Andrew Dipper and Nic Wright

Review: Comedy @ Latitude 2013

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Image: Danny North

Latitude’s tagline is that they are “more than just a music festival.”

Every festival in the country says the same thing, of course, desperate to appear all-inclusive or – Heaven forbid – family-friendly. The distinction here, though, is that Latitude deliver on their promise. This year there was more theatre than music at Henham Park – which obviously made it doubly important we did our homework.

All in all we covered 24 acts, from comedian’s comedian Daniel Kitson to fresh-out-the-block Luisa Omielan, with lots of nice surprises along the way. There’s a world premiere, a dance-off gone wrong, a multitude of crowd surfs, an angry Andrew Maxwell, a sexy Frenchman and lots more.

Andrew Dipper and Nic Wright report.

Friday: A Tale of Two Kitsons

Image: Danny North

It’s 11am, and Daniel Kitson is in the Theatre Arena telling us about how he nicked his mate’s extortionately-priced Latitude programme. “We’ve got a camper van,” he explains with a glint in his eye. “He’s in the bottom bunk and I’m in the top bunk – and that’s where his programme is. But he doesn’t know that.” He might be a “phrase-making legend” – his words, not mine – but watching Kitson in his writing room is a lot of fun. Even when he’s chatting shit he’s still proper funny.

A quick note: the last ten minutes of this morning’s work-in-progress sees Kitson share his idea for a new show coming to Manchester in September. We’ll keep schtum, but it’s ambitious – and it’s going to look pretty damn sexy.

Over in the Comedy Arena, Lee Nelson is on stage. Simon Brodkin’s working-class caricature is fairly uncomfortable to watch, but in terms of compering he’s nailed it.  In fact, Nelson helps create the single funniest moment of the weekend: a dance-off between a pissed-up bloke and a dance student that ends with a brutal tumble off stage – and the bloke’s pants around his ankles. Amazing scenes.

Nick Helm’s one of those acts you struggle to describe to your mates – which usually means they’re either brilliant or terrible. For me, it’s the former. The acceptable face of musical comedy is bellowing out some truly hellish anthems as he takes over the Comedy Arena like no-one else can. It feels a bit like a hostage situation sometimes, but it’s lots of fun. Honest.

Sean Walsh’s observations are such over-the-top nonsense that you can only assume he’s writing this material for TV. His laddish shtick doesn’t feel particularly current or funny – the difference between drunken men and women, the perils of Jagerbombs, naughty housemates – and it’s a real surprise when he has to pause for applause. You could argue he’s pitching material to a festival crowd, but he’s better than this. And besides, Jagerbombs are lush.

Next up is Tiffany Stevenson, whose punchy set is a real treat. She covers politics, identity, sexual equality and social class, all woven together in a pretty clever treatment. It doesn’t quite get the reaction deserves from the crowd, but there you go.

On to the Cabaret Tent now, and I’ve missed the start of Vikki Stone’s hour-long slot. I slip into the tent just as she begins an audience-led piece about Deal or No Deal. Then it’s fun, slapstick songs about dog shit and Jurassic Park. Worth catching if you’re visiting Edinburgh next month.

As promised, we’re back with Daniel Kitson for the second of his six performances at Latitude. This time it’s a performance of his latest show, After The Beginning, Before The End. We reviewed this show in Durham in May, so we’ll probably just point you towards that. Yep. There you are. You’re welcome.

Saturday: Dirty Book Club

Image: Jessica Gilbert

We start Saturday as we finished Friday; by stalking Daniel Kitson. This time it’s the premiere of Kitson’s first ever filmed show, It’s Always Right Now, Until It’s Later. Produced by Ewan Jones Morris and recorded at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, it’s quite strange seeing Kitson on film – but if any show lends itself to a visual aid it’s this one.

