It’s Saturday night in Manchester and we’re in for the 7 pm show, which though not sold out, is decently packed with punters in search of a good laugh. By and large, they were well-served tonight.
Host Alun Cochrane, has a genial and engaging personality, that comes across from the moment he steps out on the boards. He scores immediate brownie-points for telling me that I look a good ten years younger than my actual age, though I do inevitably become the butt of several quips throughout the evening. Cochrane demonstrates his professionalism early in the proceedings by deftly defusing a potentially dangerous situation, when a well-oiled gentleman with a pizza takes exception to a couple of digs made about his tattoos, but you can’t expect to sit near the front in a show like this and not be picked upon. How the gentleman comes to be so well-oiled by 7 pm is a matter for conjecture, but Cochrane handles the situation brilliantly and the show goes on.
First up is Paul Tonkinson, who has a nice line in physical comedy. His impersonation of a wheat-intolerant person and his demonstration of what his lady friend looks like after a few drinks are undoubted highlights and the laughs, generally of the ‘we’ve all been there’ variety come thick and fast.
Geoff Norcott is a Londoner and there’s much mileage made about how Northern audiences differ from those on his home turf. He has an affable style, that once again milks the audience for laughs and the revelation that there’s an Olympic gold medallist of the Tai Kwondo persuasion sitting in the front row is seized upon to generate some gold medal laughter.
The second half begins with David Hadingham, another Londoner, who offers routines about speeding on the motorway and the differences between men and women. Of all the performers tonight, his material is perhaps the most hack, but he doesn’t disgrace himself and manages to rescue his set with some outrageous quips that have you wondering whether you should laugh or cringe.
But the most confrontational jokes of the night come from headliner, Roger Monkhouse, who has a sly and intelligent patter that often slips into ‘I can’t believe I just said that’ territory. He receives some (good natured) heckling from a couple of Scottish punters and responds with a series of excoriating putdowns, that absolutely flays them alive; but his good-natured, smiling persona allows him to go further than many comics would dare to and he still walks off to heartfelt applause. It’s a dangerous tightrope but he walks it expertly.
Overall, a good night and as the crowd is shunted swiftly towards the doors (there’s a second show at 9 pm) we wander out into the night with the distinct impression that we’ve had a decent (if a little safe) helping of comedy entertainment. One caveat: it would be nice to see some female comedians on the bill. We’ve recently returned from the Edinburgh Festival where some of the best performances we saw were by women.