Review: Patricia Hartshorne – In The Fuhrer’s Face

ONE of the most anticipated shows of the 2016 Greater Manchester Fringe Festival, ‘In The Fuehrer’s Face’, was performed at Salford’s King’s Arms on Saturday (July 23) afternoon. 

Experienced actor and stage performer Patricia Hartshorne displays her many talents in this one woman cabaret show all about none other than Adolf Hitler.

Taking its name from a 1943 American propaganda film starring Donald Duck, ‘In The Fuehrer’s Face’ is a 50-minute mix of stand-up comedy, songs, both funny and poignant, and captivating stories.

Hitler, synonymous with the atrocities he committed, is a rich source of material, but material that has to be handled with care.

Hartshorne’s choice of anecdotes in this respect is superb, focussing on those who, as she put it, gave Hitler one in the eye.

Her anecdotes are fascinating, always keeping the audience hooked by seamlessly transitioning between a melange of diverse characters.

There’s no real costume changes, besides a few hats and, of course, Hitler’s signature toothbrush tash, but this isn’t necessary due to Hartshorne’s acting prowess.

Hartshorne’s multilingual talents are also on display, performing songs and bit parts of monologues in French and German.

Listening to some of the show in something other than the audience’s mother tongue adds an extra dimension, helping the audience to buy into the historical characters by bringing them to life.

Songs come at regular intervals throughout. Some are funny, such as the classic ditty about Hitler’s infamous monorchism (or his one ball) and the other about the master race, in which Hartshorne encourages the audience to blow raspberries upon raising her two fingers during the chorus.

Other songs were relatively heartfelt. A rendition of La Complainte Du Partisan, a French song originally by Anna Marly, is sung beautifully and changes the entire atmosphere from jovial to reflective, almost as if a switch had been flicked.

A dirge about Hitler’s wife, Eva Braun, had a similar despondent effect later in the show.

Not only is the switch flicked back, but the fuse box explodes.

The risk involved in such a stunt does pay off; helped by the content of the rest of the show, but one would certainly advise her not to wear them whilst walking down the street on a gusty day.

The stories told are claimed to be true, and in amongst them are little titbits of Nazi history, some of which are so ludicrous that they earn a laugh themselves without needing a corresponding gag.

Despite this, there are plenty of jokes, particularly at the beginning, helping to warm the audience up, with Hartshorne’s assured delivery creating light ripples of laughter. A joke about a certain Mr Donald Trump however, got a bigger reaction.

The show finishes on a repeat singalong of the Master Race, and, although the show has poignant touches, the good old hand gesture rounds up the show rather well.

In The Fuerher’s Face manages to look at a well-covered subject from a whole new angle, with Hartshorne proving herself to be a brilliant character actress capable of providing seriousness as well as silliness.

3

 

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Review: James & Seaburn – Pigeon Trousers

James & Seaburn

[First published on Quays News 18/07/16]

SKETCH double act James & Seaburn performed their very first preview of their new show Pigeon Trousers at the King’s Arms last night (July 16). I was there for us to see the show that will be making its way up to Edinburgh next month.

The King’s Arms is a lively pub perfect for comedy, however, James & Seaburn would have had the right to be a little aggrieved with the pokey studio they had been given, far from ideal for their show full of props and swift costume changes.

Pigeon Trousers is the double acts second show at the Greater Manchester Fringe and consists of a mix of songs, sketches with bits of stand up and improvisation thrown in. The title of the show is meaningless; in no way is it a bird fashion show, but it sums up the sporadic jumps between contrasting sketches rather well.

Both comics are accomplished musicians, but strike the balance of songs to sketches well. Ian Seaburn appears to be truly at home with a guitar around his neck and Nicola James has a voice that many a professional singer would be proud of.

One musical sketch that stands out focusses on an all mythical horse glam rock band called Rockin’ Horses. The costumes alone are funny and the unique idea allows for a wealth of character based jokes which are delivered superbly. The characters reappear to conclude the show, however, the song didn’t work on this particular night due to the fact that it was the first time they had performed it together.

Many of the sketches contained the idea of bringing either inanimate objects or animals to life by giving them a human perspective. A pair of socks that went through a break up, a hand bag and dagger moaning about securing film roles, a poem from a cat and of course the Rockin’ Horses are all inventive ideas that are performed with high energy and enthusiasm.