In the Comedy Arena, Shappi Khorsandi mysteriously turns up in Joe Lycett’s slot, something compere Shaun Keavney fails to address – though he’s probably distracted by the deafening indifference of the audience. Blaming baby brain for her scattershot, lacklustre performance, Khorsandi trots out her familiar fare; crowd-pleasing, yet flaccid. That middle-aged mums were elbowing and nodding at each other all the way through probably tells you all you need to know…

Luisa Omielan burst on to the scene at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe with her hit show What Would Beyonce Do? It got rave reviews from just about every publication under the sun, she got herself an agent, enjoyed a mini-tour of the UK, and the show even had a lengthy run at the Soho Theatre in London.

Yet today, in her first festival appearance, she’s visibly nervous – and it takes her a few minutes to get into her stride as the Cabaret Tent fills with lasses who, I suspect, have come along because they’re massive Beyonce fans.

But this show isn’t really about Beyonce (sorry, ladies), more Omielan’s journey from being a self-conscious mess in an unhappy relationship to the “strong independent woman” she is today. Luisa cheekily pokes fun at that description more than anything, particularly how women are represented in the media, but it’s genuinely inspirational stuff from her. More importantly, it’s very funny indeed.

I never thought I’d enjoy Robin Ince reading out erotic fiction, but it turns out I do – especially when it’s syncronised with a sombre saxaphone. This is Ince’s Dirty Book Club, a filthy version of the popular variety show in which Robin reads awful lines from terrible books. There’s also stand-up, music and all sorts of other stuff. A fun way to end the day – providing we forget about Kevin Eldon’s horror show.

Special mentions also go to Dylan Moran, Russell Kane and Adam Buxton’s Bug

Sunday: Getting the Horne

Image: Jessica Gilbert

First to grace Latitude’s Comedy Arena on Sunday is Marcus Brigstocke’s Policy Unit. Usually, a Sunday morning wouldn’t be the most accepted time to discuss political policy and the improvement of the nation, but this is Latitude, and as we’re constantly being reminded, EVERYONE IS MIDDLE-CLASS. So that’s alright then.

It doesn’t hurt, of course, that these hypothetical policies, such as licenses for alcohol and drug users to weed out any dickish behavior at source, are being put forward by four very funny men.  Chaired by Brigstocke, his panel – Simon Evans, Robin Ince and Andrew Maxwell – toss about notions such as the post-Olympic legacy, libido-boosting cereal and Sharon Osbourne’s stationary-flinging outbursts.

With Brigstocke and Ince representing the literary, privileged end of proceedings, it’s perpetual sneerer Maxwell who provides most of the laughs, with almost every one of his points ending in descriptions of vicious animal on animal skirmishes, or what a cock Ted Kennedy was.

Even at this relatively early hour, the tent is fit to burst, with many wannabe policy-makers taking in the show from the wings on big screens. A common sight throughout the weekend, it’s further proof that this year, the comedy selection is trumping the musical line-up with ease.

With the Policy Unit at an end, we are no further forward as a people, but who gives a flump; Richard Herring – Edinburgh Festival veteran, former associate of Stewart Lee and general maestro of cult comedy – has arrived to cheer us up.

Presenting a seamless sundry of bits from past shows Talking Cock, What is Love Anyway? and upcoming offering We’re All Going to Die, Herring’s charm wins over the highly demographically assorted audience effortlessly. This is old hat for Herring, and his innate likeability even lets him get away with some more material a little more difficult to stomach for a Sunday lunchtime. He departs, leaving an audience amused, warmed and their vocabulary newly imbued with the term ‘sexcrement’.

If there’s a brief lull in the stellar output of the very purple tent today, it’s here, with Kiwi Jarred Christmas. Kicking off his set with an attempt to get the audience to spoon each other, (it works to a reasonable degree, largely because the front rows are made up of excitable teenagers, apparently more affectionate than those he tried the same trick with at Download Festival…) his set is cobbled together from longer pieces, and a sort of joke advent calendar in which the audience call out a number. Christmas’ stories prove flabby, with weak pay-offs for the length of the set-up. His quick-fire jokes also leave the crowd a little underwhelmed, and plod by leaving you wondering, in the words of his countryman Jermain Clement; is that it?

