When? Saturday 9th February 2013
Where? The Studio (Alhambra), Bradford
Who? Paul Tonkinson
I’m sure in the stand up comedy circuit there is an unwritten book of ground rules among performers, e.g. Rule No.1: Don’t be late to your own gig. Unfortunately, the evening got off to a bad start when Tonkinson was seen running through the Studio Bar five minutes after he was due on stage. When he did make an appearance, almost twenty minutes late, the Yorkshire comedian appeared visibly flustered and distressed, blaming his SatNav for his tardiness. Struggling to get into his rhythm for twenty uncomfortable minutes, which he constantly apologised for, Tonkinson promised that this would not be the “worst gig of the tour”, despite the hurrendous start and flat, thinly spread audience.
After he had warmed up, however, Tonkinson got into his stride and put on a safe evening of tried and tested comedy. Subjects included the joys (and perils) of being a Father, his journey to “fame” and plenty about being a Yorkshireman gone south.
However, much of Tonkinson’s material seemed oddly irrelevant; most notably a fairly lengthy segment on Tim Henman (who cares?) which could’ve been funny back in the mid-to-late 1990′s (where much of Tonkinson’s life experience was seemingly learned). At one point the comic asked the audience if they liked football, referencing the Premier League, before immediately talking about rugby, seemingly confusing the two sports completely. I am completely flummoxed by the show’s lead title “Fancy Man” as he did nothing at all to expand on this, but perhaps I’m missing something there. A couple of times Tonkinson uncomfortably straddled the line between self-deprecation and awkwardness. opening the second act by pointing out a couple (who may or may not have been gay) had left at the interval; he appeared genuinely hurt. I like Tonkinson as a presence, but this was disappointing.
A gig to forget for Tonkinson, who I’m sure is capable of much better, and not one that many of the thin audience will be writing home about, despite the occasional moment of wit and charm.
- Harry Zing
When? Tuesday 12th February 2013
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? Scott Austin, Robert Carter, Paolo Cervellera, Loic Consalvo, Boysie Dikobe, Roberto Forleo, Paul Ghiselin, Carlos Hopuy, Chase Johnsey, Philip Martin-Nielson, Trystan Merrick, Raffaele Morra, Lawrence Neuhauser, Alberto Pretto, Giovanni Ravelo, Carlos Renedo, Davide Maronglu
In my January preview piece, I designated Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo as a ‘must see’ show at the Alhambra; I am delighted to say that some years since my last Trocks experience, the evening proved every bit as enjoyable I had hoped.
The all-male cast – in-character throughout as a touring Russian Corps de Ballet and given such delightful names as “Nina Immobilashvili” – find the perfect blend of comedy and genuine dance theatre. This ensures that a hearty laugh is never too far away from – albeit sometimes just a flash – of unquestionable dance quality from the talented company.
In my opinion, the secret of Trocks long-lasting success is that one can really take away what they wish from the evening; many admired the athleticism of the ‘ballerinas’, many enjoyed the faux-bona-fide ballet stylings, complete with pre-recorded orchestral support (undoubtedly a necessity for the show to see light of day). Ballet fans will quietly enjoy the somewhat overt nods to classic repertoire such as Swan Lake and Les Sylphides, whereas others with no interest in ballet can simply enjoy the ridiculousness of it all and the amount of fun the players are clearly having on stage. In short, the packed Alhambra audience were having a ball too.
True, the sets and costumes are serviceable at best and no live music is an obvious sacrifice to make; the focus is wisely kept on the seventeen-strong cast and their incredible legs. The decision to include two intervals would appear to be a justified one, with the hard-working cast looking tired towards the end of some vignettes. Despite this, the evening flew by in a sea of visual gags and tutus.
- Harry Zing
When? Tuesday 18th December 2012
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? Billy Pearce, Lynda Bellingham, Brendan Sheerin, Brian Godfrey, Ben Stock, Hannah Grover, Christopher Drake, Afnan Iftikhar, Daisy Boyles, Matthew Prince Chambers, Jack Gow, Chelsie Johnson, Ricky Lee Loftus, Kerry Pearce, Innis Robertson, Laura Watson, the Children of the Sara Packham School of Dance
Billy Pearce has become as much a staple of Christmas as mince pies, The Snowman and difficult relatives. The “80′s TV comedian” – in his own words – is clearly enjoying his 14th year of pantomime at the Bradford Alhambra. Starring as Buttons in Michael Harrison and Alan McHugh’s new Cinderella, Pearce is a blast and provides the beating heart and northern soul of a very strong pantomime production.
