mere mortal, Barbara's alter ego Janice Connolly is familiar to millions as the god-fearing barmaid Holy Mary in Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights and Max and Paddy. She also appeared as Peter's 'mam' in Coronation Street, she has been asked to appear in Corrie for several more episodes over the next two months.
This new offering from the wonderfully warm Mrs Nice is all about the way we hide ourselves away indoors, behind computers and email, how we hide from people we know using supermarket aisles as barriers to eye-contact and she introduces her 'Hiya' regime as a social experiment to get people talking, in real life, face to face as it were.
By the end of the show the audience were chattering away to each other as if they had know each other years. Notwithstanding the fact that many of them had. This then is the 'Nice effect'
This is simple down to earth humour with a kitchen table twist. It leaves the big important issues of the day to others and the smile stays on your face for the rest of the weekend. Fortunately the smiles don't need to stop there. Talk to Barbara Nice on her Facebook page. In short, a top act from a seasoned professional. Do see it.
Barrel Room (7pm, 10 July 2009) - Remaining Shows: 17 & 25 July (7pm)
DEAD DONKEY OR SHREK? - Recommended
This show is as much about comedy as being comic - its strength lying in the affection that Tom Levitt displays for past comedy heroes (legends) whilst presenting his synopsis of comedy through the ages. Like all good story tellers, he starts at the beginning - 1,000 years BC in this case and fast forwards to the (relative) present. Throughout, his sincerity ensures that the audience is left with a kindred respect for the performers regardless of any familiarity with their work.
Each of his chosen subjects is given a brief introduction to put them into context and then we're treated to sung or spoken tributes - performed well enough to constitute impersonations! Peter Cooke (as EL Wisty) was near enough the mark as was Tommy Cooper along with his Jo Brand (well he's got to think of the minority vote). There were honorary mentions too for Al Read, Bob Newhart and Jake Thackray amongst others.
Song-wise his Stanley Holloway ditty (Runcorn Ferry) was excellent and Poisoning Pigeons in The Park was suitably laced - both partnered by John McGrother's wonderful musical accompaniment.
The tributary main course is bookended by a couple of servings of stand-up and here perhaps the taste buds remain less satisfied as there were periodic audience groans - but he's earned the right to a bit of slack by even being here, so the odd semi anti-climatic punch line is forgiven.
A feeling of worth remains after viewing - being enlightened always enhances any experience. Celebrity factor aside there's enough here to ensure a decent start to your evening - after all you've got to Support Your Local MP.
Runs: 50 min
Over the last few years, Matt Pritchard of Lab Monkey Productions has carved out a unique niche for himself at the Buxton Fringe, with warm and amusing shows combining a pseudo lecture and humorous Powerpoint presentation with close-up magic and impressive 'memory man'-style feats.
Parannoyance follows the same theme as his past successes and is similarly enjoyable. Taking as his theme the groundless fears that beset us all at the start of the 21st century, Matt follows an exploration of dinosaurs, wasps and such, while amazing with remarkable tricks (especially one involving three audience members playing 'Scissors, Paper, Stone').
This was the first performance for the show in Buxton and occasionally it was a little ragged around the edges, but Matt's skill and engaging personality once again carried him through to an enthusiastic response from the audience. A jolly and silly treat which could be enjoyed by all ages.
Direct from Bury and no stranger to Buxton having crashed here before, Phil Buckley takes us on a tour of stupid. Stupid things, stupid people, stupid generally. It seems there's been a lot of stupid in Phil's life to date; friends, family and not forgetting Phil himself.
We heard tales of chat up lines from hell, gigs you wouldn't want to have been at, the tremendous cock up made by Brad and Angelina, girlfriends to avoid (especially if you are a hamster!) and Leeds. Well if you ever been there . . .
Phil delivers it all in a low key style involving his audience. He's a genuine guy and likeable for it. You can even chat to him before and after the show if you're lucky! Go armed with some heckles, he says he like them!
Underground Venues, Old Hall Hotel
Welcome to the Dragon's Den, only this time there is fire, magic and Maltesers! What more can you ask for? Oh yes, a Dragon with the attitude of a certain J Dee.
This is a comedy-magic or magic-comedy show, and works either way. There are enough jokes and magic to keep the audience thoroughly entertained.
Being a dragon, there were a number of animal related tricks, but none were harmed in this production, even the human ones, as Caitlin Joseph, star of 18 Stupid Reasons, found out as Piff sawed her in half - thankfully for that show the magic worked! I particularly liked his twist on the pick a card trick, but that would give the game away, just go see for yourself.
Just one note of caution. The website said children were welcome, but on arrival it seems there is an age limit, so make sure they are older children (14+).
That aside, its easy to see why Piff has won awards with his show, and I think that he'd be a welcome addition to this and many other fringes.
