Comedy Reviews

ABSOLUTE IMPROV - To Be Continued...

I took up the opportunity to review this show as I was fascinated to see how it worked. The company relies on the audience to fill in gaps in a series of sketches, which change and flex from show to show, meaning that every performance they give is entirely different.

The company easily comes to life in front of a small audience to create a warm, friendly atmosphere, which helps when taking ideas from a group of complete strangers. It's true to say that they adapt best to the more obscure suggestions - a slide show from Tenerife doesn't work quite as well as an Uzbek poet trying to translate The Tale of the Poorly Shepard.

While the acting styles and characterization may not differ all too much, there is obviously a strong group connection between the three performers, which is always a pleasure to see when watching live comedy. It's fun to see how they bounce off each other and throw ideas back and forth, while always maintaining positive contact with the audience. As with much improvisation, a lot of the comedy comes from watching the performers experiment, and quickly change the situation to see what that audience enjoys.

To Be Continued certainly provides a very entertaining night out, which a wide variety of people can appreciate.

Ariane Dean


Danny Pensive

Danny's granny's inheritance money allowed the duffel-coated character comedian to travel the world. Not all of it, but just a few interesting bits where they mostly speak English better than this child of Sunderland.

In his warmly naïve and chatty style, Danny narrates from his diary and provides recollections of the various hilarious encounters prompted mostly by the cultural differences between one non-Geordie living in the north-east and others living abroad.

He's very good at using his audience to bounce around gently observed humour. He's also good at trying not to make a fuss or a kerfuffle or upsetting anyone when he travels. However, he's not very good at haggling or actually avoiding a fuss (or kerfuffle), nor differentiating between the words exotic and erotic when travelling. It is easy to see why he has so much to tell his audience!

With child-like innocence and deadpan delivery, he explains amongst other bizarre things why he thinks an Egyptian donkey is just like a bobsled in the film Cool Runnings and his belief that Australia's cute koala population would make an excellent reserve police force.

Danny is a comfortable performer and tells a great tale. Next time he goes haway on holiday, he might just take a film crew and you'll see the riotous results on television, his natural home after the stage.

David Carlisle

BARREL OF LAUGHS - Underground Venues

Barrel of Laughs is Underground Venues showcase event whereby we get to get to see some of the acts lined up for our pleasure during the Fringe. I have been to a few of these, and I think that this was one of the best. It was certainly the fullest I've seen the room. Sadly, as our host Tom Crawshaw told us, it is to be the last, as the venue is being redeveloped to stop jokes about the on-off redevelopment of the Crescent. 'How could they?' I thought . . . but we were invited back to join the revolution next year! Our future assured, we were whisked off on the whistle-stop tour of what this year's dedicated Fringe-goers can expect to see.

First up was the 'improv' of The Great Exhibitionists, aka the St Pancras family. A Victorian take on the art of improve they rattled trough their material in fine form and had the audience clicking their fingers - you have to be there. They were followed by Oliver Meech whose show combines magic, comedy and badly mangled schoolboy French brilliantly. This had the audience quite literally cheering and clapping wildly. I must go and the full show if I can squeeze another one in between reviews! Part 1 was closed by Alfie Moore. What can I say? The man had every one of us laughing and if there was enough room, I'm sure some would have fallen of their chairs! Fantastic fun and you may never think of policemen in the same way again.

Part 2 opened with the saucy songs of Sugar & Vice whose songs take us into their world of love, sex and almost all in between. Their full show has a review already and if you want to see them have a look out for it on the website or at the Fringe desk. Amadeus Martin arrived without back up he told us, but he needn't have worried. A firm Fringe favourite he made new friends with snippets from his new show. Part self-deprecating, part-street savvy, he jumps straight into the fray and had the audience in his hand from the off. The show closed with another favourite, Helen Arnley. Helen tries, and it must be said succeeds, in making science fun and sexy. I know some physicists and they don't, can't do it. She has 2 shows in this year's Fringe to make doubly sure you can catch her doing things about particles you wouldn't dream of!

