Review: Phil Ellis, Ben van der Velde, Gavin Webster, Mr Drayton, Sam Gore & Tony Jameson – The Bridge Hotel, Newcastle.
The upstairs room of the Bridge Hotel is home to one of Newcastle’s most intimate comedy nights. The monthly Laughing Penguin has clocked up two years, and this birthday gig packed out the room, with punters standing in the doorway and sitting on the window sills. All this despite the attractions of Arsenal making their comeback against Barcelona on the TV downstairs. But it’s easy to see why, because The Laughing Penguin offer a connoisseur’s night of comedy.
First up was Sam Gore, whose delivery is truly exceptional. The youngster’s estuary drawl and superbly articulate rendering of some decent, sometimes crushingly cruel, material carried the crowd. Gore’s set ranges into some slightly darker material, but the audience appeared to thrive on it. If one has a slight quibble it is with Gore’s apparent conviction that the age of 24 years old is a great one that betokens much experience, which threw some of the older folks in the room (me included). For the most part though, this was confident, clever stuff.
Waging war on informality in comedy, Mr Drayton’s ten minutes of Tommy Cooper-inspired magic and Reeves and Mortimer surrealism was the most rounded of the three sets in the middle section. Producing a series of progressively more bizarre props and tricks, Drayton has wonderful warmth and enthusiasm. You wonder if this would stretch into a longer set satisfactorily, but as it was Drayton brought a welcome breath of fresh air to the middle of the evening.
The next two acts were a tale of two evenly-balanced halves. Gavin Webster had some sharp new material, and despite reading some of his lines from notes it was very confidently delivered. Meanwhile, Ben van der Velde has the kernels of a really interesting and original set, but seemed to lack confidence in it. Van der Velde’s thoughts appear to be going in the direction of Big Ideas (there’s some good stuff on cloning and supermarkets), but it still needs a bit of work. That’s exactly what this kind of nights are for, though, and the knowledgeable and friendly crowd made allowances.
Headliner Phil Ellis is a gangly, energetic treat. Working particularly well when he comes off mic (clambering around the audience, writing in the steamy windows at one point), the central part of the set is based around slides of family photographs. Flagging up fashion disasters, playing games with the crowd, there’s much that’s really good, and the room was well-entertained; but your reviewer did think that there’s perhaps more that can be unearthed here. As Jason Cook has shown more than once, there can be a place for different kinds of storytelling (and even poignancy) with this kind of subject matter.
The Laughing Penguin, with its quick-witted resident MC Tony Jameson, is one of Newcastle’s best-kept secrets, and I do urge you to give it a try. Like all clubs of this size there can be some shaky moments, but the rewards are more than worth it. The club moves to the first Wednesday of the month from March.
Also, there was free cake. Happy birthday, The Laughing Penguin.