Review: Alun Cochrane, Andy Watson, Mick Ferry & Alfie Joey – Journal Tyne Theatre, Newcastle
Saturday saw a new venture for The Grinning Idiot, as they took over Newcastle’s Journal Tyne Theatre for the first of a series of monthly shows in the first half of 2011. Ramping up to a venue of the Tyne Theatre’s size from the relatively minuscule rooms that make up the Idiot’s regular Tyneside haunts is no small undertaking; but if you book the venue, they will come, and a large Saturday night crowd packed out the historic Victorian venue. As all comedy fans know, larger venues require sometimes drain the intimacy from a comedy show, but in this first line-up, John Smith had assembled a roster of comedians more than capable of carrying away a venue of demiMcintyresque proportions.
One of the issues this reviewer has with the current BBC1 school of stand-up is the sameyness of subject matter. Time and again those old saws supermarkets, sprogs and sex are laid out, sending audiences into easy paroxysms of self-recognition in the manner so brilliantly sent-up by Stewart Lee in his riff on observational comedy. Each of the three acts on display here exhibited at least two sides of the Michaelean triad but hey, this stuff works, and the crowd lapped up the often straightforward, domestically-focussed material.
Opening act Mick Ferry got the evening off to an enjoyable start, with a polished and relaxed set. One of two Comedy Roadshow veterans on display here, Ferry (here sans-moustache) has a set that flows enjoyably from the shops to the home to the bedroom, and includes a terrifically enjoyable piece of observation about long-term partners arguing in silence.
Middle act Andy Watson’s BBC1 slot surely cannot be far away. The svelte redhead combines a Tim Vine-ish interest in episodic comedy together with the knockabout motion of Lee Evans. If his material on his time on a performing arts degree fell a little bit flat, this was more than made up for by excellent moments dealing with his impending marriage and Aldi. The breadth of the topic on display on the night was somewhat troublingly revealed however, as Ferry’s closing skit on Greggs was followed by a piece of Watson observation set in said patisserie.
Headliner, and second friend of the Roadshow, Alun Cochrane is set apart by a complete mastery of the English language. After an interminable interval, brought about by faulty timings and a closed road on his journey from The Grinning Idiot’s second venue in Sunderland, Cochrane emerged on to the Theatre stage. With his Professor Brian Cox hair and gentle Yorkshire accent, Cochrane has the stage presence of Alan Bennett, only giant. Whilst dealing with many of the same subject areas as the acts who preceded him, the interesting angles that Cochrane approached domestic bliss from, and the distinctive strain of whimsy in his material, mark him out as something very special.
MC Alfie Joey held the evening together nicely with his cheerful, easy manner. It is genuinely lovely to see a comedian happy to role out impressions and model aeroplanes (although I reckon that his closing skit on Blair and Bush might be just about ready for retirement) and he was a great asset to the night.
The Grinning Idiot have set themselves a huge challenge in taking on the Tyne Theatre. Can they continue to pack out houses like this and still take the risks that make their nights in smaller venues so enjoyable? I hope so.
(Date of live review: Saturday 5 February 2011)
More information on The Grinning Idiot Comedy Club can be found on their website here.