If you didn't catch this one there are repeat showcase events on the 12th and 19th. With appetite whetted by this array of talent I'm sure the venue will see full houses in both the individual shows and Barrel of Laughs.

Ian Parker Heath

BORIS NICOLI KGB MIND-READER: HAMMERED & TICKLED - Boris Nicoli and the Lovely Russianette

Boris Nicoli KGB Mind Reader; Hammered & Tickled; Looking to Stay for Love

I've always liked the KGB, lovely bunch of chaps. Never hear a bad word said against them.

Ok, now I've come clean and confessed, but what of Boris Nicoli? Well, the content and premise of the show is generally fine. Boris, the last remnant of a KGB Psychic Counter-intelligence unit, has arrived in Britain looking for love. Or rather a visa. In his bid to stay he is not averse to using some of his old employer's tricks and tips, and like an engagement with them, audience participation is a must! As a result there is fun to be had and much of the audience did so. There were some genuinely surprising moments as well, which made the audience cheered loudly.

I was chatting with a Fringe stalwart and fellow reviewer at 'half-time' and we weren't quite sure where to put our money. A combination of 'magic' which didn't always seem to come off and comedy had us scratching our heads. The second half was more successful, but then we couldn't figure out why we needed a break. Slightly puzzling.

So, if making your audience laugh and cheer, join in and be entertained all for a fiver, then Boris succeeded. Especially for the lady who won a bottle of vodka at the end. See what you missed?

Ian Parker Heath

CHAIN LETTER - Ben Van der Velde

It has been a rant of mine for quite a while that emails and texting have killed letter writing, so I was pleased to volunteer to review Ben Van der Velde's Chain Letter, about 'rediscovering the lost art of letter writing'. I had been hoping that I would find a comedic kindred spirit who would join in on the rant, but it seems I was in for a surprise - rather than complaining about the demise of the letter, Ben set out on a challenge to try and restore this lost art by starting his own hand delivered 'chain letter'. This is no ordinary letter, as Ben soon discovered - it will bring him in to contact with extraordinary stories, in several parts of the world, and with people that you might not normally expect to receive a letter from. There were even some educational bits!

Ben's Chain Letter reminded me very much of some of Dave Gorman's shows, from the concept, to his use of props and storytelling, through to how far someone is willing to go to get material for a comedy show! Ben's hard work paid off - I left feeling that I'd had a good laugh, and had really enjoyed hearing about his letter writing adventures.

Emma Thompson

DOMESTIC SCIENCE - Helen Arney and Rob Wells

credit: Idil Sukan/Draw HQ

Last year's Best Comedy Performer Helen Arney returns to Buxton with real life partner Rob Wells for a show that finds lots of humour in looking at science in a domestic setting. They are a pair that revels in its science nerdiness - who else would spend their first date carrying out experiments on noodles that have been cooked in turmeric?

It's a mix of sketches, experiments, demonstrations and even a song, all done with lots of fun in an amiable environment. There are sitcom pilots, At Home with the Curies and Darwins, jelly baby models, and a demonstration of how scientists detect planets by the way their movement affects the movement of the stars they orbit that involve a ball, ponchos and rudimentary dancing.

The variety of material on offer suggests a show that isn't really sure what it is, they even rather generously had a guest spot from the excellent Morgan and West, but while it is this much fun I'm not sure that's a problem. Arney and Wells are also quite alike in style so there isn't much differentiation in characterisation - but I'd hate to see them split up in search of other comedy partners.

There is lots of audience participation which in other hands could be exploitative, but in this show we're all in this together, everybody's enjoying themselves, and hey, I always wanted to be Helen Arney! One more chance to see them today at 3pm in Underground Venues, you may even get to do cake decorating...

Steve Walker


Nathan Cassidy is making bid to win this year's Edinburgh Comedy Award, via a problematic relationship with gambling and a certain bookmaker beginning with L. It may well include you having a free bet and the chance to win lots of money.

