Review: Tom Allen and Suzi Ruffell

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Salford welcomed, not one, but two rising talents on the comedy circuit in Tom Allen and Suzi Ruffell last night. With the Lowry Studio packed out the room wasn’t quite big enough for the two of them, but that in no way compromised the quality.

Knock about banter I think best describes the start of the show, with both comics making off the cuff jokes in tandem. It is clear from the outset that both possess a quick wit, and their obvious friendship helps the audience warm to them almost immediately.

With Ruffell leaving the stage momentarily, Allen introduces her to perform her solo set by starting a Mexican wave style of applause originating from the back corner. With the performance dynamic shifted, Ruffell is able to fully show off her hilarious personality.

Ruffell is from a working class family in Portsmouth, an upbringing which floods her act with fantastic material. Her charm echoes that of Danny Dyer and Micky Flanagan, but pigeon holing her like this is an injustice as she is far more versatile.

She tells stories of her family getting through tough times, but always with a refreshing positive outlook. Her buoyant attitude to life rubs off on the audience, and is a welcome contrast to the despairing outlook many comics take.

Energy and wholehearted commitment is never stifled in Ruffell’s performance; her illustration of characters is fantastic and, alongside funny quips, make excellent anecdotes.

One anecdote stood out. An encounter on Ruffell’s doorstep with a Jehovah’s Witness was always going to end up in a fiery encounter for a gay woman despite her best intentions to remain polite. It says something about Ruffell’s character however, that she managed to turn this into a humorous routine.

Ruffell is the new face of working class comedy, her humour is down to earth and instantly relatable. Her story about her free bar incident fully highlights this.

Coming out after the interval, suited and booted, Tom Allen’s confidence resonates brightly. As it should, this was very much his audience.

Tom Allen lowry salford

The camp comic started by cleverly twisting the things straight people tend to say when first meeting a gay person.

Allen is a naturally funny stand up, his presence on stage exudes humour and every time he opens his mouth he has the audience cracking up

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His dry, yet camp style of delivery is fresh and new. His jokes, quick and sometimes subtle, match his persona brilliantly.

 

His set centres around one particular occasion at a party when he became trapped in a bathroom, but a shiny new bathroom at least. He dips in and out of this one anecdote throughout his set, which helped him wring out the humour from the dire situation.

Allen commands a room expertly and, despite his exquisite word choice in jokes, it’s his physical humour that gets the biggest laughs. Exploiting awkward humour by putting a leg up on a chair, or leaning on a table that’s slightly too low, has the audience in stitches.

Referencing previous routines from earlier in a show is common for comedians, but Allen’s throwback to past jokes goes above and beyond as he did this for Ruffell’s gags as well. It was impressive, not only because it showed he paid attention during the earlier set, but also because it helps establish both comics as a team.

Although Allen stated that he has little innuendo in his show compared to other gay comedians, there is still a degree of naughtiness. His constant assurances that his benign statements are not innuendos in fact create the innuendo to waves of laughter.

The show is a superb mix of styles with both comics bouncing off each other extremely well. The variation in material is also impressive, as it would be far easier for both comedians to simply fulfil their stereotypes.

Ruffell and Allen provide plenty of side-splitting laughs in a show that will please everyone.

4

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

Review: Steve Hall – Zebra

[First published on Quays News 15/02/16]

 STEVE Hall performed his new stand up show ‘Zebra’ in the Lowry’s intimate studio venue last night.

Member of the now defunct sketch trio Klang and contributing writer for BBC’s Russell Howard’s Good News, Hall’s solo comedy career has been on the back burner for some time. He has returned to stand up by touring his Edinburgh fringe show ‘Zebra’, which is all about the unexpected perks in life.

Before delving into his anecdotes, Hall gets a gauge of his audience in terms of knowledge of his previous work, and, on this Valentines evening, the couples that are celebrating, displaying genuine gratitude for them turning up.

The title of his show refers to a saying from his childhood: “If you hear hooves, expect horses, not zebras.” It means that the worst case scenario is unlikely, therefore you shouldn’t expect it. Dissecting the phrase he flips it, saying the ‘zebras’ in life are actually surprising perks in among the mundane horses. It turns out to be a pleasant theme for a comedy show.

Hall has recently become a father. This unsurprisingly makes up a large chunk of material in his show, as it’s easy to see how a new born can throw up numerous ‘zebras’. Veering away from this idea briefly, Hall first recalls his student days, talking about how drinking to excess caused him to have memory blackouts, with embarrassing results come morning. It’s a tight routine that is a definite high point in the show.

