Review: Nathan Caton, Peter Marshall, Richard Massara, Martin Semple & Tony Basnett – Black Swan Inn, York.
The Black Swan Inn, York Tourism’s Pub of the Year 2011, is a very intimate venue for comedy. The first-floor function room is ideal for live stand-up: not too big, not too small, and just a few short steps from the bar. Tony Basnett, the organiser of the night, doubled up as a very energetic and able compere; he clearly knew the audience very well, and brought much needed energy to the night – the first duty of the compere. That’s not to say he doesn’t get laughs from the crowd, but clearly the priority was to keep the enthusiasm up.
The first act, Martin Semple, was very much hit-and-miss for me. He opened with a few perfectly-delivered jokes, before launching into a long bit on toilet habits which became all too puerile all too quickly. Clearly a very able comic who instantly had the whole room on his side, I was disappointed that his assertion ‘I’m a part time comedian, so you only have to laugh at every other line’ would turn out to be so prophetic. The closing anecdote, which was essentially centred on post-traumatic stress syndrome, was well delivered; the problem was, the story was almost as hard-hitting as it was comical.
Next up was Richard Massara, a local stand-up whose story of a personal experience with magic mushrooms was relentlessly built up over 15 minutes, with no payoff. The lack of sensitivity to the audience was the most galling thing: Massara knew before he started that there was little interest in the anecdote yet he spent his whole slot telling the story anyway. Severely underwhelming.
The final open spot was filled by Peter Marshall, a very surreal comic whose bizarre act- although funny- left him open to audience interaction. Happily, he seemed more than ready for this- and his immaculate handling of the inevitable interruptions was, if anything, the crowning glory of his performance. Another local comic, his outlandish persona was a little too much for me, but certainly a very talented comic who I’d gladly watch again.
Nathan Caton put on a great performance as headline act, and kept the room shaking with laughter from his opening joke- an observation about the terrible organisation of York’s streets which was absolutely spot on. Having seen some of his previous performances- circa 2010- I was concerned that his delivery would still smack of self-consciousness; clearly, however, a year on the circuit has put paid to this shortcoming. A lot of the material was tried and tested stuff, but the comic had undoubtedly honed the material over time: set-ups had been changed, punch lines reorganized, and the general impression was of a performer committed to getting not just a laugh, but as big a laugh as possible.
As others have often mentioned, Caton seems reluctant to deviate from his material, so audience interaction is generally avoided. Tonight was no exception. This is no complaint, though, because audience participation is by no means obligatory in stand-up comedy; I just get the sense that Caton, with such a brilliant wit and friendly persona, is missing a trick. Overall, however, an act not to be missed.
On the whole I was very impressed with Trapdoor Comedy at The Black Swan, which seems to have all the ingredients of a very successful comedy club: varied open slots, a strong headliner, and an energetic compere. To top it all off, a charming venue well worth a visit anytime. One of the strongest- and best organised- comedy nights I’ve seen in York.