We were treated to tales of childhood exposure to holiday camps and slot machines, the adrenaline rush between placing a bet and losing and spoiled relationships with children. All of it was presented in a manner of a man who is confident about winning, but rarely does.

If you like tales of losing, then this is for you. Sadly, I don't think the show in its current state will win him, or us, a prize. One member of the audience found him funny for a lot of the time, and there was the odd laugh from a few others, but it wasn't until the last couple of minutes of the show, when he began to interact more with them, that most of the audience began laughing en-masse. A shame really, as the theme has great potential, but if he wants to join that list of winners he recited he needs to re-tune the show.

Ian Parker Heath


Matt Pritchard | Extra Sensory Deception

Part tutorial, part family entertainment, this was great fun. Alternately amazing and baffling then offering some explanations of 'how it might be done'!

Matt Pritchard is a very personable young man, and could also earn a good living being an inspirational teacher - his classes would never be dull!

Of course he has been doing this for a while but his delivery is quick and funny, but maybe he should find an alternative blind fold to the 'gaffer tape'. He is certainly a talented illusionist - loved the close up rope tricks. It was interesting to hear how some of the card tricks might be done and fascinating to learn how to remember a long list of items - I can still remember 12 of the 15!!! Clever use of 'power point' illustrates some of the points and certainly he was persuasive enough to get lots of audience participation. How did you do the bag thing? And the paper, scissors, stone?

This is certainly an hour well spent - lots of fun - more than worth a visit. Thank you.

Linda McAlinden

GRIND - Gary Colman

On my way to the show I met someone who had just seen Gary Colman as part of that evening's Barrel of laughs show at the same venue, and they said how good he was. A good, dead-pan stand- up comedian were his words. So I was looking forward to a good show.

Now, one of the things about the 'Fringe circuit' is that it is often used by artists as a chance to try out material before moving inexorably toward to Edinburgh. Buxton Festival Fringe is part of this circuit for better or worse. Sometimes we get a first look at real gems and sometimes we see shows that really don't fire on all cylinders. This was one of the latter.

The start was promising and relatively lively which I was expecting, but after that nothing really worked. The material didn't really catch hold of the audience. On the whole the material just wasn't strong enough and he appeared uncertain about the content. There were a couple of times when it did -particularly when there was some banter between performer and audience. This is his strength and both he and the audience certainly brightened up at these points.

Most of the time I got the impression that we were all listening politely to a series of tales from Gary's life; people smiled and occasionally there was a laugh, but not too often. Gary noticed a woman drifting off and the man next to me was breathing heavily with his eyes closed at one point. Now, the Barrel Room is not the most ventilated of venues but these are signs indicative of the problems with his set.

As part of the reflective process at the end of the show Gary was honest enough to ask for feedback as he was only too aware of how the show went, and he should be applauded for that. Play to your strengths is the best advice I can offer.

Ian Parker Heath

I AM HAPPY - Ishi Khan-Jackson

credit: Rachel Hoare / Ashley Brown

As a British Asian woman brought up in Zambia she has a lot to say about the multi-cultural experience, her strict upbringing and the abuse she suffered from Zambian nationals tempered by an eccentric grandmother in Birmingham, immersion in the BBC World Service and Bollywood dancing (in which she even encourages the audience - including this hapless reviewer to join). Hers is a unique world-view which makes for solid observational comedy.

If anything, however, it sometimes feels that Ishi doesn't trust the strength of her material, trying to pepper the show with 'jokes' in order to get an easy laugh, which is a pity. These one-liners were often the weakest part of the act, and unnecessarily so. The hardest lesson for a comedian is to free themselves from the need to get constant laughs, and if Ishi relaxes into the show more - the nervousness of her performance doesn't always put an audience at ease - she has the makings of something special.

That said, Ishi's show is called I Am Happy and she certainly comes across as a very positive ray of light in the darkness of the Barrel Room.

