Comedy: Chris Addison at The Bloomsbury Theatre

[I interrupt my catching up on television programmes to talk about something that isn’t a television programme, but at least it’s about someone who has been in television programmes.]

Chris Addison has a slightly bigger profile than Lucy Porter, who I saw last month – he plays Ollie in The Thick Of It (and a similar character in the film In The Loop), he starred in and co-wrote a sitcom, Lab Rats (which I thought was rather rubbish, to be honest), he has had columns in The Guardian and The Evening Standard, and he hosts a radio show called 7 Day Sunday on Radio 5 Live. All this goes some way to explain why the same theatre was completely full, rather than half-full for Lucy Porter.

Addison’s approach to comedy has a lecture style, as can be heard in the radio adaptations of two of his Edinburgh shows (several of which were Perrier nominated), The Ape That Got Lucky and Civilisation. He is intelligent, cares about big ideas and is passionate about the state of the world and politics. This was his first live tour in five years, so it didn’t have a particular theme, it was just aiming to provide an entertaining show that reflected him – he didn’t have a warm-up act, and he did a two-hour show, including a short Q&A at the end. The first half was about his physicality or, rather, lack of it, as he talked about his spindly frame and the torturous experiences of sport at school and his lack of coordination now, even to the extent that he was admitting to his rubbishness at sex (he is married with a child, and deliberately didn’t do any baby material).

Having humiliated and belittled himself in the first half, Addison allowed himself to humiliate and belittle others in the second half, from a point of superiority; targets included women who wear Ugg boots, people who watch ITV news, politicians, people who report the news (particularly the use of incidental music behind news pieces; there was mocking of Channel 4 news because some of the team was in the audience, including presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy), stupid people in general and the Conservatives – the show was the night before the General Election, and Addison made a point of telling people to vote (although he knew that he was preaching to the converted because his audience is middle-class people who are aware of the issues, much like he is himself; as he joked, the audience was so middle class, he was embarrassed he hadn’t brought a bottle of wine with him), even if they might disagree with his politics.

Addison was blisteringly funny – sharp, hilarious, well thought out, clear and with a point, running around the stage in his student garb of a colourful shirt, jeans and pumps, even though he is 38 years old (he’s only a couple of years younger than me, so perhaps we have a lot in common, with a lot of the same cultural touchstones in life). He was confident on stage, although he did have some odd tics, like scratching under his right arm and behind his ear (not sure if that was the mike equipment), tending to stand slightly sideways to the audience on occasion, not really looking towards the left side of the auditorium, and a disconcerting tic of looking away from the audience when he’d delivered a particularly good line. But that’s just me being all critique-y – he gave a terrific performance of really funny, intelligent material that I would heartily recommend people see. If you can’t get to see him live, you can follow him on Twitter at, where some of his tweets ended up in the show.

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Comedy: Lucy Porter: Fool’s Gold

Lucy Porter is a comedian who has been on the comedy scene for quite a while now, but I hadn’t seen one of her full shows, even though she has been making appearances on television in the likes of Annually Retentive and Mock The Week. I enjoy comedians who put some thought into doing full shows with a theme, so I was looking forward to seeing Porter when she brought her show, Fool’s Gold, to the Bloomsbury Theatre.

I felt sorry when we got into the theatre for the performance because it was only about half full – I’m not sure if this is an indictment of Porter or because it was a university theatre in the Easter holidays. My sympathy levels were increased immediately. She came on to the stage first, which confused me because I thought she had a support act; it turned out she did have a support act whom she was introducing, but she used the time to set the scene for herself and the show and do some audience interaction. I was worried when she started talking to people in the crowd because I really don’t care for comedians who ridicule their audience instead in lieu of actual material. However, this was not the case – it was a genuine case of talking to people, making them part of the show, no mocking at all. A good start.

The support act then came onto the stage but I can’t recall his name because he didn’t seem to be ready for prime time – he did about 20 minutes of ordinary material; he didn’t die on his arse but he didn’t tell any great jokes or linger long in the memory, hence why I can’t remember his name.