A call back to an earlier sketch at the end of the show is one of the most surreal moments, but the twisted logic it derives from is a hilarious piece of sketch writing. The homemade costumes presented a side-splitting image that sticks in the memory.

There’s no getting away from the fact that the show is silly. The duo know this better than anyone, their smirks throughout the show indicating that they themselves love this type of comedy. They hilariously allude to the silliness of the show when they seemingly attempt to perform a serious section about hoe some idioms contradict each other. The explanation that ensues uses dubious mathematics and is done at a comical speed to ensure maximum stupidity is achieved.

Tonight’s show wasn’t slick, and even though it was a first preview and you would allow a wide margin for error, the two experienced comics missed the professionalism mark by a distance. Improvisation held the show together but in a way the mistakes and mishaps added to the mishmash feel of the show.

As was said at the end, the duo learnt a great deal from the first outing of their show. The sketch ideas are unique and although eccentric, they are easy to follow with good jokes, and a smattering of clever puns. With more efficient transitions and stronger assurance in their performance, Pigeon Trousers has potential to be a big hit in Edinburgh and beyond.

3

Review: Piano Cad – Cloth Cap and Clogs

Piano Cad

THE KING’S Arms in Salford is host to a range of shows throughout the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival, and last night (June 8), Piano Cad perched upon his trusty piano situated in the Snug to play a few numbers straight out of the 1930s and 40s. Our reporter Adam Lewis was among the few to seek out the free performance…

Piano Cad, known as David Bottomley when out of character, gently entered the cosy pub room to a ripple of applause to perform his show ‘Cloth Cap and Clogs’. With the demeanour of a war time gentlemen and the moustache to match, the man from London sauntered in and settled down on his piano stool.

A nice little ditty about alcohol got the show rolling, attracting titters from the intimate audience. Island of Pomona was up next, but this was only a warm up for the best song of the show, the hook of which contains the lyrics – ‘she loves to shimmy with me and her mother does too‘.

The tempo of the tune helped the rather repetitive punchline land, with the final line of the song providing a twist which earned the biggest laugh of the night.

 

Piano Cad

An elaborate anecdote about the royal family followed the song. This was very much the pattern of the show. The stories he told were abstract, but the imagery he created captured the Salford audience, however, he struggled to get any hearty laughter. The story did, however, provide a fluid link into the next ditty God Save the Queen and Her Fascist Regime.

He then played a sweet song about love which contrasted well to the political song, even if it’s on the lighter side of political comedy. A Salford specific anecdote followed, surrounding the local hero L.S. Lowry.

Again, the story was abstract but was told in a believable style. He may have pushed it too far however, losing some of his audience, but there were a few good gags playing on his character’s ignorance.

The atmosphere was laid back making for easy listening. With only a smattering of people in the small room, the performance felt personal with Piano Cad almost telling stories on a one-to-one basis.

Shows with tiny audiences can feel awkward with performers visibly struggling with their act, but this was certainly not the case here. Piano Cad’s character felt natural and easy to warm to; very rare for distinct personalities.

Piano Cad

Matchstick Men and Matchstick Cats and Dogs is the song to round up the half an hour show. There was a somewhat awkward moment as there was uncertainty to whether it had finished, but a generous round of applause did eventually mark the end.

It was pleasure to sit back and enjoy the performance, particularly in the King’s Arms as the venue contributes a great deal to the aura created by the piano.

The friendly atmosphere continued after the show with David breaking character to chat with those that came to watch.

The show offers a delightful flavour of the fringe, and fully enhances an evening’s enjoyment.

Piano Cad performs his free show at The King’s Arms on Sunday 10th July at 9pm.

3

Comedy in the Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared web series

The final episode of the web series, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, has been released amongst much anticipation, rounding up a four year project. The six episodes parody children’s television, but quickly twist the initial impression, with the shorts rapidly turning odd, surreal and very dark.

There’s a vast array of fan theories aiming to explain the storylines, which I must admit are incredibly addictive once you’ve started digging. The videos are filled with clues to the meaning, some obvious, others more discreet being hidden in the background. The most popular theory is that the creators, Becky Sloan and Joseph Pelling, are making a comment on the controlling influence of the media on society.