Robbie Carnegie


James Sherwood engaged and involved the audience right from the outset in his one man show in friendly banter and jokes. The audience responded to his probing without hesitation and the result was hilarious. He managed to make us roar with laughter about our ailments, daily routines and even what we had for lunch - a rare talent indeed!

The stand-up routine is full of very clever ad libs once again keeping the audience entertained as Sherwood explored a variety of topics with his observations, confusion and general misunderstandings of the world as we know it!

His music is creative and imaginative, with his wry interpretation on daily talking points which he delivered in between the jokes and repartee; very shrewd and very witty. Watch how song lyrics, mathematics and breakfast foods get so entangled in such an entertaining fashion.

Sherwood finished off by revisiting all the topics covered with this particular audience in a very resourceful way through his musical talent and you can imagine that each show will be original and as unique as the audience who participate.

Sandra Cooper

LAUGHRICA - Daliso Chaponda

Now, you might not think that Malawi is the comedy capital of Africa, let alone the world, and you'd be right. There is an exception. Daliso Chaponda, purveyor of cross-cultural comedy, shows us in his gentle way just how different we are. Importantly, he also shows us how much we have in common with other parts of the world.

From the outset and his observations on the nature of anonymity and laughter, he takes us through some of his well-made observations of the sometimes absurd situations and behaviour which seemingly makes the world go round. Being single, family life and stereotypes are among the subjects under the microscope.

The audience loved his show and were happy to join in and engage with his easy-going style. Nothing frantic, and only one swear word, which was I think appropriate (see below). A genuine show, full of its creator's character and you should go and see it while you have the chance.

The single most important point of his show is I think not a comedy one. It is that he reminds us that we live in a country where we can tell our leader to **** off, without fear of arrest.

Ian Parker Heath

ME ETC - Amadeus Martin

Amadeus Martin arrived with striking intro music dressed in a 'modern cut' blazer, microphone in one hand and a towel in the other, ready to mop is pate on an unusually warm Friday night in the Barrel Room in Buxton.

Using a prepared flipchart in the manner of trainer, (I think more for his benefit than ours), he guided us through various perspectives of himself (hence the 'Me Etc').

The material, much of which was the same as last year, personalised intro music, childbirth, blue smurf on a late night London bus, the trouser hanging level of hoodies: was observational comedy told from his own experiences, predominantly from parties and his travels on the London transport.

I particularly enjoyed his caricatures of 'posh' people, impersonating well their lofty attitudes to the poor and to black people. I also liked his take on 'reverse' racism. I loved the £5 bet on a crowded tube. You could almost do a TV show on that alone!

To tell the truth, it was a disappointing 50 minutes, the material was unprepared and often didn't flow or was disconnected. Frequently losing his way and 'dying'. Having said that, I did smile a lot but unfortunately only laughed 'out loud' once.

Although, he started nervously, perhaps annoyed with the raised voices coming from the Orchestra Pit, he soon settled. I think, to enjoy stand-up comedy, one needs to see a personality on the stage, real or invented. He came close but his unpreparedness spoilt the opportunities.

He's on his way to Edinburgh and I quickly realised I was watching a rehearsal but there's something really invigorating in the way Amadeus Martin works his audience and I definitely want to see more. Let me know when you have the finished article.

Martin Wood


What fun this show is! Two steampunk explorers, Morgan & West embark on a journey across the world to recover their stolen Book of Secrets in this lively and inventive magic show for all the family.

From its outset, where the two, luxuriantly bewhiskered Victorians indulge in a mind-bogglingly speedy run of sleight of hand tricks to the final big illusion, A Grand Adventure brims with ideas, including a puppet master criminal who eats coins and a never-ending supply of sugar.

One of the tricks went slightly awry, but I suspect that might have been as much down to the vagaries of having two audience members involved as issues with the performers in this amazingly adept show. The only area that I might improve was the clarity of the spoken performances - the script, full of fanboy name-checks and pop cultural references rattles past at such a rate and occasionally Morgan and West trip over their tongues, but this is a small quibble that would just add an extra sheen to a highly recommended show.

