Five Guys Named Moe ~ Marble Arch Theatre ~ 08.03.2018

Another show where I purposefully didn’t do too much research about as I often like the element of surprise – and another show where it paid off!

What a joy this show is – an explosion of song and dance in an immersive setting. Because this isn’t just walking into a room, seeing a show, then leaving. Let’s start from the beginning of the entire experience.


Showing at the purpose-built  Marble Arch Theatre, the first thing you notice from the approach to the theatre is that you are about to step right into the world of the characters in New Orleans. The exterior of the theatre, the bar serving Louisiana’s finest cocktails, the jukebox, the try-on costumes – the bandstand. The entire room decked out to look the part.

Shortly before the show, members of the band take to the bandstand to give you a taster of the live entertainment to follow. Always nice for a show to have a pre-show – if there is any show you don’t just show up to 5 mins before curtain, it’s this one!

Entering the main venue – a circular theatre with a band of seating in a circle, a walkway running around the venue connecting to the stage, and a couple more rows of circular seating inside the circle and then cabaret seating in the middle. Taking time to wander around the theatre, and taking into account the staging, I don’t imagine there is a bad seat in the house. The cast are continuously walking around the audience on that circular walkway, so you can be sat in the back row but still only 5ft away from live action due to the immersive feel of the show.

The energy of this show is contagious and the audience interactions keep the party feel going. If you’re here for a deep review of plot and character development, this might not be the show for you – the plot is paper thin and the show is all about showing the impressing vocal, dancing and comedy skills of this very talented cast.

The show centres around Nomax, a lost soul who we encounter drunk in his flat following a confrontation with his girlfriend. As he passes out to the radio, the Five Moes appear and impart all their worldly knowledge in a bit to help him clean up his act and get his lady back. All through song and dance, of course.

The live band onstage are incredible and fully deserving of their own ovations at the end of each half – the first slightly obscured by the entire audience forming a conga line out of the theatre towards the bar. But they get an extended run out at each end of the second half to allow you to show appreciation. Running through a variety of songs by Louis Jordan, blending genres from jazz to blues/rock, having the band there onstage rather than down in an orchestra pit really adds to the atmosphere.

It’s impossible to pick out anyone in particular for praise because all six performers had brilliant comic timing, superb vocals and moved through the dances with ease. It’s no surprise several nominations for individuals have poured in, resulting in the cast often up against each other  in various categories.

The show is only running until the end of the month, and I’m curious to see what will pop up at the theatre afterwards, or whether the theatre will be taken down again. It’s such a great venue the team have built here – with the themed bar area, it would be great for other pop-up venues to create more of a package around the show. Having the bar area open for an hour after the show finished was unusual but helped make the night.

Tickets for Five Guys Named Moe are available here until 24th March. Don’t miss your chance to see this.


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Learning to Swim in the Abyss (A Live Improv Death Show) ~ Omnibus Theatre, Clapham ~ 26.02.2018

Stella Duffy returns with a new solo show – improvised, of course – all about death. Well, that’s not true. It’s a show about death which casts the spotlight on those moments in life which make life, well… life.

Stella has had her own brushes with death, as she candidly reveals during her one hour – should I call it performance? Performance makes it sound like it was put on for show and not actually a woman standing in front of a group, telling truths – such wonderful and heartbreaking stories – about those moments in life which need to be treasured. Make no mistake this was truth and wisdom being served up and we were there every step of the way.


Armed with a chair, some fairy lights and a few key words up on the wall, Stella relates stories of her encounters with cancer – the myriad of emotions, the really horrid times, the ridiculously funny times, the breathtakingly poignant times. As bleak as the theme might sound, rather than being about death, the show really does focus on the moments that make life worthwhile.

So descriptive is she of her journey – told in segments all out of order and set against general commentary of western storytelling traditions – that you can’t help but feel. Not feel what she feels – that would be impossible without having lived that experience. But feel. Feel feelings you have never felt before, and think thoughts you’d never thought before.

