Friday night saw the magical blend of Oona & Crispin Wheatflake descend upon the Albany on Great Portland Street, London, for a unique evening of late May-day celebrations from the minds of Hot Brew.
With Steve Oram, Colin Hoult and Stephen Evans also on the bill at the Forgery Club, TVO couldn’t resist popping along. This is what we found…
It was always going to be an unusual night. The posters, eerily reminiscent of the carvings of Vlad the Impaler given a Wicker Man-esque treatment, were surely enough to befuddle passers by on Great Portland Street, or the bevy of boozers on the ground floor of The Albany. Meandering past the masses and down into the basement for the Forgery Club felt like we were part of a great secret. Here, tonight, underneath the city, we were going to see something pretty damn special.
With punters cheerfully munching on the selection of buns and biscuits left on each table, few of them noticed Oona & Crispin Wheatflake sat in a corner booth, frantically making final preparations for their first ever club night. With the various other acts on the bill pottering about, saying hello to their friends and followers, the pair slinked off into the depths of the backstage area to put the kettle on, pick their teabags and unleash the brew.
Soon Hot Brew were on stage, introducing a night of wonderment which, they promised, would end in a sacrifice. Within minutes, one hapless bystander was wearing Oona’s tea-bag neckless – pyramid bags for extra blending opportunities, no less – and the pair launched into the familiar tale of Oona’s
With the story of triple penetration in song format out of the way, the new age pair introduced the first act, and continued to return throughout the evening providing extracts from their forthcoming album whilst grating their roots. Staying in character throughout the night, their new role as hosts gave Alice Lowe & Antony Elvin the chance to expand their live show into new territory, bookending performances with a degree of off-kilter philosophy that the crowd lapped up. Forgery Club head honcho Bob Pipe undoubtably played his part in this success too!
Laughs were more varied for the acts that followed. First up were sketch duo Dregs, who, thankfully, by no means lived up to their name. Though bolstered on by their large table of friends, the young pair seemed a little unexperienced, or at least, unfamiliar with their material, but soon warmed the whole crowd up with a couple of silly skits and a natural chemistry together that was reminiscent of many a classic combination. Whilst they were possibly the wrong sort of act to appear on tonight’s bill, being more reminiscent of the excellent LateNightGimpFight than the strangeness of our main acts, it will definitely be interesting to see how they develop as a unit, as what they gave the crowd here could be the genesis of a classic.
Another sketch duo followed later in the evening, in the form of all female quintet Fun Bags. With a lot of experience behind them, including last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, the fearless foursome ploughed through sketch after sketch, unafraid to look ridiculous, and with just the right mixture between pathos and stupidity, their set was a highlight of the evening – in particular a preposterous sequence involving a new nanny and some truly demonic children. Hopefully this is not the last we’ll see of them, as their routine already cries out for a chance to shine on television.
Three female stand-ups I was unfamiliar with also provided support slots throughout the evening, with extremely varying degrees of success. Most successful was BBC Comedy Award winner Helen O’Brien, who first appeared in the guise of Mrs Manning – aged widow of notorious blue-comic Bernard – with a flawless Mancunian accent that had your Manchester based reviewers convinced! Timid, frail and bereaved, Mrs Manning has decided to resurrect her husband’s routine as a tribute, with typically hilarious results. O’Brien returned later in the evening as Sinnead O’Connor (no, not the singer) with a less successful but still very amusing routine which did its job in boosting the audience moral for the final leg of the show, truly marking her as one to watch for the future.
Sadly the other two female comics fell down at the first hurdle, by portraying utterly unlikeable creations that didn’t have the jokes to back their existence up. Catriona Knox and Grainne Maguire have strong reviews behind them, but tonight they both fell flat with the audience and like Dregs seemed very out of sync with the oddities that Alice & Antony laid out for us. Knox portrayed a revolting child star superbrat which relied heavily on audience participation that just wasn’t forthcoming, whilst Maguire’s act saw her dressed up as a Jane Austin reject trying to provide stand-up contemporaneous of the period, which, sadly, was her only real joke on display. Both had stage presence, but the lack of response caused their sets to drag and moral to fall as a result. A shame.
Back in TVO territory, we had the glorious Steve Oram to keep us entertained. Speaking to Oram before the show about various projects on the go – of which we’ll reveal more as soon as we can – he opined that much of what is out there at the moment is funny but quite safe, whereas he and regular collaborator Tom Meeten are “a bit mental”. Now we knew that already, and love them both for it, but if anyone in the audience was in any doubt of Steve’s extremities they were under no illusion by the end of his contibutions to the evening.
After a brief appearance wearing a 2ft paper hat, sprouting gibberish as the Witchhunter alongside Hot Brew, Steve returned as the infamous Mary. Sporting a beautiful red-frock with matching bag and shoes, and this time will full blown bushy beard and blacked out teeth, Mary is a vision of bizarre extremities only exacerbated by what emerges from her lips during the lengthy routine which literally pummels the audience into submission.
Those familiar with her appearance on YouTube will be aware of her interpretation of Only You, but what flows seamlessly from that is an amalgamation of bewildering silly moments that reduced most of the crowd to hysterics.
There were a few blank expressions around the room, especially from a particularly noisy table in the back corner, who were perhaps the wrong crowd for the show. This was an unrestrained masterstroke of utter stupidity, involving dog shampoo, the ingredients found in spaghetti hoops and taxi drivers who won’t go south of the river. It may go on a little too long, but it remains a hilarious slab of classic Oram mentality that I was overjoyed to finally see in person. With Mary, you either get it, or you don’t, and thankfully the majority here did, even if that vocal minority couldn’t quite figure out how to shut up.
The real highlight of the evening for TVO, however, was Colin Hoult. Pairing up with regular collaborator Stephen Evans, the two talents dubbed themselves Brown Jenkin and across two sets performed selected tracks from their various Edinburgh shows, including several from last year’s sublime Enemy Of The World which remains this reviewer’s favourite live comedy to date.
Out of context, the songs stood up as delicately crafted concoctions with a dash of Grimm’s fairytale about them and in some cases, a sprinkling of lullaby melody. The assembled crowd, mostly unfamiliar with Hoult’s works, were not quite so entranced by the sets, providing a somewhat restrained response which Colin was quick to remedy with a smattering of asides that kept people giggling, and his unmistakable stage presence ensured that if they weren’t laughing as hard as they might, they at least stayed entertained throughout.
Colin also returned at the climax of the evening in the guise of a new character from his forthcoming Edinburgh show. Hailing from Leeds, but believing himself to be the reincarnation of The Mighty Thor, this was a very silly character that, much like previous success Andy Parker, allowed Hoult the chance to play with the crowds considerably, wandering around with a hammer made from a sponge and a pen, bang-bang-ing on heads and challenging audience members to thumb wars.
Whilst Colin is still working on the character, and didn’t yet have a proper ending to round him off, it’s clear the act is nearing completion and looks set to be a highlight of the new show, making the prospect of seeing it in full all the more exciting. Watch out for previews in the London area very soon!
Rounding off with a maypole dance around one hapless punter, with music provided by Elvin’s regular collaborator (and former Circulus member) William Summers, the night proved to be a highly memorable first attempt from Hot Brew, marking a further transition from one-off short film characters to bonafide comedic behemoths.
Antony Elvin told us after the show that he and Alice Lowe hoped to make this a regular event, finding more acts who fit into their unique vision – willing to dress up and create an imaginative blend unique to the London comedy scene. Judging by the overall success of the first show, the pair do not need to go a long way to make something truly essential. Here’s to more!