Robbie Carnegie


Hilarious mix of science and magic which was delivered with wit and artistry. Oliver Meech takes you through a whirlwind of card tricks and time travel and even throws in some science lessons that you never had at school!

Some of the magic tricks were old favourites but were given a modern edge which clearly tickled and amused the packed audience along with cheers and a few oohs and ahhs! Oliver managed to get the audience up and dancing within the first few minutes and kept the energy high for a full hour. His approach rivals Derren Brown but with more of a science twist which is invigorating and creative. The audience are engaged and involved in the show from start to finish, but it is never predictable as you are not really quite sure what he is going to do next.

Overall, thoroughly enjoyable, well delivered with lots of laughs and fun and definitely worth a visit. Be prepared for plenty of crowd participation, sitting at the back will not save you!

Sandra Cooper


I loved this show. The audience loved this show. Especially Mark and Cheryl (hope I got the spelling right). I learnt a new trick with a hand-held tape that will come in handy in the future.

There are two versions of the show with the earlier one being child-friendly and I saw the later, adult edition. I don't want to give too much away, but think Colombo meets Tom Waits and does comedy cabaret.

It is inventive, imaginative, planned, spontaneous and surreal at times, but it is always entertaining. There wears tears of joy, audience participation - but be warned there is no hiding place - and I think Wes enjoyed himself too. All in all a smashing show. Do go and see this show while you have the chance.

Ian Parker Heath


Given a career choice what would it be? Instructing 14 year olds in the North West on how to resist their peers' attempts to drag them into 'cool' stuff - sex, drugs, shop lifting, smoking and the like - or - stand up comedy on the fringe circuit in a cellar with no where to hide? Yes me too, the 14 year olds every time! But not Ruth E Cockburn - the pull of the cellar was too great. A very pleasant hour was spent in her company this evening. Original songs punctuate her show and illustrate her observations and stories of attempting to fit in and 'be cool', both of which she has singularly failed at. But, she argues, as we are probably genetically programmed to fit in and be accepted, run with the pack, this is what keeps us trying when really, sometimes, others are not cool and it is best to walk away and let them get on with it. Along the way we are introduced to her Mum and a couple of ex boyfriends!!

Original, quirky material, some of it a bit close, some of it hilarious, all of it funny - especially the stories about her Mum. Well done - teaching's loss is our gain. This is definitely worth a visit - you won't be disappointed, the audience tonight weren't. I'm sure we will be hearing more from Ruth in the future. Oh and there's cake!!!

Linda McAlinden


Sugar & Vice are Courtney & Brydie, two spirited Australians with different viewpoints on sex - Courtney is saving herself until she's married, Brydie not so much. Their contrasting experiences with men form the backbone of this jolly confessional, where the girls sing amusing, mostly self-penned songs, punctuated by their experiences of disastrous dates.

The songs are jaunty and saucy by turns, accompanied by a stride piano style that reminded me a bit of Tori Amos. Their stories all have the ring of truth (whether it's the unrequited love for a gay friend who asks you to take part in a faux Royal Wedding or the ex-pat Irishman with a fascination for Neighbours and Home & Away), and perhaps because of that, they often fail to deliver a killer comic punch (although Courtney's responses to internet dating come close). But in a sense, that doesn't really matter - the fact that they're not just searching for a cheap laugh draws the audience into their confidence, allowing the audience to share their experiences, and allowing there to be a big heart (and a quite sweet moral) in what could have turned into a slightly tacky smut-fest. At the end, I was left feeling that Courtney & Brydie are two people in whose company it's fun to spend an hour.