Harrison, who Executive Produces, wisely keeps the focus on high quality for all-comers, not just the very young, making Cinderella a very successful family show. The sets are astonishing and no expense has been spared; in particular, some wonderful moments of stage magic are sure to delight the younger members of the audience, with gasps of delight clearly audible in the packed house on press night. Throw in live animals, some incredible puppet design and plenty of knowing nods and winks for the more mature panto-lover and Cinderella delivers a near-flawless pantomime experience for young and old alike.
Joining seasoned performer Lynda Bellingham – who gave a disappointly stiff Fairy Godmother – are a talented cast of triple-threat performers and some fine comic turns. Brian Godfrey/Ben Stock are amusing as the traditional Ugly Sisters, with their first act cover of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” winning plenty of laughs. Christopher Drake makes a dashing Prince Charming and Hannah Grover is an appealing Disneyfied princess Cinderella. Afnan Iftikhar has a lovely singing voice but could do with practice on his Prince Charles impersonation! Supporting the adult cast are a well-drilled teams of children from the Sara Packham School of Dance, who perform without fear. Lastly, in a classically tenuous pantomime link, Brendan Sheerin – host of Channel 4′s Coach Trip – is the coach driver. Ouch! Sheerin does well enough in the part and enjoys himself – I have certainly seen much worse!
But it is Pearce who sells the show with his infectious enthusiasm and humour. The children go crazy for him and he is cheered, clapped and screamed at (he usually screams back) whenever he is on – or about to come 0n – the stage. The adults in the audience can also take a lot from Pearce, with plenty of self-deprecating humour and safe innuendo. Throw in the occasion ad-lib and Pearce is a name that is guaranteed to sell tickets year after year.
In Bradford Alhambra pantomime tradition, bookings are already being taken for next year’s production – Aladdin – shout out if you can guess who is returning?!
- Harry Zing
When? Friday 7th October 2011
Where? Alhambra Theatre Studio, Bradford
Who? Patrick Monahan, dir. Rohan Acharya
From the moment that he bounds on to the stage, hugging practically the first four rows of the Alhambra Studio audience one by one, you know that Patrick Monahan is a little bit different. Likeable, charismatic and as witty – if not more so – than many of the ‘top’ comedians, Monahan, the Irish/Iranian comic (raised in Teeside) had the wonderfully appreciative and varied audience in the palm of his hand – in fact, he could have played for another five hours and not lost his grip.
Monahan comes across like a slightly naughtier Peter Kay crossed with a more focused and precise Ross Noble. Monahan is the epitome of ‘cool’ in a stand up comedian, right down to his brand new Adidas trainers; there is a clean edge to Monahan which makes him accessible to all ages and backgrounds. It was also interesting that I don’t recall him swearing once, despite talking about some risqué subject matter. That’s not to say Monahan is ‘nice’ in a boring way; he can be as sharp as any stand up I have seen in recent years, but is always careful to ensure the victim is in on the joke too.
Patrick Monahan gives the anti-Arena tour performance, if you will. Hug Me I Feel Good is 99% interaction; indeed all of his best laughs came from some of the hilarious responses he received (and duly mocked) from the game Alhambra Studio audience. In fact, without audience interaction and with only a very modest amount of original material loosely worked into the evening’s proceedings, Monahan might just struggle standing telling one-liners for two hours. But there is no doubting Monahan’s popularity, indeed in the Alhambra Studio audience were many who had seen his previous Yorkshire dates and come back for more. Monahan even recognised several and used them in later skits, including the fabulous dance-off finale; his attention to detail is superb and his use of ‘layering’ recurring jokes (in our case one result was ‘Wearing a kettle on your head doing the great north run in Middlesbrough’) is not excessive. Unlike Ross Noble, Monahan has the ability to stop if something is not funny and quickly move on.
Having just won ITV’s stand up comedy contest ‘Show me the Funny’, there is little doubt that Monahan is going far and – in my opinion – is one of the best stand up comedians working the circuit today. With a DVD coming later in the year, the future looks bright for Patrick Monahan.
- Harry Zing
When? Monday 6th June 2011
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? Matthew J Henry, Rachel Jerram, Katharine Moraz, Edward Judge, Chris Thatcher, Adam Pettigrew, Jacqueline Tate, Luke Kempner, Aveta Chen, Arina Li, Michele Cornelius, Kayi Ushe, Nicholas Duncan
Avenue Q, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s all-singing, all-dancing Tony Award winning Broadway musical has been a personal favourite of mine since the off – and some eight years down the line, the show has lost none of its charm. In fact, this current UK tour – which features many of the departing West End cast – is not just the finest production of Avenue Q I have witnessed, it is also one of the finest touring productions currently on the circuit.