After a break, it was time for the main show: Lucy Porter doing a revised version of her Edinburgh show, Fool’s Gold – it had originally been about how she didn’t like gold because she of its connection to commitment, something she was averse to and never thought she would never get married. However, she completely ruined that by getting married and wearing a white gold ring on her finger (in her words). Therefore, the show was perhaps a slightly different version.

The show covered a variety of topics to do with gold, such as alchemists and chemistry (including a poem about chemical elements where we had to guess how many had been mentioned), as well as Porter’s personal interaction with gold, based on a piece of jewellery given to her by her staunch Catholic grandmother, what it had meant to her and her relationship with her family and growing up in Croydon and religion, as well as her new relationship with gold and her husband. There were jokes as well – there is much discussion about the difference between male and female comedians and their material; this was story telling with humorous asides, rather than feedline/punchline big jokes, something I enjoy when it’s done well. Porter had good stories to tell, with a good sense of humour and a great delivery – it’s a soft-spoken delivery but sharp and confident, completely at home in the theatre and no sense of any problems with performing to a smaller audience. It wasn’t the greatest comedy show I’ve ever seen, but it was very enjoyable and I laughed, which is what you want; I only wish she hadn’t been in such a rush to get to the end and out by 10pm.

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Comedy: Live Recording Of The Now Show

When talking about podcasts recently, I didn’t really talk about the radio shows that I listened to as podcasts, perhaps because they’re cheating a little, what with their professional recording apparatus and editing facilities. The Now Show, becoming something of an institution on Radio 4 after broadcasting for over 10 years, is a weekly satirical show hosted by Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis, with a varying roster of supporting players, which is recorded in front of a live audience. I’ve been listening to the show, either on radio or on podcast, for a long time but had never been to a live recording. Until now.

I have my lovely girlfriend to thank for getting tickets to the show – they are free, available from the BBC website, but there’s a long wait because it’s a popular show. The show starts recording at 8pm, with entry into Broadcasting House starting at 6.30pm, but we arrived about 15 minutes before that and there were already people queueing. After the security measures to enter the building, including X-rays of our bags and metal detectors, we still had to wait until 7.30ish before they let us into BBC Radio Theatre for the actual recording; there is a lot of organising involved in just getting people inside.

When things finally started happening, Punt and Dennis came on first to warm up the audience – I can only assume that they do the same thing for each show, with Dennis doing his silly mimes, including the classic velociraptor walk he did on Outnumbered, while Punt did a background narration. This got the packed audience laughing along, before the rest of the cast were introduced and brought onto the stage – regulars Laura Shavin (doing all the female voices), Jon Holmes and Mitch Benn (provider of the musical pieces), along with the guest comedian who has been taking over from Marcus Brigstocke; this week it was Mark Watson. They all had seats for when they weren’t at a microphone – Punt and Dennis have the biggest share of the talking – and it did seem like an old-fashioned representation of how radio shows are recorded.

After testing the microphones, the show was recorded as if we were at home listening to it – it was an odd sensation, with the different acoustics of being in a theatre compared with the experience of hearing it in digitally broadcast high-quality sound. Some of the cast have different vocal performances as they appear on the show. It was made even more bizarre when the producer came onto the stage floor to do pick-ups where some people had missed a cue or slightly fluffed a delivery or, in the case of Jon Holmes, gave a more grammatically correct reading of his punchline (changing from ‘less presents’ to ‘fewer presents’; one of the cast said they would have got more letters about that than the stuff about Prince Phillip shooting Camilla …). I quite liked this look behind the scenes, seeing how the show is a job, rather than just some people making it up as they go along.

The show was great fun, the only weak section being Mark Watson – I was going to be slightly disappointed by the absence of Marcus Brigstocke, who is perhaps the comedian best suited to the satirical stand-up slot in the programme, with his intelligence and strong political viewpoint, but Watson was a rather poor fill-in. His delivery is supposed to be a little halting and ramshackle, but it seemed particularly raw and poorly prepared.

