The Newcastle Stand Bank Holiday Special, with Gavin Webster, Nick Cranston, Ben Crompton, Mary Bourke and Anvil Springsteen.
The Stand’s Sunday night Bank Holiday Special attracted a large audience not far short of Saturday night capacity but with a noticeably more relaxed vibe. The club’s regular Sunday night Northumbrian Assembly host, Gavin Webster, was again in charge as compere.
[pullquote_right]”His own material is original and sharply observed and often turns on an acute dissection of language as a blunt and fallible tool in the hands of Geordie everyman.”[/pullquote_right]Webster could be Geordie humour personified; quick, dry, direct but easy-going and possessed of an ear for the quirks and absurdities of the superficially mundane. He is able to expand the usual enquiries to audience members about jobs and relationships into absorbing and very funny exchanges linking occasionally to his own material with ease. When Webster asks a question there’s a sense that he’s genuinely interested in the answer and there’s nothing discomfiting or confrontational in his approach. It’s obvious that the audience likes and trusts him and will follow where he leads. His own material is original and sharply observed and often turns on an acute dissection of language as a blunt and fallible tool in the hands of Geordie everyman. He imagines the later confusion of a young lad at a football match hearing an entirely misplaced sexual comment; it’s very funny on a direct and uncomplicated level but also as a more nuanced and imaginative observation – and there are plenty more like it. Beneath the gruff, direct Geordie lad persona there’s a lot of rich and thoughtful comedy going on here.
Next up is Sunderland’s Nick Cranston, who opens with some very sharp and funny material inspired by his own partial deafness. It’s well delivered and there’s a hint of real depth and emotion behind the laughs. Material on the more well-trodden themes of dating and relationships is amusing but doesn’t reach the quality of that opening salvo and the biggest and most satisfying laughs are for callbacks to that opening section. A longer narrative section towards the end dealing with a difficulty in purchasing a DVD is funny and well-crafted if a little stagey. Cranston has a lot of presence on stage, though his confidence does seem to ebb and flow through the set somewhat. The best of his material is beautifully constructed and delivered.
Ben Crompton introduces himself as having “a bit of Tourettes, but not the kind they’d use to advertise it”. It’s funny and acute, self-aware and sets the tone for much that is to come. He describes his frustration as an actor (he’s recognisable from Ideal, Pramface and latterly Game of Thrones) at being offered roles that, far from portraying him as the wiry, De Niro-esque outsider he’d like to be, cast him as weird and weasling. He rails against having been cast (“Twice!”) as Trainspotting’s Spud; though to me, at least, there was more of the Begbie than the Spud about him, something dark and desperate with a hint of violence waiting to erupt.
The intensity of his performance is never quite matched by his material, though there is plenty that is well-observed and raises laughter. A section in which he lays into the twee, self-regarding suggestions in the Guardian “Rainy Day Book” is skillfully delivered and tweaked for local resonance but never gets quite as dark as it might. What sticks in the mind is Crompton’s intense physical presence and edgy potential.
[pullquote_left]”It is Mary’s soft Irish voice, measured and sardonic, that does all the work; physically she is static, impassive, calm but that voice holds the room with enormous authority.”[/pullquote_left]Mary Bourke is also a powerful presence on stage but her intensity is verbal, cerebral and matched to a precise and beautifully paced delivery. It is Mary’s soft Irish voice, measured and sardonic, that does all the work; physically she is static, impassive, calm but that voice holds the room with enormous authority. And she has the material to match. Her acute description of the hyperbole of American Stand-ups’ intros is dry, acerbic and laced with just a hint of venom. She hilariously demolishes the self-regarding whinges on the “Mumsnet” message boards. But the biggest laughs are in the final section when she treats us to a reading from a novel in the genre of “mummy porn”, where the author has been a little too keen to show off her research. Mary’s pacing and delivery here is so supremely well controlled that the tension builds with every word, and when the laughter comes it is almost delirious with delight.
It’s a tough act for Liverpudlian Anvil Springsteen to follow but comparisons are pointless as he’s a very different kind of comedian. He kicks off with a shouty diatribe about how sick he is of punters trying to tell him Scouse gags after gigs. It’s a great start; funny, self-mocking but indignant and perfectly undercuts his swaggering, bottle-in-hand persona. His material has a very direct appeal to audience members who can empathise with his personal narrative; rough-and-ready but joyful upbringing, scally years leading to reformed and reflective middle-age. This is his audience and he fosters their recognition and empathy with skill.
Springsteen’s narrative observations are engaging and self-effacing; and, though his themes are well worn, there’s a warmth and verve in his performance that lifts the material.