I’m going to refrain from discussing the theory as I’d just be parroting other bloggers, but what I do want to look at is the comedy in these videos. If you like the surreal then these videos are a much watch. They’re the sort of thing Noel Fielding would conjure up and I admire the artists behind the project for not holding back with their creativity, which, as the theme of the first episode, may be something that the artists have experienced restrictions on in the past. Thanks to YouTube however, the creators have full control.

There’s three main characters; Red Guy, Yellow Guy and Duck. Duck’s squeaky voice is intrinsically funny and by contrasting it with Red Guy’s monotone pitch and Yellow’s typical dumb kid persona, every line is becomes funny.

Songs are a major part of each episode, helping to create the upbeat and seemingly safe childhood nostalgia. The songs are all catchy and will certainly induce stares if you unknowingly start muttering them in public.The juxtaposition with the songs exaggerate the harrowing scenes that appear late in each episode, and will make you laugh purely at how bizarre a situation it is.

The production is superb, there’s no distraction by poor quality. Each episode has a ‘teacher’, represented by an inanimate object that comes to life. Be it a tap dancing steak that can’t pronounce the word ‘organs’, or a butterfly mistaken for a little baby pigeon, the unique characters could seemingly be part of any mainstream children’s show.

Deeper into the series, episodes become packed with Easter eggs in the background. Some of these contribute subtly to the overall meaning of the narrative, but many are just neat little call backs which crack a smile. They’re videos made for repeated viewing, allowing new discoveries even upon the third or fourth watch. That’s when you realise how catchy the songs really are.

Episodes three and five are the most prolific in terms of comedy. They contain a few jokes, albeit it strange ones. The creators I think focussed more on making the steak character in episode five funny, with mispronunciation, the stupidity of his lesson and the bullying of the main characters. As for episode three, the inappropriate line by the sexually aggressive dog forced me to pause the video to break down laughing.

By reading and watching many of the fan theories, my favourite being by YouTube Explained, I believe that the messages behind the videos are very grandiose, but the skill in presenting it through a simple and familiar medium cannot be underestimated. The comedy on top of that and the ability to laugh at society has drawn in the viewers. This is what great writing and screenplays do, fantastic comedy on the surface masking a deeper meaning.

Episode 1

 

As always, thanks for reading and please subscribe and share. Merci

Interview: Facebook favourite Paul Ballington

For Paul Ballington plumbing is his trade, however it’s not what the comedy singer songwriter wants to do full time. All day he fixes pipes, but when he gets home he sets up a camera and shows off his own set of pipes to his rapidly growing Facebook following. I spoke to him about his recent success, as well as the money he’s raised for charity and balancing family life with music. 

“I set my page two years ago I think, it’s grown a lot over the last six months,” says Paul ‘Ballo’ Ballington. The 38-year-old, confessing he’s an old man, has been writing songs for 20 years but only recently turning to comedy and finding success through his Facebook page.

The first comedy song I wrote was Ten Pints Of Carling and that was about three years ago I think. To be honest I wrote it by accident, I sat on my keyboard to write a serious song, which is what I used to do, and then the line ten pints of Carling popped into my head and it went from there.”

Currently Paul’s Facebook page has 29,000 followers and some of his videos have hit over a million views. His most popular, a song about boy racers, was shared widely on social media. From the off he makes his opinions known with a tidy expletive.

 

You kind of hope that you write one and it takes off a little bit and that seemed to happen with the boy racer song. Even though I got tons of abuse from boy racers, it took off and I think my page grew from something like four or five thousand to about ten thousand”

Paul insists that he’s never offensive in any of his songs. “I always avoid things like race and religion, I take the mick, just light hearted humour.”

Boy Racers, however, did get some backlash but Paul just humoured it. “I picked on a bunch of people who didn’t like the mick taken out of them. It didn’t really bother me to be honest. I thought it was quite funny more than anything, not really a problem.”

In addition to the original songs, recently Paul has been covering several of the big hits in the charts by artists such as Meghan Trainor, Shawn Mendes, Galantis and Miley Cyrus. But of course with Paul there’s a twist, changing the lyrics to his down to earth and sometimes cheeky humour. He doesn’t believe Mike Posner “took a pill in Ibiza”, but that “he took a bird for a pizza.”

 

Paul’s bouncy Yorkshire charm makes him immediately likable. Starting videos with an ebullient “Ey up” and finishing them with a theatrical “I thank you,” adds to his cheeky chappy demeanour. He admits these sign ins and outs were not a conscious decision, nevertheless, they’ve become a signature mark.