For those who haven’t yet experienced it, the show is a rather risqué evening of musical comedy spent with the down-and-out puppet residents of Avenue Q, a gentle lampoon of the still-popular American franchise Sesame Street. Whilst Sesame Street aims to fill pre-school American children with positivity and hope for their futures, the setting of Avenue Q is quite the opposite – a tough, bitter New York City skid row where those hopes and dreams seem a million miles away. The plot centres around Princeton (Adam Pettigrew), a greenhorn English graduate trying to find his purpose in life, helped along the way by his weird and wacky neighbours, who openly parody popular Sesame Street characters. Cookie Monster becomes the porn obsessed Trekkie Monster, Bert and Ernie become flatmates Rod and Nicky, the former struggling to come to terms with his closeted homosexuality* even going as far as to invent a ‘Girlfriend in Canada’, and of course the love interest is a typical boy-meets-monster tale (Kate Monster to be exact) which is actually rather moving and sincere.
It is simply one of those shows where everything just works. Lopez and Marx’s satirical score is memorable and there is scarcely a reprise in sight; Jeff Whitty’s book is wonderfully balanced, I truly care for and understand each character. Whitty and director Jason Moore are very careful not to send up the experience – Avenue Q is brilliant because it is played with a straight bat.
The production values on this tour are exceptional – the sets (Anna Louizos) are huge, the lighting (Howell Binkley) is flawless, Rick Lyon’s beautifully expressive puppets are as impressive as ever and as for the cast – now the real raving begins. This production – as I saw it last night – would not look out of place on a major Broadway stage right down to the cast, something I don’t think I have ever been able to say about a touring production before.
The cast is strong from head to toe, but there is one clear stand out performer – Rachel Jerram as Kate/Lucy. Jerram, fresh from the West End production was simply magical and is easily the finest I have seen or heard in the role. Not only does she make a charming and very sweet Kate Monster, she has ‘sultry physicality’ down to a tee as she shifts effortlessly to playing the well worn Lucy. More than just a wonderful actress and puppeteer, Jerram seems something of a voice acting specialist; her two voices were remarkably different (take notes, Marti Pellow). But most impressive of all is Jerram’s singing; she possesses a wonderful strong belt which she gets to display to rapturous applause in the end of act one showstopper “There’s a Fine, Fine Line”. Undoubtedly Jerram is a performer going places and one I will be sure to go out of my way to see in future projects. In the other lead role, Adam Pettigrew as Princeton/Rod is full of wide-eyed charm and, again, is of a exceptionally high calibre. His heartbreaking performance as Rod early in the second act in a scene with Nicky is a joy to behold – and I actually had to hold back a tear at the ‘reveal’ – even though I’ve seen the show many times. Also special mentions are given to Chris Thatcher as Nicky/Trekkie Monster and Matthew J Henry as the late Gary Coleman.
This tour of Avenue Q is an absolute riot and is a must for anyone with a good sense of humour. Playing at the Bradford Alhambra until Saturday 11th June – I think I might well visit again!
- Harry Zing
*Although unlike Bert and Ernie, the two friends don’t go as far as actually sharing a bed. Sesame Street was cutting edge!
When? Thursday 10th March
Where? Bradford Alhambra Studio
Who? Richard Herring
I didn’t see ‘Christ on a Bike’, Richard Herring’s intelligently argued cross-examination of his own belief system in it’s original 2001 outing; in fact I’d almost completely forgotten about the former Fist of Fun, Festival of Fun and This Morning with Richard Not Judy comic’s existence since his disappearance from television, and separation from long-time collaborator Stewart Lee.
But in the main, what a delight his act – currently touring the UK – proved to be; Herring gives us compelling and reasoned arguments against the destructive forces of religion. Much like Mel Brooks, Herring realises the most attractive way to convey utter contempt is through ridiculing idiocy where he finds it. He makes his arguments amusingly and succinctly when on-script, but falls into diatribe when tempted to ad-lib. Herring’s strength is clearly as a writer and his wordsmithery is a joy. As for performance, Herring is certainly a strange case in the sense he certainly shows a lot of himself in his comic persona. Herring clearly has a rather spiky side, which his cheeky grin and hangdog demeanour doesn’t always disguise. Two guests of the near-full Studio who dared to use the facilities mid-act were caressed verbally in a particularly direct manner by Herring, a polar opposite to his word-perfect and witty script work.
One particular lowpoint was the condemnation – with no trace of irony – of another stand up (a ‘bitch fest’ is actually a better term, when I think about it) for the constant use of catchphrases and one-liners. I remember seeing Lee & Herring on tour many years ago, where the audience did nothing but shout out catchphrases, while a man dressed as an orange got a round of applause.
Herring makes as good an argument for atheism as any when on his ‘A Game’; but if you have no interest in religion whatsoever you are still guaranteed many, many laughs.
- Harry Zing