Robbie Carnegie


credit: Orla Brandon

Late night comedy. Like a slightly drunk student group who decided it would be a wheeze to play a game of cluedo without knowing the rules, this partly scripted/ partly improvised play has so many plot devices its tricky to work out who did what and with whom. It starts off as a mystery and ends..... well that all depends on the audience as you are encouraged to alter the narrative by writing down notes and passing them to the cast. This means that the play will have a different ending every time and this can often work to its own advantage. Of course this reliance on the spectators to sculpt the plot is nothing new and its a tricky device to pull off as it requires quick thinking performers and slick timing. Sometimes this pays off and sometimes it doesn't. It might help if there's a plant or two in the audience to jog the plot along, but there were moments when the characters were wildly trying to shove a square peg into a round hole.

With characters who sound like they've been lifted from a Monoploy board, the scripted plot revolves around Paddington's ( or is it Trafalgar's?) quest to gain the inheritance from his late fathers will and and to discover the secret of his last invention. Multiple role playing ensures the cast are kept on their toes and attempt to keep the language moving. Perhaps a few nerves crept in and the dialogue needs to breathe a bit as many lines were getting cut off. There were one or two comic moments (the revelation that the posh bloke's fiancée was not French but is in fact from Scunthorpe); cue lots of French cliche's which all felt very passé. As the piece relies quite heavily on the direct participation of the audience members, the final scene looms and there's a frenetic few minutes of looking at the audience and trying to tie all the loose ends together (someone in the audience suggested the invention peeled potatoes which made for interesting ideas!) as the cast lurched from one line to the other attempting to plug the holes in the plot..... only for the choice of husband to fall on the toss of a coin. As in life, everything is left to chance or fate.

Depending on the ingenuity of the audience can be a risky venture, sometimes you just have to go with the material; the fringe is always good at delivering productions that are either bizarrely surreal, movingly beautiful or just plain good fun. If you catch the next performance of The Great Exhibitionists its kind of up to you to decide where it's at.

Jason Hudson


Piff and Mr Piffles

Piff isn't sure if his magic is a boon or a curse. His audiences are left in no doubt which when they experience the fun and silliness that surround each magic trick, many of which bring about as many gasps and ooohhhs as they do cheering and spontaneous applause. An accomplished magician in full dragon costume is not something you'll see every day, Piff is a confident performer with a wit blotting-paper dry and an ability to handle things when they don't exactly go to plan.

He's almost fooled TV's Penn & Teller and bamboozled thousands with his signature card trick, when a picture card is manipulated into another one before their very eyes. With some very funny new material, Piff is in Buxton with his preview show shortly before hot-footing up to the Edinburgh Fringe.

Piff is ably assisted by the gruff work-experience girl Amy (Little Miss Sunshine), tiny canine trickster, Mr Piffles (the most magical Chihuahua you'll see at any Fringe) and his pet flea, Mr Fluffles as well as Derren the mind-reading and fortune-telling goldfish...OK, you get the picture of just how silly this show gets!

Between giggles and guffaws, the lady sitting next to me described Piff as a cross between Jack Dee and Tommy Cooper. She summed up Piff's deadpan comedy: at turns he's charming and caustic, but then again dragons can be hot-headed!

There's lots of audience participation, in fact it's an expectation, so go on and get involved because genuinely funny magicians are as rare as dragons in these parts.

David Carlisle

THE REUNION - Max and Ivan

credit: Dan Burn-Forti

Max and Ivan return to the Buxton Fringe with another of their fast passed, character filled farces. As a big fan of 2011's Holmes and Watson and Con Artists in 2012 I was filled with excited anticipation for this years ambitious romp!

The class of 2003 reunite after ten years apart and recount their past through a series of digressions and flashbacks. This regionally inclusive comprehensive is the former school of lovely looser Brian, whose life revolves around controlling his exposure to potential allergens. Brian, played by Ivan Gonzalez, longs to be reunited with his teenaged crush, Jessica who is now dating American fish schnapps tycoon Kal, both of whom are played by Max Olesker.

The subplot follows Paul and Alex, two halves of progressive electro-rock band Velvet Erection, who really throb to the beat. After the dramatic split of their partnership over a replacement so good he plays guitar with his balls, the pair are reunited and have a hilarious percussion fight to settle their differences.