For those like me, who have not yet encountered cancer up close, she’s given us an insight of something we couldn’t previously come close to comprehending. Through sharing her experience she’s unlocked the possibility that we might in future engage in what I will clumsily term a “better way”. The show is wonderfully life-affirming, and if Stella’s ultimate aim was to inspire and create ripple effects then she achieved that.

Some would struggle with such a weighty backdrop to a show. Stella’s body of work on page and stage attests to her skills as an artist – she handles everything with a light touch. There is humour with every beat. Which is probably a healthy way to live life.

Stella is performing Learning to Swim in the Abyss (A Live Improv Death Show) at the Omnibus Theatre near Clapham Common until Wednesday 28th February.

(I hope I’ve done this show justice without treading all over the content. I genuinely feel everyone should spend time at this show. Such an honest look at life and important thoughts to consider.)


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My favourite Impro nights

I’ll start with a disclaimer that this is not an exhaustive list of all the London or UK impro groups and gigs out there – and it’s certainly not a proper review of those gigs. Simply that I wanted to record in my blog some of the fantastic regular nights that are out there and the venues to look at, as I find writing about impro comedy a bit trickier than talking about plays and bigger productions. Perhaps as every night is so different and there are fewer elements to pick out – for example staging is often just the comedians and a couple of chairs.

You’d think elements of writing about standup would be the same but I guess for many stand up comedians there are narrative arcs which give a reviewer something to hang an opinion piece on. Or you might comment on topic choices or delivery technique. All of these don’t quite work when talking about improvisation. And anyway, I’m not a proper reviewer so my opinion should be taken with a pinch of salt – I only write these little pieces to highlight what wonderful variety of live entertainment there is to see and hopefully encourage people to try something a bit new.


Comedy Store Players ~ Comedy Store, London

Longest running impro group and regular gig (that I know of, I’ll gladly be corrected on this if this isn’t the case) – in their 33rd year together. A core group of six performers (Andy Smart, Josie Lawrence, Lee Simpson, Neil Mullarkey, Paul Merton and Richard Vranch) form the regular cast, who appear every Wednesday and Sunday joined by a rotation of guests from a list of phenomenally talented improvisers . If you know even the slightest thing about impro you will know who they are. The Comedy Store Players are the most consistently funny group of people I have ever had the pleasure to see onstage, and I have seen them more times than I care to count. Some guests include: Miles Jupp, Ruth Bratt, Steve Steen, Marcus Brigstocke, Suki Webster, Phelim McDermott, Pippa Evans and Cariad Lloyd among several others of equally high quality. I still consider this the best value night out in London with guaranteed laughs and they are my go-to recommendation for anyone looking to see a comedy gig in London. Take a look at their website for ticket and lineup news. For UK-wide appearances, you can catch many of the members performing at venues all over the country on various tours as part of Steve Frost’s Impro All-Stars or Paul Merton’s Impro Chums.

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical ~ Lyric Theatre, London + National Tour

Okay, so here’s where my assertion that because impro comedy is often just people on stage, a couple of chairs and off you go, you can’t review it like a full play rings false. Showstopper! is an improvised musical which makes you forget that you’re not seeing a full set design, rehearsed choreography and costumes and that it’s a guy with a piano and not a 30 piece orchestra in the pit. Their recent Olivier Award win is a testament to how it stands up to the more fully-designed shows in the West End. The aforementioned Ruth Bratt and Pippa Evans are part of the core cast of Showstopper!, which was co-founded by Adam Meggido and Dylan Emery. Whenever I’ve seen them perform, they’ve displayed a fantastic knowledge of the various stylings of the different West End and Broadway musicals, able to move effortlessly between Cats, Hamilton and Lion King. Such a talented bunch and very deserving of all successes. Check their website for London dates and their National Tour.

The Playground ~ The Miller (+ other locations)

A female-only space, often hosted by Hoopla Impro at The Miller, showcasing the best talent on the circuit and nurturing the next generation. Fronted by Breaking & Entering – AKA Maria Peters and Lauren Shearing, they create a first half as a combination of recent graduates from impro courses, giving them a supportive audience to take their first steps onstage. Maria and Lauren then take the rest of the first half with their double-act impro, which is always a lot of fun. Their second half welcomes guests from the world of impro – many names already mentioned in this piece but additionally I’ve been fortunate to see excellent performers like Katy Schutte, Briony Redman and Susan Harrison. Follow Breaking & Entering on Twitter for gig details.

