Jake Massey

Review: Mick Ferry, Sean Percival, Phil Nichol & John Smith – Live Theatre, Newcastle

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It’s my first visit to The Grinning Idiot tonight, a comedy club that – on this showing – provides the blueprint for other promoters to follow: professional billing, refreshing diversity and exceptional value for money.

Compere John Smith, who programmed tonight’s line-up at the Live Theatre, sets the tone early on, personally addressing the vast majority of the front row and then sparking lively ‘debate’ about where he should stick his pint of Guinness. It’s not always easy to channel an enthusiastic audience into a positive atmosphere for the acts – especially on a Saturday night – but Smith’s a safe pair of hands, and he keeps the crowd on the right side of keen.

Canadian opener Phil Nichol’s frenetic energy, intriguing quirks and wild unpredictability characterise an act that lives long in the memory. “Look at me!” he yells – as if there is an alternative.

Within seconds of taking to the stage, judgements are made by the audience: some know they have found ‘their cup of tea’, while others hope the next act (Sean Percival) will be more ‘up their street’. Yet Nichol’s charisma – his talent and unexpected depth – is infectious, and the majority of cynics are converted to his flamboyant and boisterous style by the time his show-stopping rendition of ‘I’m the Only Gay Eskimo’ echoes around the Live Theatre.

During his short set, Nichol makes it clear that he is not gay; however, he does exaggerate and play upon this misconception to good effect. And it’s just one of many stereotypes he satirises, with his guitar embellishing astute insights into British irony and “contemporary offence culture.”

Sean Percival provides a degree of calm to proceedings, adhering to a more classic comedy rhythm of feed line and gag. This is not enough to prevent an audience-instigated rendition of ‘I’m the Only Gay Eskimo’ in the midst of his set, yet he takes the interruption in his stride, before returning to prepared material that really gets the audience on side.

Headliner Mick Ferry oozes confidence throughout the duration of his set – but he has the material to back up that unwavering self-assurance. Comical reflections on the family dynamic, sex and drinking will be familiar to most above a certain age, and that material’s given added depth by Ferry’s affable persona.

No more so is this evident than his immaculate re-enactment of household squabbles – which contains theatre in places – while his portrayal of drunken alter ego ‘Terry’ provides a fitting and quite brilliant encore to a canny little night of comedy. More please.