Review: Daliso Chaponda, Phil Chapman, Andy Wolton, Ste Porter and Barry Dodds – Sunderland Empire
Thanks to The Grinning Idiot, Big Owl and Laughter Live, comedy on Wearside has experienced somewhat of a renaissance. Laughter Live, especially, has helped establish a regular comedy audience in Sunderland with a professional bill of acts showcased at the city’s Empire theatre; and this month saw Malawian comic Daliso Chaponda headline the night, with support from Phil Chapman, Andy Wolton, Ste Porter and MC Barry Dodds.
Dodds was an amiable host for the evening, providing the audience with a few of his regular observational routines and the usual friendly bantering with the opening few rows of the audience. However the Northern comic’s calm approach didn’t help motivate the flat audience at Sunderland Empire, and subsequently Ste Porter had a lot of work to do in the first section of the evening.
Opener Ste Porter is clearly a good act, with a variety of material and a Scouse charm that would hold the attention of most audiences. He began his set with a series of impressive one-liners, but then drifted into longer routines on his local estate and Chilean miners that showed Porter at his best. Sadly, though, he failed to attract the attention of the flat crowd – one twat in the front row even started checking his phone for the England score. It was a shame, because Porter was a good opener.
Performing in the middle section of the evening were newcomers Andy Wolton and Phil Chapman, both of which packed some very good material into their short sets. Having seen Wolton many times prior to this evening I know how varied his performances can be; however tonight he was on top form. Since his impressive showing at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe he’s added a couple of new jokes to his set, and they’re just as striking as his typical material. Following Wolton was Phil Chapman, who had a good stage presence with the jokes to match. And his long routine on a disabled interviewer was the best of the night – packed with a succession of gags and some superb comical imagery; it really showed what Chapman is capable of.
Bringing the evening to a close was Daliso Chaponda. The moment Chaponda stepped onto the stage he had your attention, and then kept it for the next half an hour with a variety of routines centred largely on the theme of rejection. Using his African descent as the basis for his material would have been an easy way to generate laughter, but Chaponda applies this sparingly and only then to highlight cultural differences, instead opting for the everyman approach to his comedy – and a wonderfully innocent persona that is immediately likable and relatable. Chaponda’s a top act, a comedian I regard as one of the best working the circuit today – and to see him perform on Wearside was the icing on the cake.
If you’re looking to see some comedy at Sunderland Empire, Laughter Live’s next show is on Tuesday 9th November, when Seymour Mace will be headlining. Tickets are available by calling 0191 566 1045.