Review: Live at The Playhouse

Harlow Playhouse / Sun 17th May 2015 at 06:26pm

By Siobhan Wood

I arrived to an almost empty foyer and did wonder if no one had turned up but when I walked into the studio upstairs it was packed full of people. Our compere for the night Meryl O’Rourke was very likeable and played on the tension when some latecomers came in and needed to find a seat. Meryl interacted with the audience with some close to the mark teasing and she got the room relaxed and laughing with her Mexican clap and cheeky off the cuff observations which showcased her improvisational skills. It was very funny when she said to the wife of the man she had dubbed the Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen of Harlow: “Does he do nights madam? No? So you don’t even have that.” Meryl was a hit and the audience looked forward to her appearances, despite her being told backstage that she had been talking for too long.

Our first act Michael Fabbri had a great energy and the crowd warmed to him easily. He began by telling us he had walked from the train station and drew laughs of recognition when he said: “Be a touch friendlier to the pedestrian, couldn’t it?” Michael’s material had some quite strong messages regarding job centres, education and dyslexia, but also some silliness in his brilliant bit about making his iPhone stupid and inconveniencing bees. I have a similar work history to Michael and was watching the show with a teacher so we were both impressed that he managed to be so funny while making such bang-on social and political observations about two difficult areas of society. He was very likeable whilst pulling no punches and it was fun to be surprised by his fresh jokes on topics such as internet comments.

Andrea Hubert was next and the lack of warmth in Andrea’s sneery comedy about her friends who she doesn’t like having the babies that she doesn’t want didn’t seem to connect with the Harlow crowd. It’s a bit risky to tell an audience: “You won’t like this,” and I almost think Andrea expected that her jokes might not really land and I highly doubt she particularly minded. There were a few laughs and Andrea saw it through to the interval, although it was more of a monologue of sarcasm that might make you the funniest friend in the beer garden but didn’t seem to translate to rewarding punchlines on the stage on this occasion.

Benny Boot’s arrival in the second half made me feel like the whole audience had been replaced with a group of outgoing cheerleaders in the interval; his wildcard, oddball performance united everyone as we quickly fell in love with him. He injected life into the room and the rounds of applause and rolling laughter didn’t stop for his entire set. Benny bought with him entirely fresh material about topics including Febreze, fast food and adult swear jars from his truly original way of perceiving the world. His surreal approach seemed to appeal to everyone and the delivery of his babysitter joke left us all in hysterics in the electric atmosphere he had created. Benny was a true star who could play anywhere and win over anyone – even a joke about suicide drew joyful giggles out of an audience that might not have forgiven another comedian for attempting. Benny also used physical comedy perfectly and even when part of his act was just him silently staring straight ahead the audience couldn’t stop laughing. His last line before he left the stage on an absolute high was an impressive close. It was a relentless and delightful act and in terms of presence, charisma and audience reaction, Benny’s performance at Harlow Playhouse was up there as the best I have seen.

Rounding up the night was magician Ali Cook who charmingly combined magic tricks with little stories, jokes, audience participation and even some fire to keep everyone happy. It was particularly funny when talking about the layout of the studio he told us how people in the front row were going to see a miracle and the people behind were going to see a whole lot more. Ali had a great balance between telling jokes and doing actual magic and his easy way with the audience must have worked because I found myself joining in when he asked us to call out the answers. The show took a more serious turn with Ali impressing us by correctly guessing things concerning people in the audience and the finale showcased some solid mindreading with a beautifully eerie prop.

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