Jamie Kilstein doesn’t quite raise the roof either, though not for the same reasons. Though his material might seem suited for the liberal leftie vibes of Latitude, maybe Kilstein’s rants are a little too militant, a little too barbed for such a large, laid-back crowd. His stances on sexism and gay marriage solicit a few cheers, and his closing bit about his love of cats is well-received – but perhaps Kilstein is more suited to smaller, cooler venues where the crowd are more likely to agree with his every word.

The pace picks up again with the arrival of Nina Conti. Turning ventriloquism on its head in a way Jeff Dunham could only dream, Conti’s inspired, spirited lunacy captures the imagination of the crowd, as she wheels out her heap of puppet accomplices, and audience participations verge close to becoming ambushes. Rattling across a scale of material ranging from mischief to all-out filth, Conti’s bag of tricks allow her to get away with murder, including ‘setting up’ a teacher with a teenage girl through the medium of lurid animated masks. The audience adore her. And we’re sure the aforementioned couple are very happy together in France.

A sleeper hit of the afternoon comes in the form of James Acaster. A strange, unflappable young man with deadpan delivery, his performance minces surreal notions with wordplay, and twisted extended set-pieces that see him taking on everything from musical snobbery to the social politics of Percy Pigs.

Looking every inch the Latitude nature-mother, Katherine Ryan’s set is as bright, breezy and hilarious as ever. Putting a biting yet effervescent spin on well-tread topics such as single motherhood, celebrity culture and the awesome power of Beyonce, Ryan’s sunny appeal has the audience eating of the palm of her hand.

The only time punters shirk, annoyingly, is during a refreshingly honest bit about a visit to an abortion clinic. With more than a handful of the weekend’s female comics peddling bits about being bridesmaids, Ryan’s tale was perhaps a little too sharp-edged for the comfortable crowd, and received squeaky butts where it deserved commendations. She managed to win them back before she left however, when, in a repeat Tony Law’s set last year, her toddler invaded the stage with some jokes of her own.

Sunday’s highlight comes in the sensual, turtle-necked form of Marcel Lucont. The devastatingly smooth Frenchman saunters on, goading the crowd with his GLASS of wine. That’s right. Marcel Lucont does not stoop to drink from plastic cups. What he does, however, is deliver laconic wit in a hypnotically arrogant fashion. Deconstructing British culture through cavalier, bewildered eyes, reciting sexually-charged poetry, and laying out creative positions for the bedroom, Lucont sleazes his way into the hearts of the crowd, then crowd-surfs his way out of the tent [pictured].

Rounding off the weekend over at the Caberet Tent, it’s Edinburgh Festival favorites The Horne Section. The Horne Section is an unpredictable combination of music, comedy, games, cross-dressing and escapology, underlined with the sort of flagrant disregard for health and safety that you can only really get away with in the thirteenth hour of a festival. Backed by a fiendishly talented band with an ear for improvisation, comedian Alex Horne conducts a collection of comedy songs, special guest performances and  audience participation (often against their will).

There’s an infectious sense of shambolic exuberance as Horne and the band bounce off one another; late Sunday night, with everyone a little worse for wear, it takes a special sort of performance to engage an audience in the way The Horne Section does. Charmingly unrehearsed, it’s a credit to their talent and chemistry that the show is so appealing.

Only during a baffling guest appearance by a spaced-out Ben Target does it veer close to coming off-course, but it is skillfully reeled in by Horne, a lubricated performance by Marcel Lucont, and a finale that sees some remarkable escape artistry, and some even more remarkable pink gym-wear. A delightful, impressive and wildly eclectic show, The Horne Section is an appropriately representative and fitting end to Latitude 2013.