To make up for the slightly weak guest, we were given extra material – we were allowed to stay for the recording of recorded pieces for The Vote Now Show, the extra shows they are doing for the run-up to the election. In the end, we didn’t get out of Broadcasting House until after 10pm, but it was worth it – a very enjoyable night’s entertainment.

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Comic Book Shops: Croydon

Growing up in London, I never considered Croydon part of London – it was a suburb that marked the boundary between the sprawling metropolis and the boring country. This was misguided ignorance on my part, as I had never been there, didn’t know anybody who lived there or even looked it up on a map. What can I say? I was young …

Now that I live in south London, Croydon is not a distant mythical place, but a short journey on the train, which boasts two comic book shops all of its own. They are both within a ten-minute walk of each other, and I can’t see how it can support them.

The first comic book shop is a branch of Forbidden Planet, with a prime spot on the corner of the main street just across from West Croydon train station. The shop is a big space but it uses the large floor in a very old-fashioned way, with shelves creating aisles in a single room. It looks quite dark, despite the large windows letting in a lot of light; it doesn’t have the modern feel of the shop in central London, harking back to basic approach to selling comic books.

The shop has the same large range as the central London store – new comic books (although not a lot of old books), trades, manga, DVDs, sci-fi and fantasy novels, merchandise of various geek-related types – but all in a much smaller space, meaning everybody gets close when they try to shop, which meant that I didn’t particularly want to stay in the shop for very long.

The other shop A Place In Space, which seems to be a personal shop. It is a smaller shop, with the new comics and trades in the front open space, before the shop narrows towards the back, where they keep the old comic books in many longboxes but also other merchandise: many prints (mostly of women, it has to be said), as well as busts and superhero paraphernalia, such as a mounted Captain America shield and Mjolnir.

There were several people in the store when we visited on a Saturday afternoon, but they all seemed to be personal friends of the owner, chatting away merrily, as if keeping each other company rather than paying any particular attention to the shop or the customers. It wasn’t unfriendly – it just seemed unusual; I got the impression that the store doesn’t get a huge amount of custom. I hope they survive in the current economic climate, because they must run the shop because of a love of comic books.

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Comic Book Shop Update: Orbital Comics

One of the series of posts I have written is about comic book shops – I’m very lucky, living in London, to have a lot of comic book shops in relatively close proximity, even though I mention other comic book shops that a particular resonance in my development as a comic book fan. In this post, I wanted to revisit one of those shops because they had the temerity to move to new premises, thus invalidating one of my blog posts.

Orbital Comics now matches Forbidden Planet in central London in the number of times it has moved the shop within a mile radius of previous locations, having both moved twice to bigger floor space each time. Orbital has moved to a side road off Charing Cross Road near Leicester Square tube station; it’s not a grubby area, although the photo suggests otherwise. However, the interior is another matter.

The shops is now in what was a former photo gallery, as it a long and thin space with high ceilings and a lot of shelf space. In fact, they have so much space that there is room for a film poster shop off to the left about halfway down, and there is a separate space where they exhibit original comic book art (thus keeping the original gallery concept alive). The exhibit space has seen art by Brendan McCarthy and John McCrea, as well as some original Watchmen pages (at the time when the film came out) by Dave Gibbons. This certainly makes for a different comic book experience compared with other shops I have visited.

The new comics fill a huge wall of shelves on the left as you come in, with a huge selection of different comic books; to the right, there is the till and then the latest hardback collections and trade paperbacks, as well as any special offers on these new books. Going further into the narrow but far-reaching space, there are more book shelves filled with a lot of trade paperbacks, again of a wide selection of independents as well as the mainstream books. The last third of the shop contains the longboxes of back issues – there is a huge number, with an island in the middle and the rest packed around the walls, filed by publisher and then alphabetically by character/team. You can see why they had to move to a bigger space, because they’ve got a LOT of comic books.