Many years after university, Hall tells how his drunken activities now are as peculiar as ever, these days surfing crowdfunding websites after a drinking session. This sets up a lengthy but rewarding anecdote. He explains that whilst boozed up he had turned to people over the internet to edit sentimental black and white photos from his childhood. The large blown up photos, which picture him meeting the muppets as a three-year-old, are proudly paraded around the room by Hall. The new edits, some colour corrected, others turned into paintings, are the subject of strong laughter.

It’s a routine full of character, and a far cry from a usual stand up set. It offers a sweet insight into Hall’s blissful memories and relationship with his father, elaborating on how that has in turn influenced his outlook towards his daughter. It doesn’t contain jokes as such, but it’s funny in its warmth and charm. Much like the theme of the show, Hall pulls out an unexpected zebra.

There’s not much in the way of improvisation. For a confident comic in a small venue, it was unusual to see him interact one on one with an audience member only once. However, the crowd didn’t offer an opportunity for him to dive in as heckles were non-existent, perhaps due to the polite nature Hall exudes.

The audience is never grabbed by a joke, but ripples of laughter frequently sweep the room. Admitting himself that he has a monotone voice, Hall’s material, despite being strong, was standing alone, needing a more unique delivery to create cascades of laughter. His well-mannered demeanour, complete with little cursing, is pleasant, but lacked energy to rev up the audience.

Hall’s story telling offers a delightful evening filled with an array of light heated anecdotes. Zebra may not have the audience in stitches, but its undeniable charm amuses to create a long lasting smile.

Review: Tom Stade You’re Welcome

[First published on Quays News 30/01/16] Youre-Welcome-Poster-Jpeg

ROCK star comedian Tom Stade hit the Lowry’s Quays Theatre last night with his new show ‘You’re Welcome’.

The intimate room was the venue for the second night of Tom Stade’s new tour, which, for a comedian that’s appeared on the likes of ‘Live at the Apollo’ and ‘Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow’, is a relatively tiny room. Small theatres do give audience members a greater sense of inclusion in a show, and, with Stade’s constant chatting to the front row, this was certainly the case.

Support act Gareth Waugh graced the stage first however. Stade’s recognisable voice over to welcome the Scottish comedian gets the laughter roaring to banish any nervous wait before the first joke lands. A stark contrast to Stade, Waugh’s feeble persona tells self-deprecating anecdotes, fitting into the mould of young male comics that laugh at their failure to be the stereotypical man. His stories are told excellently with the help of his physical performance, ending in some crude but funny mimes. Clever punchlines are scattered throughout, maintaining the laughter before finishing strong. The young Scotsman is definitely one to watch.

The interval passes and, with confidence in abundance, Stade strides onto the stage. In the front row was a gentleman who would be gold dust to any comedian, and Stade spotted him immediately, commenting on his likeness to Einstein to great laughter and applause. A photography teacher from Birkenhead, Albert, as Stade referred to him as, became a regular feature throughout the night.

The start of the show is side splitting. He tells the audience where he’s from, preposterously exaggerating how primitive the Canadian town is in which he grew up. His anecdote about playing Glastonbury last year is a routine that received constant hearty laughter, as he builds up vivid but ludicrous imagery of a hot tub featuring himself and last year’s big names. It’s this silly imagery and ability to take a simple idea and run with it in which Stade excels.

As a Canadian he makes observations on how living in Britain has changed himself, as well as elaborating on the differences between the two countries. British TV is the butt of many jokes as he asks the simple question of why people would go on Cash in the Attic, which he then recites a silly back story. His delivery of the material on the face of it seems like a drunken ramble – repeating, shouting and elongating words with a large dose of expletives for good measure. But it’s this performance, consisting of expert timing, which sets him apart from other comics, matching the style of his material to create silly and original comedy.

Part way through his set, interesting but sensitive material is discussed. Stade refers to the phrase ‘no means no’, but subverts the usual connotations by joking about scenarios in which men say this. The idea is a deep discussion point, but with Stade’s comedic style it comes across as clumsy instead of clever or enlightening, which the routine has the potential to be. He alienates some of the audience which leads to a brief lull in laughter before getting them back onside.

Immigration is next on Stade’s agenda, again a topic which could cause offence, but his silliness blasts away any reservations the audience have at laughing at such a controversial issue. He talks about himself, how he was called an immigrant by a character in his previous anecdote, and how this offended him. Again great imagery is used as he truthfully explains how Britain is a country of immigrants thanks to its colourful history, the language he uses, even more colourful.

Stade really ekes out every possible laugh from a subject before seamlessly moving on to the next. Gaps in the laughter are rare despite his slow delivery as, rather than building up to a punchline, he provides funnies throughout. Heckles were mostly ignored and shouted over, but his improvisation skills weren’t lacking when talking to Albert and others in the front row.

Comedians are always seeking approval from their audience. Stade, however, seems to already know that he’s funny, allowing him to free himself up to be as silly as he wants, providing great entertainment for his audience.

4

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