As well as the Facebook page, Paul has produced an album. Memories Of Yesterday was released last year amassing a couple of hundred downloads through itunes as well as around a hundred sales in CDs but, as Paul is posting them out, he concedes big sales are difficult. “I don’t think I’ll be making my millions doing an album but it’s done alright,” he adds.

Being his first comedy song, Paul says his favourite from the album is Ten Pints Of Carling. It’s another song, however, that has been the best received. “I think the most popular on it is When We Were Kids, I think if I was listening to it and it wasn’t my own album, I’d say When We Were Kids was my favourite.”

A whirlwind of childhood nostalgia, When We Were kids is a toe tapping list of memories coalesced by Paul and his friends over Facebook, the idea to make it as relatable as possible. “I put a little status on Facebook saying can people list things they remember from their childhood, there was tons of stuff, obviously there was plenty that I could remember, but people just put all sorts of stuff down.”

Paul has also raised money for charity. He released a Christmas song to raise money for PACT, a charity through Sheffield’s children’s hospital which helps leukaemia sufferers, paying for them to have a day out. The song was rereleased the following year to raise money for Bluebell Wood, a hospice caring for children and young adults across South Yorkshire.

“The PACT one was the first one and it was quite successful that, raised near a thousand pounds, that was through downloads and we also set up a just giving page so people could contribute.”

Paul tries to perform his songs live in his home town of Sheffield as much as possible. “I’m starting to do it more and more, I put a couple of nights on around here, got a little local theatre that holds a couple of hundred people and I’ve sold that out a couple of times and I’ve played at the O2 academy in Sheffield.”

Balancing two young kids, his job and music, Paul is understandably too busy to perform as much as he’d like. “All this music stuff has come at the wrong time in my life. I’m more kind of bothered about the writing side of it than the actual performing. I’m just going along with it at the minute and seeing what happens.”

“I try not to have too much going on all at once, it just gets crazy.”

Asking whether his children have listened to his music Paul chuckles, replying: “Yeah they do, they really enjoy them. There’s only certain ones they’re allowed to listen to so I have to be a little bit careful.

“My little lad, he’s nine, I have played him songs and I’ve said when it gets to this word you know it’s not a word you use at school. There’s the Christmas song which is a totally clean song and the Get On Yer Bike song and yeah they love them, my little girl dances around to them and they were both in the Christmas video.”

A football fan, Paul has released a song and accompanying music video for England ahead of their European Championship campaign. I’d Love It is a classic jumpy football tune, immediately relatable for any fan.

 

Doing something you love as your job is something many people aspire to and this is no different for Paul. With no hesitation when asked about his ultimate ambition, Paul says: “It’s got to be doing this as a job, doing something in music, it’s not to be famous or anything like that it’s to make a living doing music, whether I’m in the background or I’m performing I don’t mind.

“My big ambition is to not be plumbing well I would say at 40 but that’s a bit ambitious because that’s 18 months away, but to be doing this as a day job definitely the ambition, not to be scratching about under people’s baths and bogs!”

 

Review: Tim Vine – ‘Tim Timinee Tim Timinee Tim Tim To You’

[First published on Quays News 03/10/15]

TIM VINE brought his unique brand of silly comedy to Bradford St Georges Hall last night with his new show Tim Timinee Tim Timinee Tim Tim To You.

Tim-Vine-702x336

The entrance for a comedian is vital. They need to look confident, composed, yet energetic. Vine certainly nailed the final one, popping out of a chimney positioned on the stage dancing hilariously to his own song. He is known for his comedic songs as well as his quick puns, but in this show he displayed his talent for physical comedy as the small, charming theatre was suddenly host to a display of ridiculous dance moves that had the entire audience in stitches.

Jeremy Vine, Tim’s brother and current contestant on Strictly Come Dancing, should certainly be asking for advice. After his opening foray there wasn’t any time for rest as the self proclaimed Punslinger ploughed into a series of chimney jokes, somehow squeezing numerous puns out of this one mundane object.

His delivery, as expected, was exceptional. It was quick and precise with exquisite timing, always fronting the joke out to make the audience laugh at the silliest of gags. His effort was faultless, and the smile on his face made it appear as if he was enjoying it as much as his audience. He received not one heckle, perhaps because of his infectious charm or simply because of the speed he delivers his act, making heckles a physical impossibility.