Newsical ~ The Miller

A fun series of single-scene musical theatre pieces, created entirely from news headlines sourced by audience members. The cast perform in rotations and usually 5 or 6 performers will be at any given performance. I’ve seen a number of people onstage at Newsical gigs and have particularly enjoyed the work of Francesca Reid, James Le Lacheur, James Witt and Tai Campbell, having seen most of those in other shows aswell. I was lucky enough to catch the debut of the group at An Actor’s Nightmare / Newsical double bill at The Miller in summer 2017 and then once or twice since, but as of the start of 2018 they seem to have a regular fortnightly gig at The Miller which will really be worth a look in on. Keep up to date with their activities via their Twitter feed.

Impropera ~ Kings Place (+ other locations)

Impropera, the show devised as a mashup between ‘Impro’ and ‘Opera’, not – as Niall Ashdown helpfully explains – a mashup of ‘improper’ and ‘a’.

Some games have the air of familiarity about them, but with the added operatic or musical dimension. For example – the translation game is now no longer a speech delivered to a room with handy verbal subtitling going on, but is now a german operatic piece, conveyed with all the passion and vocal stylings of any opera. The film & theatre styles now becomes a list of various composers, playing upon a theme decided by the audience. So you might hear variations on Three Blind Mice in the style of Chopin, Philip Glass, Elton John and Vivaldi – yes, sometimes someone completely unexpected is called out. I mean, who would suggest Vivaldi?!

The first half plays out with various games – my favourite being the 4 piece Baroque Chorus, which showcases the phenomenal talents of all involved. The second half is a one-act opera with the audience working as the chorus. Oh yes, everyone gets to join in! Technically I have performed in several West End operatic productions, with my part in the chorus line in the opera involving a car wash scene being particularly well-received (I maintain “Scrub my hubs” is my favourite improvisation suggestion from an audience member. Full disclosure – it was my friend’s suggestion. And I hope he doesn’t read this as his ego doesn’t need the help).

The core cast don’t rotate so much but occasionally guest performers will step in. Niall Ashdown fills the role of host for the evening and is usually joined by David Pearl, Morag McLaren, Susan Bisatt and Louise Crane as singers, with pianist Anthony Ingle and woodwind maestro Peter Furniss adding the musical element which brings the show to life.

Impropera hold semi-regular gigs at Kings Place, but as of 2016 have added an exciting new concept called Muso – a version of their show hosted in various museums, where audiences are invited to find interesting artifacts for the cast to sing about. It’s a concept devised by David Pearl and I was lucky enough last year to see shows in the Grant Museum of Zoology and the British Museum, and to see these operatic scenes unfold around a Victorian science collection or the Egyptian exhibits really does transform the show. There are a few Muso gigs booked in for the first half of 2018 so check the Impropera website for more info.

Slattery Night Fever ~ London Improv Theatre

Like many others, my first taste of impro came in the form of hit 80s/90s television show Whose Line Is It Anyway? The show helped establish several talented individuals in the collective consciousness of the British TV-viewing public – one of these was the inimitable Tony Slattery, who has recently returned to live impro with a Saturday night residency at the London Improv Theatre on Finchley Road.

If you like your impro rough and ready with a healthy dose of chaos, then pop along to Slattery Night Fever, a show hosted by husband-and-wife team Neil Cole and Lesley Ann Albiston. The regular team are completed by another married duo, jazz musician Sandra Mae Luykx and Alan Marriott, who as an improviser with a superb singing voice, has established himself as the lynchpin of the show. Every Saturday night sees a rotation in the impro games played and different guests joining in the fun, so keep an eye on the London Improv Theatre website for full details.