In recent years a sub-genre in comedy seems to have arisen, the fake lecture, used as a platform for more traditional stand-up as well as Johnny Ball-like facts and figures.
In The Science of Sex, amiable comedian Rosie Wilby turns her spotlight on pheromones, Kinsey scales and the like in an attempt to uncover the rules of attraction.
While doing this, she deconstructs her own love life, as subject matter for self-deprecating comedy. Sadly this part of her act is coloured by the recent break-up of a long-term relationship, so occasionally Rosie's observations have a slightly bitter taste.
By Rosie's own admission, The Science of Sex is very much a work in progress at the moment, and it would be fair to say that the moment, not all of it hits the (G?) spot. There are some occasional lapses of tone and taste that leave the audience a bit unsettled at times. I'm sure however, that the experience of performing this show in front of a Buxton audience will iron out these issues.
It could also be said that 7pm would not be the ideal time for this show, and a late-night slot might have suited the more adult material better.
Through it all, however, Rosie inter-relates well with the audience and her confessional style is disarming. Her final trawl through 'make-out music' was fun, and the final coda added a bit of much needed optimism and poignancy to the show.
Attractive and fiesty red-head Rosie Wilby takes to the stage armed with flip chart, lab-coat and specs, whisking us along a whistle-stop tour of our memory functions, examining the brain, Greek mythology and vegetables along the way, to scope out how our memories function - and how they can play tricks on us.
Rosie's quick-fire delivery has a smack of Gillian McKeith and is at times a little rushed, but the lab-coat belies her human touch. She often undercuts the audience's expectations with a personal frankness, exposing herself where other stand-ups might fear to tread. Her honest approach warms the audience to her and I felt she could afford to loosen herself from the lecture somewhat and pursue this some more.
The lecture-style relies on an array of posters and props which for me didn't always help best delivery, occasionally getting in the way of a punch-line and sometimes the timing was a little off-beat. And for the visually challenged like me, the charts were sometimes hard to see.
But Rosie was at her best when interacting with her audience. Her nimble-footed responses to whatever was thrown up revealed her strength as a stand-up and generated warm reactions all round. Overall, this was a warm light-hearted show which is worth seeing.
Rosie Wilby brings her 2008 show and her new show, Rosie Wilby and the Science of Sex to Buxton this year so there is still time to catch her.
Underground Venues Jul 22-24, 7pm-8pm
Given that the last time I sat near the front in a comedy performance here I ended up being quizzed about my sex life, it was quite a relief when the only thing Helen Keen required of me was that I impersonate an iceberg.
Such audience participation is a key part of Keen's engaging show about her ancestor's arctic adventure and I was happy enough to don pointy white paper hat in order to create the illusion alongside several other icebergs in the audience. More crucially, another front row punter offered to take the role of arctic explorer and ended up making quite a contribution after he revealed that he had eaten dog in South Korea (a useful qualification, although not appreciated by the dog-loving icebergs among us who leaned in towards him creaking menacingly at this point).
This show then was as mad as you might imagine from my strange account of it and there were certainly some peculiar props ranging from flying Foxes Glacier mints to a large and grubby pair of underpants (in illustration of the lack of washing facilities on her great great great grandfather's ice-bound 1866 expedition). Along the way we learnt unexpected survival tips including: Always observe Christmas and Consider eating slices off the frozen rear end of your horse - he'll never notice...
Keen by name and by nature, Helen wowed us with her enthusiasm and quick-witted humour while also moving us on occasion with her ideas on what constitutes everyday heroism. Her late father used to make his co-workers laugh by slapping his thigh, breaking wind and shouting 'Chihuahua!' Somehow or other this became a key inspiration to Helen as she forged ahead in comedy.
While this Edinburgh-bound show was clearly still in development, it managed to be both fun and thought-provoking leaving us thoroughly entertained and oh-so glad to be emerging into the only slightly chilly greyness of a typical summer's evening in the Peak District.
Sometimes, watching improvised comedy can be an embarrassing experience but this absolutely was not! You were quickly put at your ease as the cast came onto the stage and introduced themselves and the invisible 'voice from above'. There then followed a series of comedy sketches.
For those of you unfamiliar with improvisation; before each sketch begins, a member of the cast explains the form of the sketch and collects answers from the audience to specific questions. From these answers a scenario is created and the improvisation of it is played until the 'voice from above' calls time.
This was great fun!
The audience very quickly got involved, shouting out suggestions; of course there will always be a few smart Alecs in the every audience. But the Shrimps took on our challenges and held us expectant through the ensuing plots, characters and confusion.
Most of the sketch forms will be familiar, the genre switch, first line - last line. I especially liked the split screen sketch where the left side of the stage becomes the right side and visa versa. More could be done with that structure. I don't think the 'hesitation' format worked so well, possibly because, throughout the sketch, it needed audience direction and I'm sorry but we were too busy listening and watching and we forgot our part!