It wasn’t just a barrage of one-liners however. Lulls in the show were sparse as Tim would burst into song, which, although always ludicrous, were sung in tune and struck a chord with the audience. His box of props, always present in his shows, contained many delights. Some homemade with cardboard and a marker pen, others such as a huge microphone hat, were created at some price, but all accompanied with a silly song or hilarious quip.

Some of his jokes felt crafted rather than written, others, I’m still trying to work out. Donning a robot mask, then knitting and dancing to techno music stumped me entirely, but at the same time it was one of the best moments of the show. There were instances where Tim fully showed off his pun writing talent, reeling off a succession of jokes about a particular subject, and always riding the laughter and applause perfectly, rarely leaving an unwelcome gap or moving on too quickly.

Halfway through the show Tim regurgitated some old material. Despite being some of his best jokes of his career, it was difficult to sit through, feeling almost like punishment for being a fan. However, creating a full show put together with incredibly short jokes, never mind remembering it all, must be a laborious task.

In his encore however, he won back his fans. Over the years Vine’s songs have amassed into a greatest hits collection, allowing him to roll them out at will, a luxury other comedians don’t have. He started with Deep, a song requiring the audience to shout deep once the microphone is pointed at them. A song named Family Holidays then followed, but what pleased the audience most was his signature pen behind the ear routine, in which Tim tries repeatedly to throw a Biro behind his ear. Tension, expectation, disappointment and finally jubilation were all created by the simple act of throwing a pen behind an ear.

Tim Vine is a silly comedian, and by the glint in his eye and enormous grin, he knows it. That’s not in any way to his detriment. Silly comedy is extremely difficult to get right, but in this show, Vine certainly got it right.

4

Review: Simon Evans – In The Money

[First published on Quays News 18/02/16]

SIMON EVANS brought his latest stand up show ‘In The Money’ to the Lowry’s Quays Theatre last night.

Evans in his new tour attempts to conjure up humour from the conundrum that is economics. His aim, in addition to creating laughter, is to give the mature audience he seems to attract advice in what he declares to be a subject that no one entirely understands.

Prior to the interval however, Evans, besides explaining that even the experts don’t understand the economy, leaves his chosen theme largely untouched. He arrows off from the economy to talk about how it seems that we all get ripped off these days. In his disdained tone he then despairs at his poor old father’s past attempts at gardening along with the argument that organic veg is superior in taste. His material is then derived from his dog and his son, plus the phrase ‘polish a turd’ is had fun with, all in what turned out to be the lighter, more easily digestible part of the show.

His delivery during these more orthodox comedy subjects has a distinct and enjoyable rhythm. Evans raises a distaste for something, and then undercuts it with a one liner that’s always witty and edgy. It’s his middle-class condescending persona that really makes the jokes work, cracking his audience up repeatedly.

Striding out after the interval, Evans begins the second half of the show by chatting to his front row. Asking for names and occupations, Evans doesn’t really push the boat out in his chat but always manages to get a titter with his off the cuff responses. Evans admits himself that he’s not a social being, recognising that talking to the front row is not a strength of his, nevertheless, the two way conversation breaks the show up well.

After the knock about joking with individual audience members, Evans makes a start to his financial advice, the buzzword – investment. Property is first up on Evans’ agenda, as he takes us through his personal housing history. Do’s and don’ts, along with references to property shows are knitted together in what feels like a lecture rather than a stand-up routine. The odd clever remark earns a laugh, particularly when dealing with the economic crash of 2008, but looking round, I wouldn’t have been surprised if pens and paper sprung out to furiously note down Evans’ insights.

Evans mentions more investment wrong turns before going onto the two things, in his view, that are fool proof investments, them being cigarettes and alcohol. Acting almost like a salesman, he puts forward an argument that’s hard to turn down. It’s this alcohol routine that creates the most laughter of the night. Due to its relatability, it’s a subject that’s flogged by comedians in a range of ways, but in this show Evans manages to find a different angle. It ensures he finishes his show strongly.

Evans has a distinctive style to his performance. Condescending with his wit, but never so much to degrade his audience. In this show he deals with a wealth of dense material that only a reader of the Financial Times could follow in its entirety. Despite this, In The Money creates hearty laughter in bursts, with Evans revelling in a subject he knows well.

3

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