The new premises are very nice – the space is very pleasant, creating a relaxed atmosphere, and it makes the comic books seem more like art (I don’t know if that’s the vibe of the original use). I just hope they stay there so I don’t have to write about them again …

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Author event: Jasper Fforde

I’ve had the pleasure of attending author appearances in smallish venues – I saw Terry Pratchett in a small hall somewhere in Canterbury back in the early 1990s, and Neil Gaiman (promoting the novelisation of Neverwhere) on the second floor of a Waterstone’s in London in the mid-1990s (back before either of them required a ticketing system to prevent a mob scenario). I can now add Jasper Fforde to that list, after attending his appearance to promote Shades of Grey on the third-floor gallery in Foyles on Charing Cross Road.

The event was ticketed, despite Fforde not selling in the same amounts as Pratchett and Gaiman, but I had booked them back in December, so I was able to drag my girlfriend along to her first author appearance (she is a big fan of the Thursday Next series after I foisted them upon her), smug in the knowledge that we would get into the ‘sold out’ event (bit of a misnomer – nobody paid for any tickets, so there was no selling involved).

I don’t know how many people the room packed in – about 100? – but it wasn’t too cramped and we could all see Fforde easily (and hear him clearly with the PA system). Fforde was as funny, educated, charming and engaging as you would expect from reading his novels or his website. He talked about the writing of his latest novel, his first ‘proper’ novel as he calls it – a completely new scenario with his own creations and nobody else’s – and he read out various sections of the new book to illustrate his thinking and the development of the world. It was a very interesting insight to the creative process and into the brain of Fforde.

After about 30 minutes of Fforde talking at us, he opened the floor to questions, something he encourages because it helps him see how people are reacting to his books. He was asked questions that led him to talk about how envisioned Thursday Next (he based her on the female aviators – they just went out and did it, not as a feminist act, but just because it was there), and how a film of the Thursday Next books wouldn’t work because of the nature of books is about reading itself (and, anyway, it would have to be a television mini-series for each book), and how the Nursery Crime Division books were written before Thursday Next (and how he had written the first Thursday Next story in third person but found it wasn’t working, so he changed to first person, with the exception of the flashback chapter, which he realised that it wouldn’t work in first person). It was really informative and Fforde was funny and honest and personable, and the hour was up far too quickly. If you’re a fan of his books, then I urge you to see him in person if possible.

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Comic Book Shop: Fantastic Realm (Number 9 In A Series)

Is an hour too long a distance to travel to buy half-price comics and graphic novels from a comic book shop that is going out of business? Is 8am too early to get up on a Sunday morning to do this? Should I feel guilty and a little sleazy for saving money on comic books through people who love comic books but haven’t succeeded in the cut-throat world of retail?

These questions and more were going through my mind as I journeyed on the tube to Finsbury Park on 8 November 2009 to the big sale at Fantastic Realm, the most recent addition to the London comic book scene and also the most recent victim of these economically difficult times. I first heard about them earlier in the year in a post by Dom of London Loves Comics – I had meant to visit them as part of my series on Comic Book Shops of London but they had succumbed to financial pressure before I got off my lazy arse and visited them. Dom discusses the reasons behind it in another post, which, if true, are very sad indeed – it would seem that the American parent company screwed them over.

Despite the ghoulish atmosphere of picking clean the flesh of a corpse (enough with the metaphor), I was not the only person to descend upon Fantastic Realm. I arrived a few minutes after 10am, when the shop was opening specially for the sale, but the locusts were already there – one locust beating me to the only copy of Agents of Atlas TPB that I had really wanted (bastard; he even had to think about it when he picked it up – if I’d been there 30 seconds earlier I could have had it, and I know I wanted it). It’s only a small shop but there were a lot of people crammed in there, standing over each other in an effort to get the best bargain. There were some trade paperbacks but the shop was mostly comic books – they even let us into the back room to go through the long boxes there.

It was in the long boxes you could see the evidence of where things had gone wrong – you would see packs of comics in a Mylar bag but, instead of set of issues covering a story arc in a series (as Gosh! do in their downstairs section), it was identical copies of the same issue. This was usually first issues – there were entire boxes full of the same first issue (I’ve never seen so many copies of Jenna Jameson’s Shadow Hunters) – and it was depressing, unless you really wanted 100 copies of the first issue of a new Marvel series, suggesting the allegation was true that the store was the dumping ground for unnecessary orders for the purpose of getting special variants.