The show features gobbets from various other students, teachers, dinner ladies, and Mr Time, as well as a forgettable gun polisher whose name escapes me. There are lots of really amusing tangents such as Mr Long and Stacey's erotica geographic, as well as some ludicrous moments with terrible ice-skating incidents and a few ironic groaners thrown in there too. In typical Max and Ivan style the stories begin to interweave and impact on the main narrative as the pace of the show escalates out of control.

Overall I think the subject matter and the 'real world' setting of The Reunion has slightly less scope than the previous two shows, with fewer characters and lower stakes. The show doesn't have the dangerous physical exchanges, car chases and scenes between eight characters simultaneously performed by the two of them. This show instead gives us an opportunity to invest in the principle characters a little more with a heartfelt message and a less complicated story line.

This is a work in progress, and the actors have a fairly flexible attitude to the script (which is stuck to the floor) coming in and out of various characters to humorously self evaluate or corpse.

Both Gonzalez and Olesker are likeable, impressive performers and are able to realise vastly complicated plot structures both physically and as character actors.

The show promises entertainment and delivers, with loads of inspired funny moments and crease worthy gags - I had cramp in my face from laughing so much. Max and Ivan are experienced, high quality comedians who have created another brilliantly funny show and a highlight of the Fringe.

Sian Dudley


Messrs Alexander and Thomas Wells are assisted for this delightful evening by Miss Josephine Wells. Mr Alexander expressed surprised to find them in the 'comedy' section of the Fringe programme. Certainly there have been as many shows based on magic as there have been on dance or film this year - and one of them turns up as 'other events'.

Now quite unlike - say Piff who presents as a slightly odd, shambling figure - the family Wells is a 'professional' outfit representing values from days gone by. (More like Morgan & West who entertained at the beginning of the Fringe).

Mr Alexander has a moustache and a beard - not equipped physically for the role of circus strong man or porn star he says his looks required him to take up magic. He is as loquacious as his moustache is long. His brother, Mr Thomas, has a melancholy air until required to sing. Accompanied by his own guitar he is a one-man band in the old-school busking tradition. His songs are whimsical stories. Miss Josephine is there to assist but her mood ranges from sulky to mischievous and her help proves to be marginal.

The magic involves the appearance and disappearance of balls (of varying sizes), steel rings, scarves, cups, coins - it is, all-in-all, in the tradition of vaudeville as advertised. 'Hilarious' might be putting it a bit too strongly - but you don't always want hilarious. Charming, intelligent, skilful and witty - these are all worth striving for and achieving - better describe The Wells Brothers (and Miss Josephine) and the enthusiastic first night audience seemed to agree.

Keith Savage

TOTAL HERO TEAM - MJ Hibbett & Steve

MJ Hibbet & Steve | Total Hero Team

Pacific Rim may have enormous monsters, giant aliens and deafening destruction. The new Batman franchise may boast brooding psychological insight. Superman, sorry, Man of Steel may have been re-imagined as a titanic Moses-out-of-Nietzsche tale. But I have just witnessed the summer blockbuster that outclasses all of them.

Total Hero Team, as presented by international rock star, MJ Hibbert, and his mate, Steve, has it all - imminent destruction of the world, romance, a massive banker, the internet as global prison, computer repairs, a story that spans continents, and a bloke in a flat cap coaxing a kitten down from a tree.

Steve and Mark don't possess any of Hollywood's resources. Between them they play all the characters - male, female, animal, and robot. With only a change of hat and hampered by a low ceiling, they conjure up the stellar cast that populate their epic story. There's even a celebrity cameo. Their only special effect is a glove puppet kitten and armed only with a guitar, a ukulele and a narrow range of voices, they create the type of 3-D experience Hollywood can only dream of.

What MJ & Steve have, by the bucketful (and I'm talking huge industrial size buckets here, not the little ones on the beach) is charm and likeability. They remain just the right side of amateur. They are also very, very funny. Their infectious geniality comes over as two friends who clearly enjoy performing together, and moreover, clearly enjoy welcoming audiences into their somewhat skewed, yet always recognisable world, and we leave all the better for having been there.