For me, the brightest part of the performance, were the characterisations adopted by the cast in order to play out the scenarios. They were a joy to watch, particularly Helen who in one sketch was a coy, manipulated child but in the next was strutting like a Margaret Thatcher in a cabinet meeting.
But don't expect Mrs T. at your performance; your ideas may not bring her into being.
As with any improvisation there is a danger of entering sensitive subjects. Be prepared for anything! You may think your suggestion of 'fish fingers' is harmless enough but it may end up going to a place that you would rather it hadn't!
An enjoyable hour. Thank You.
Performances are from 11 until midnight; a fun way to end your evening!
This was a one hour barrage of the bizarre, of philosophical and religious concepts merged with quantum physics.
Tam Hinton steps from the poetic and surreal into the colloquial and coarse and then back again before you have been able to take breath or blink.
It took me fifteen minutes to get my mind and ears tuned to the flow of his speech. But if you are a veteran of Mr Hinton's dialogue, I'm sure you'll get there sooner. I wanted to ask him afterwards for his script!
We were asked to be the observers of his connected / disconnected scenes morphing between ladybirds, a mouse, flies and magpies; whichever gave us the best vantage point.
He opened his performance, unexpectedly, with a love song, and then continued to poetically describe a scene of two lovers waking to greet the day and their room service breakfast. The conclusion of this short episode left me in no doubt that everything which was about to follow would be unpredictable.
As each story was performed, common themes developed. We are reminded that the human mind cannot conceive of the concept of its own destruction, but that through the manufacture of honey, the world was slowly becoming insectoid and when the time comes will we have the courage to defeat the forces of Vardok in the astral realm?
I particularly enjoyed the conversation with the drug dealer; its imagery, language and the agonising pauses from the CD.
Occasionally the language left me confused so I rested and then caught up in the next scene. I left the Paupers Pit exhausted. A pint of Fringe beer was definitely called for.
I realised that despite the bizarreness of the performance, I felt affection and sadness for some of his characters.
Unfortunately, some of the crazy, nightmare scenes, he had painted, where going to stay inside my head for a while.
URC Hall, Tideswell
Coming to you live and direct from Tideswell via somewhere suspiciously like South Yorkshire and on her way to who knows where, this is Jenny Vegas on tour.
Jenny generously provides us with more than a glimpse of her life as celebrity (well a wannabe z-list one anyway), replete with tales of paparazzi, tantric sex and why Emma Thompson hasn't graced the set of Hollyoaks.
She lives in a bubble, a showbiz bubble, which is full of showbiz speak, personalities and drama - some of it over-rated to be sure. But she is happy to share with us her world and her apparent rapture at being a star.
Jenny follows in the footsteps of others who have sought fame, and have to live with the consequences. Although in this case the consequences are filtered through self-deception and a hugely overvalued ideation of her self-worth. Sound familiar to anyone?
Yes, it has been done before, but this didn't stop the audience chuckling along. For me, it was a little overlong, but if you like the characters of Mr Coogan and Ms Aherne, then this is something I think you'll enjoy.
Not only that, but you get a tea break thrown in too!
Pauper's Pit, 9 July 2009
Nursery rhyme delights many because it is nonsense or because the language is unfamiliar and allows you to say words and sounds that have no apparent meaning. For some psychologists nursery rhymes allow us to give expression to subconscious fears and anxieties. Either way the meaning is ambiguous at best.
Happily, then, What on earth is a runcible spoon? remained an ambiguous and uncertain show. I overheard one member of the audience say, "That was a bit like a student review." This wasn't necessarily intended as a compliment but is indicative of the intelligence and education that informed this new writing.
Anyone worried that a show going on at 11pm would be coarse or replete with swear words would have worried needlessly. Grewcock & Wadham's script is something of a conceit, an exercise that tries to incorporate childish rhymes that many of us know into an otherwise adult narration of current events. Whether this is intended as a critique of politics, economic management or intellectual pretension is for the listener to determine.
If this makes this What on earth is a runcible spoon? sound a bit like a Radio 4 satire then that might be half right. The show is constructed around an imaginary TV show in which three male stereotypes explain why nursery rhymes matter to them. So General Sir Cornelius Tennant explains how 'The Grand Old Duke of York' helped inform his appreciation of military strategy.
Norman Namron is an economic reporter for the BBC and explains the credit crunch through the 'Hey diddle diddle'. 'London Bridge is Falling' down explains marital strife and how he came to be orphaned. The pompous writer Joe Gilbert presents a stripped-down version of 'Old Mother Hubbard'.
Those of you waiting to find out what Edward Lear's Runcible Spoon had to do with any of this will get no clues from me. If you really need to know - and again that is for you to decide - you'll need to go. You've only got one more chance - the final performance is on 11 July at 9.30pm.