Even though the shop wasn’t big and the stock not extensive, I still managed to spend 2 hours in the shop without being aware of the passage of time. I can be like that when shopping and it was nice to see trades in a sale – when I went to the closing down sale for the Borders on Oxford Street, they had already removed all the trade paperbacks/graphic novels before letting anyone through the doors. I managed quite a haul – five of the Brubaker Captain America TPBs, Dead Girl, Fantastic Four: True Story, Uncanny X-Men: Lovelorn and Fantastic Four: Dark Reign, plus all but three issues of the recent Agents of Atlas series, the Final Crisis: Superman Beyond issues and a few sundry comics, all for £50. I tried to make myself believe I was helping the owners out by buying this haul, but I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I was ripping them off and smiling at their misfortune. Still, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, or some other cliché; RIP, Fantastic Realm.

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Art: Kuniyoshi Exhibition

Because I’m, like, incredibly sophisticated and stuff, I go to art galleries to see actual works of art. I’m not saying this to impress you (although that is an unfortunate side-effect), it’s just a reason to post about my trip and put up some images.

The Royal Academy of Art is hosting an exhibition of 19th-century coloured woodprints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. Featuring over 150 pieces from the Arthur R Miller collection (which is over 2000-strong), it presents a great selection from this prolific and extremely talented artist (he was discovered at the age of 12). There are examples of his landscapes (which have an European influence with the use of low perspective), his humorous work (which includes a squid that looks like it was copied for a level in Super Mario Sunshine) and his prints of beautiful women that were part of an inspirational series, it is his ‘Warriors’ that really catch the eye.

There were two main themes for a lot of the warrior work – the heroes of The Water Margin and the story of the forty-seven ronin (although he did work with other heroes and stories). He did single prints but his diptychs and triptychs are particularly impressive, showing his skill imagination – the amount of detail, the dynamism, the power all come together to produce great pieces of work. The capturing of rain on the picture is incredible, and the arrows flying through different levels of graded darkness are astonishing.

I don’t know if there is an influence on manga but it’s not difficult to see some inspiration in the powerful images and the colourful and elaborate detail. I’m also curious to see if Stan Sakai has seen Kuniyoshi’s work because I get a recognisable vibe from the attack on the rooftop scene that made me think immediately of Usagi Yojimbo. You can find out more about Kuniyoshi at Wikipedia, obviously, and there is a huge collection of images at the Kuniyoshi Project. The exhibition is wonderful and I would urge anyone who can to visit it – I just wish they had used a better print to advertise the collection: the fat red man fighting the giant carp doesn’t really do him justice.

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Visiting the BBC Television Centre

As mentioned recently, it was my birthday, so I did something to celebrate. Not being a drinker, I don’t gather a group of friends in a pub to poison ourselves to the point of vomiting and spending the next day in bed; instead, I try to something a little different. This year, it was the tour of BBC Television Centre in the White City area of west London.

I’ve considered doing this tour before but, because the maximum number on a tour group is small (22), Saturday would be booked up several weeks in advance, and I’m really not that organised (as is evident on this blog). However, to circumvent this difficulty, we went during the week – genius! – and the early-morning slot (10 am), which meant that I was able to book with ease and there were far fewer people on the tour than later in the day; there were only seven of us in total, which is a very cosy number.

It was a lovely sunny day when we arrived in plenty of time at the reception building of the Television Centre, a smaller building closer to White City tube station. Even though it seems obvious thinking about it now, it was really busy – there was a constant stream of people queuing at the reception desk to get their day passes to enter. Of course it was busy – it’s the BBC, for goodness sake. We didn’t have to do this – the tour guides came to meet us in the seating area and had our passes ready for us.

