Brighton Comedy Festival Review: Opening Gala
Friday 10th October
Brighton Dome Concert Hall
To a backdrop of freak flooding and supermarket evacuations, Brighton Comedy Festival stormed into town on Friday with a night of epic names and thunderous laughs, with an Opening Gala in aid of local charity Sussex Beacon. Comedy superstar Michael Mcintyre was the show’s surprise guest!
Master of ceremonies Adam Hills kicked things off at Brighton Dome with fast paced semi-improvised dialogue with the audience, doing his best to introduce some spontaneity into what was mainly a straight stand-up show.
“Asian Rolf Harris” Romesh Ranganathan was first to grace the stage with his own version of the grumbling parent routine, spattered with some keen and bitingly funny observations on education and race prejudice. His finest moments are unexpected ones – insights into being an ex-teacher for example – which give him a more likeable and relatable character than on first impression. His solo show is on Thursday 23rd October, which unsurprisingly is nearly sold out.
Next on was the national treasure and BAFTA Award-winning Jo Brand, who, says Hills, is a regular at the Gala and certainly appeared to be totally at home on the stage. So much so that aside from a few apologetically groan-inducing old-school gags, her time was mostly spent waxing lyrical about middle-aged woes rather than on cracking jokes. Her relaxed, self-depreciating style is endearing and marks her out from the more inexperienced comics in the line-up. She spoke of Brighton local Addison Cresswell who ran Off the Kerb, (the talent agency which looks after most of the names on the Gala bill), who died in December last year. According to Brand, Cresswell was responsible for making the Gala such a great success and she encouraged people to remember him, a nice personal touch.
In stark contrast to Brand’s self-assured performance, the youngest and least recognisable on the evening’s bill, Elliot Steel, came next. At just seventeen years old, the whole audience was routing for Steel, geared up by Hills to give him a warm welcome. This fell a little flat as Steel, ravaged by nerves and problems with the microphone, crept hesitantly through an otherwise well-rehearsed routine. Covering the clichéd aspects of his south London background and the pitfalls of teenage awkwardness, his delivery had potential but the content lacked the aplomb and originality needed to make him memorable. His bravery should certainly be applauded but he is perhaps more suited to smaller venues or a younger audience.
Rich Hall was next out, equipped with his glorious John Wayne drawl, complete with guitar and his unique brand of intelligent gloom. He avoided using the mic (a smart choice considering Steel’s issues) for conversing with the audience and wooed his chosen lady in his own lackadaisical, charming way. He has an astonishingly British sense of humour and an ability to take the mickey in an affectionate way towards our great country. He played two songs; one cleverly worked around said lady’s name, the other, ‘My God’, a witty reflection on religious rhetoric. “This had better be funny…” he announces cynically, and it really is.
Highlight of the line-up so far is Josh Widdicombe, without a doubt. He is hilariously funny from the get go, his incredulous cracking tones alone are indication that there is a laugh round every corner. Widdicombe has that magical ability to turn perfectly ordinary anecdotes – a useless 30-something flatmate incapable of menial tasks – into stories that make you laugh yourself silly and his observations are so hilariously obvious you want to cry “that’s so true!” like an idiot. Not to mention his unbelievably confident stage presence, despite his diminutive size! There is just something totally honest and unassumingly interesting about Widdicombe, making it easy to see why he is winning over audiences everywhere.
By this point in the evening the show had geared up a level and the audience was ready for some punchy, high-octane comedy, provided eloquently by Suzi Ruffell. Covering a funny coming-out story, the wildly imaginative ultimate ‘gay’ night out, and some painfully honest tales of love and the internet, Ruffell packed a huge amount into a short time. She has the talent for story-telling that ensured none of it got lost along the way, and it was all linked together to create a perfectly formed routine. Her solo show is on Tuesday 21st October, and will certainly not disappoint, she is terrific value for money!
To end the show on a tremendous high, Hills announced the superstar comedian and ‘Marmite’ extraordinaire Michael Mcintyre as the surprise guest. Despite his tendency to radically split opinions, the reception for Mcintyre was overwhelmingly positive, though it has to be said that an audience of middle-class Brightonians is probably his target market.
The joy of Mcintyre’s performance was in its physicality; none of the other comedians had really used the stage as a device, but in typical theatrical style, Mcintyre pranced around the space, covering at least two miles at speed, and making the place his own. In fact at one point all he had to do was pace, hair flapping and glasses falling off, to get a laugh. His jokes about being British were particularly well received by the crowd and rightly so, he uses material which is not necessarily totally original, but makes up for it in the presentation, with style and gumption. His was a longer slot than the other comedians, bringing the top quality show to a close with satisfying flair, while getting the Brighton Comedy Festival off to a promisingly titillating start.
For tickets to all the Brighton Comedy Festival events visit the website here.