Comic songs are tricky. Witness how few practitioners of the art there are. Hibbert's songs, however, hit the spot, time and time again. Never the obvious gag, always subtle wordplay, and innuendo that manages to be bawdy without being smutty, make for some memorably hysterical tunes. This is coupled with an insight into what is wrong and/or annoying about modern society, especially technology, has us smiling in recognition. We as an audience are made to feel we are in on the joke. The fact that there is room for a bit of pathos in the middle of this fantastical tale is even more impressive.

A duo singing comic songs to illustrate a story invites comparison with Flight of the Conchords, although with not as much reliance on pastiche. That said, Smart Alec's song was surely the flip side of Do You Realise? The most accurate comparison I can make is with Birkenhead's finest, Half Man Half Biscuit, which is praise indeed.

Yes, I loved this show. It has to be one of the happiest on the fringe. It deserves to be packed with people, all singing as one, "total hero team". Have I mentioned each member of the audience got a free gift of a CD and a badge? Plus, you get to find out what really happens to Boris Johnson in the future. What further incentive do you need?

Malcolm Lomax

VIVA ALF'S VEGAS - Alfie Moore

credit: Idil Sukan

Self-confessed Police Officer and one-time engineer, Alfie Moore would probably have a difficult task keeping an audience thrilled and cheered with tales from work, but compulsive gambler and comedian, Alfie Moore does it with gusto.

Alfie takes his listeners on a lifelong journey through the ups and downs, downs mostly where gambling is concerned. However downs are very, very funny things when they happen to someone else! His Elvis-loving dad, Big Alf has just one dream that Alfie can help with, but gambling clouds his judgement with hilarious and sad consequences in equal measure.

Is it beginner's luck or has Alfie got the gambler's gift of perfect foresight? It seems that his luck's in as he's off to Edinburgh for a 27 night run at Venue 33. His tales of gain and loss are set to win him many new friends, there and here in Buxton. That's the odd thing about the odds, when they're stacked against the underdog he often pops up and wins!

His style is quick-fire anecdotal quippery peppered with absolute honesty about the toll gambling takes on a soul. The show flows as smooth as the Aintree turf as we learn about giant captive goldfish and the positive side of Tasers amongst the perils of addictive behaviour and risk aversion.

Alfie is the dice man. His gamble has been taken - the career in the Police force is on-hold. Take a chance on his show and enjoy the surprise winning ending.

David Carlisle


credit: Idil Sukan/Draw HQ

Helen took the Fringe by storm last year with an earlier version of this show. She was part of Fringe Sunday and her charm and relaxed and happy presence was widely appreciated. I'm delighted to report that the Helen Arney that we took to our hearts is back - but for one weekend only. Chances are that by the time you read this she will have gone again.

'Voice of an Angle' is a fast-moving hour of jokes, puns (visual and aural), songs and autobiography. Helen is happy to accept the label 'geek songstress' and this is best exemplified by her closing song (Helen accompanies on the ukulele) in which the audience is enlisted to sing a Googol and then attempt a Googolplex. The singing wasn't bad but the scale of the task was impossibly beyond us evidently.

Tom Cruise, Walt Disney and Nana Mouskouri all figured at one time or another to illuminate a point or an argument. We were all given a free cd of songs from the show. Helen recommended that we take it home and turn the volume up to 11. "There you are, you wait all night for a binary joke and 10 turn up at once".

Sadly, this was the final performance of 'Voice of an angle' - and much of it had changed since its birth 12 months ago. Some updates had been made to take account of the role of partner Rob Wells who was managing sound and Power Point. Helen did explain that plenty of people had problems with the title and assumed a typing mistake. For her parents the title seemed literally true - evidently she is descended from the Germanic tribe, the Angles - and so there was nothing to smile or get excited about.

There should be new Arney material on offer in the New Year - perhaps at the Lowery for updates!

Keith Savage