We were taken down the road to the audience gate for the Television Centre itself – we had to go through security to ensure we weren’t from ITV. This area is in front of the visual that is associated in my mind’s eye (and I would think most other British people) when considering the BBC, seen in many a broadcast and opening credits for various programmes (such as one season of A Bit of Fry & Laurie). Rather than start with the original building, we were taken into BBC News, which is housed in a new extension completed in 1998. Of the 8,000 people who work at Television Centre, 2,000 work in BBC News – the BBC is the largest provider of news in the world, providing the most accurate news (if not necessarily most immediate – accuracy is the watch word) for everyone who isn’t Sky or CNN. We were taken into a small meeting room behind the open-plan offices of the people who do the behind-the-scenes work: the fact checkers, the travel agents (to directly book a news team onto flights), the people who work on the online news site, the people manning the phones. Not exactly sexy but they couldn’t take us into the studios, could they? It was also here that was the only place I saw somebody from the visible side of the BBC – Nicky Campbell, presenter of Watchdog. We were told at the start to play it cool if we saw someone we recognised, whether we liked them or hated them, which was a nice touch.

The next stop on the tour was the original reception area, where nowadays the famous people who are going to be on television arrive so they can be taken to the dressing rooms. Because it was so early in the day, we didn’t see any of this, although I assume the later tours might catch glimpses. There is a beautiful mosaic behind the desks, and it was here that we also learnt about the design of the building – the land to be used was a triangle in this area of west London and, after much thought into how to make use of the space, the designer came up with the question mark (which you can see if you look up ‘BBC Television Centre’ on Google maps and use the Satellite version).

Just outside of the old reception area is the middle of the circle of the question mark – in there was a working fountain but they had to turn it off because it was so noisy due to the acoustics (and, as our tour guide joked, because the people in the offices constantly needed the toilet). There is a statue of Helios on top, representing the electromagnetic waves of television broadcasting, with two statues of women at the bottom with masks and a lyre, representing sound and vision, the two basics of television. You might have seen these in the background of outside location segments of studio shows, but maybe not.

After this outside interlude, we were back indoors for a look inside a studio – a large, tall square room with 500 lights, a dark floor with grid markings and a black curtain around the outside to dupe the cameras into thinking that the studio has no ending. It was strange to be inside these empty rooms that have provided so much entertainment, because the reality is so different from the illusion created by television. It was also strange to discover that it’s not just the BBC who make programmes there – they rent them out at £50,000 a day (12 hours) to companies that make programmes for other channels (The Paul O’Grady Show on Channel 4 used to film here). They also rent them out to the likes of Tina Turner, who had her 60th birthday party there.

After the deceptive ordinariness of the studio, our next stop was outside the weather studios – these are small rooms where everything is automated and only the forecaster can fit. These only cost £65 to make a 2-minute slot, so it balances out, but they do a lot of them. I learnt that all forecasters on the BBC are trained meteorologists who work for the Met Office, i.e. they are not employees of the BBC, although they get training and a dress allowance, and are therefore effectively civil servants. We were given our own demonstration of the blue screen presenting, as we stood against a wall and could see the projection opposite (and learned that blue and green screens are because nobody has blue or green skin, and why presenters don’t wear blue or green on television); it was a cute little touch that probably works well with a younger group than our slightly older group.

An observation booth for a different studio – prepping to make The Alan Titchmarsh Show – was the next stop on our tour. The younger of our two guides was happy that nobody had watched the programme because it is on ITV; we had to DVR an episode just to see how the studio looked on screen. Unless the sets are being used for a daily programme, they are trashed (or recycled) – it is more expensive to store than to build anew, something the Beeb discovered when Fawlty Towers became popular after the repeat viewing of the first series and they were commissioned another series and had to build the sets again. Another interesting fact related to this was that, even though they may look like carpets on set, they are hard floors that are painted to resemble carpet (so the cameras can move around easily) – if you listen to Prunella Scales walking on carpet, you can hear the acoustics of heels on hard floor.

