Perhaps I need to act as though I were apprehensive about someone wanting to exchange a few pleasantries with me if I want to be in on the action. The MC for StraightUp Comedy #5, Isobel Moulder, was more inclined to strike up conversations with those (front row or not) who appeared a little reserved about, um, giving their name and their current mood. I wonder if these people realise that there is no obligation to give your real name – it’s not as if they’re going to stop the show to perform some sort of verification check. Anyway, the responses, I suppose, were briefer and more mixed than chats with the more assertive might have been, and – somewhat paradoxically – more comical: job done.
I realise I am about to sound like a right party pooper, but even taking into account an eight-person line-up, being asked repeatedly “HELLO! HOW ARE YOU DOING?”, or words to that effect, got a tad tiresome. It was almost tempting to respond negatively. If I recall correctly, someone did so at one point, got called ‘rude’, and everyone found themselves answering affirmatively yet again. It’s as though it’s an unpardonable sin not to be feeling utterly euphoric throughout. It brought to mind a child whose idea of fun was something other than standing in line for an hour or more for a rollercoaster ride lasting only a couple of minutes. His mother, having gone to some expense for this day trip to a theme park, eventually yelled at him: “You are going to enjoy yourself! You just are! Now, have fun!”
Olga Koch spoke on a relatively broad range of topics, from personal relationships to computer science. With an easygoing and friendly style, she makes light of her international journey to where she is now, having made London her home after being born in Russia and educated in the United States. Esther Manito had some wonderful comebacks against particularly nasty hecklers (the hecklers were not from this Clapham crowd, but from a different gig altogether), and in giving them a platform by repeating their own remarks and subsequent tweets, showed them up not only for their lack of tact but their lack of common knowledge. Revenge really can be sweet.
Richard Todd’s act was memorable for his description of his work as a tutor for an art club for the homeless. Some of what goes on is downright hilarious (hence its inclusion in a comedy night), and pain seems to be a running theme – within the first minute there’s a recollection of a very small Edinburgh Fringe audience, the sound of whose applause was likened to sexual relations between people whose libidos have seen better days. I warmed very much to Sunil Patel’s set – with quite a few acts trying to cram in as much material as they could, within reason, in the allocated time, Patel took a different approach, and was unafraid to pause. Unafraid of a couple of seconds of silence. Unafraid to give the audience breathing space.
Muriel, a comedy trio comprising Janine Harouni, Meg Salter and Sally O’Leary, performed some fast-paced sketches. The first set, to be blunt, did not appeal to me, coming across more than anything else as an opportunity to showcase some contemporary dance, a few seconds at a time. But the trio more than redeemed themselves in a send-up of equality and diversity recruitment training programmes, in which speaking English in the workplace was deemed offensive to those who don’t speak English. Paper CVs (or resumés, Muriel hailing from Chicago) were identified in a risk assessment as a health and safety hazard because of the risk of paper cuts. It was all very silly, but it did genuinely feel indicative of the way in which the corporate world is going.
Mark Bittlestone had a steady and measured delivery and spent some time discussing the implications of an openly gay Dumbledore (once and for all) in the Harry Potter series. It’s difficult to see that franchise in the same light after these detailed re-imaginings of the text and dialogue. I’m not sure how anyone still unfamiliar with Potter would respond to it all, though enough was explained to be able to comprehend the punchlines.
Adam Hess, the headliner, went at quite a frenetic pace. A notebook of various facts, punchlines and observations were periodically pulled out. He repeatedly interrupts himself, but, in fairness, his mind works brilliantly, and in the end, it’s a coherent set. This is a mesmerising performance, flitting from topic to topic, a whirlwind of thoughts on matters as diverse as ducks, Uber, a Clapham café and an allegedly idiotic housemate. A fitting end to a genuinely amusing evening.
Review by Chris Omaweng
StraightUp Productions is a new theatre company comprising Will Dalrymple, Mark Bittlestone and Will Penswick. We are interested in what audiences want to see, not what we want to say. Whether we’re creating theatre, online content or performing stand-up comedy we want people to enjoy it. It’s as simple as that.
Production Team: Will Dalrymple, Mark Bittlestone and Will Penswick
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