We had seen where they make the programme, so we were allowed to see where people prepare for them – a dressing room. The one we saw had eight mirror/seats, with a small lounge area and sink (toilets and showers are communal, apart from the dressing rooms for the stars). The elder tour guide regaled us with an anecdote of Madonna wanting a life-size photo of the Pope in her dressing room (and ending up with the substitute waxwork model from Madame Tussauds, much to her surprise) and how Jennifer Lopez’s record company paid for the extra dressing rooms for her enormous entourage (the BBC only provide one free per special guest) and to redecorate a conference room to be her dressing room because the others were too small, which she only used for 45 minutes.

The final stop was an interactive studio specially kitted out for the tour – there was a control room for one of our group to operate the controls with one guide, while the other guide had one of us read the news and then three of our number play a quiz game – I was one of the three, and we were shown a Little Britain sketch (Lou and Andy at the swimming pool) before answering questions on it. My over-competitive streak surprised me by emerging in full flight – of the seven questions asked, I was the first to buzz and answer correctly five of them. I am such an attention whore … Still, I won a BBC Breakfast mug for my display of short-term memory recall, so I’m not too embarrassed. It was also the end of our tour – for just under a tenner each, 90 minutes of wandering around an historic building that has provided years of formative entertainment and which may be sold off in the near future. I’m very glad we saw it.

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Live Comedy: French and Saunders – Still Alive

I’ve seen most of the comedians who had an impact on my burgeoning enjoyment of comedy in a live setting – I saw Ben Elton while he was still funny, I saw Rik & Ade doing Bottom on stage, I saw Newman & Baddiel (although not in the notorious Wembley gigs), I saw Steve Coogan doing Alan Partridge live (hearing him ad lib in character is a delight), to name a few. Yet I hadn’t seen Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders doing a live show.

French and Saunders, dubbed the godmothers of alternative comedy, were the first female comedians to impact on my consciousness. Part of The Comic Strip Presents, appearing in The Young Ones, and doing their much-loved sketch show, French & Saunders. They might have become more populist than their alternative roots would dictate, Jennifer with Absolutely Fabulous and Dawn with The Vicar of Dibley (can’t say I was a big fan of the latter), but the important thing was they were funny – the spoofs on film/television/popular music may have become an albatross around their necks, but only because they were funny in the first place. Therefore, when they brought their ‘not a farewell tour’ show to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, it was time to cross them off my list.

Firstly, I would recommend the Theatre Royal – it is a very large and very nice theatre, spacious and comfortable. Also, the box we had was almost as big as our bedroom – the room outside it had more space and chairs for relaxing in the interval. And, because there are hardly any other people going to boxes, the pre-show ambiance is quiet and pleasant. I don’t think we could go back to sitting in the stalls …

Jennifer and Dawn came on to huge applause – their populist status was in no doubt – and the show was a mix of pre-filmed pieces, old sketches and new pieces. For performers used to the luxury of television to get it right, they were very well-oiled in their routines, which involve a lot of talking over each other, their faux-bickering and monologues. They also made plenty of jokes at each other’s expense – boasting about whose show was more impressive or more popular, at one stage bringing on a giant vicar of Dibley to demonstrate the point.

They did one of their classic routines about contraception, as well as some of their popular characters. Jennifer did her Madonna bit (Jennifer and Dawn are the same age as Madonna) and Dawn did an hilarious pre-taped Catherine Zeta Jones piece. They also did a version of the original sketch that was the inspiration for Ab Fab. They even did a song and dance bit at the end. The biggest laughs were for the ‘encore’ routine of the two old men, who urinate on a wall and then both turn around with their trousers still undone, with fake yet realistic-looking genitals flapping about. The audience, who consisted mostly of older women (including Alison Moyet and Ruby Wax), were screaming with laughter.

Was the show ground-breaking? No. Was it alternative comedy? No. But was it funny? Yes. Nearly two hours of funny sketches performed by funny people, it was a delight to be entertained by two women who knew what they were doing and doing it well. It was great to see the bickering in the flesh, especially as we were so close to the action in the box (the one we were in isn’t usually open for shows because they are covered with lighting, but they were available for use for this show), with Dawn doing her over the top thing and Jennifer being more controlled. Entertaining and celebratory, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

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