Glenda J Collective ~ Various Locations

A quality quartet of Cariad Lloyd, Josie Lawrence, Ruth Bratt and Pippa Evans perform semi-regular gigs usually in London but last year did appear at the Edinburgh Fringe and the Improvisation festival in Birmingham. I’ve seen all four performers appear in various shows separately over the years, but together they are simply wonderful.

Josie is a longstanding member of the Comedy Store Players, and the others have guested at the Comedy Store a number of times, but you can also catch Cariad Lloyd as part of Cariad and Paul (alongside Paul Foxcroft) or as part of Austentatious. Ruth Bratt and Pippa Evans both perform as part of Showstopper! The Improvised Musical but you can also see Ruth alongside Dylan Emery as Ghost Couple, and Pippa Evans often performs standup either as herself or her character Loretta Maine.

This show is a more broad, sketch-based show which are sometimes standalone and sometimes interlinked rather than a set of separate games. Generally speaking the audience will lay out suggestions at the start and the gang will create and evolve scenes from those initial suggestions. It makes the night feel more like a natural progression than being constantly stop-start as some short-form impro shows can be.

Although you can catch the guys in various shows all year round, seeing them perform together is rarer. Currently booking is a one night only appearance at Hoopla Impro on 29th March, and a three night run at the Soho Theatre 12th-14th July.

Guest Speaker ~ The Miller / The Museum of Comedy

Devised by Suki Webster and featuring a rotation of excellent guests from the impro world, this show had a home for a while as part of Hoopla Impro comedy nights at The Miller in London Bridge, but June 2018 will see a new season of shows taking place at The Museum of Comedy. I’m looking forward to that as I’ve not yet visited that venue.

The first half features many of the short-form impro games casual viewers of improvised comedy shows will be aware of, but the second half features the four performers all taking on a solo talk on a subject matter given to them by the audience. Each talk will feature some sort of obstacle, whether it be needing to cover a range of accents, or speak in rhyme etc. It’s a nice gear shift to have slightly longer pieces and the solo talks add another dimension to the format. The evening will then usually round off with another short group game to bring everyone together again.

It’s a lot of fun and again just something with a little bit of a different element to what other shows are doing. Information and tickets for the June run see the Museum of Comedy website.

Venue Guide ~ Hoopla Impro @ The Miller

I’ve been visiting The Miller with increasing frequency over the past couple of years, having been first introduced to it with the first season of Suki Webster’s Guest Speaker show. Having since seen a number of fantastic shows and acts – An Actor’s Nightmare, Newsical, The Playground, Ghost Couple, Bareback Kings, Do Not Adjust Your Stage and Abandoman – and with the number of courses available for people to try out improv for themselves, The Miller is really carving out a home for impro and building a community. Their website contains info you need for both shows and courses available.

Venue Guide ~ London Improv Theatre

A fairly new venue on my radar – I first discovered its existence when the Glenda J Collective announced a gig there before Christmas, and as I booked my tickets, spotted Tony Slattery’s gig which had started up. I booked in for a show and immediately fell in love with the place. Candlelit cabaret tables, very friendly staff and a nice space to watch performances in. They host a mix of comedy, live music and mixed open spot evenings of poetry, music and chat. More details of their scheduled shows can be found here.


A couple of shows/venues I’ve heard lots of good things about but haven’t yet got around to seeing/visiting:

Austentatious – I’ve yet to see this improvised Austen show live but friends of mine have raved about it so I am trying to find a performance date I am available. It has a cast including Cariad Lloyd, Joseph Mopurgo, Rachel Parris and Charlotte Gittins, who I have seen in various other productions.

Crime Scene Improvisation – an improvised whodunnit – watch as the killer is revealed, to even the cast. This came to my attention recently when I saw Lee Apsey appear in Slattery Night Fever – after enjoying his performance I’ve looked at other projects he was involved with, this came up and sounds like an interesting and fun concept so I will be dropping in to one of their upcoming gigs.

Nursery Theatre – a bit like Hoopla Impro, the Nursery Theatre is making itself a dedicated space for impro shows, committed to running regular established nights and hosting jam sessions for beginners, really creating a community feel. It’s located between Liverpool St and Moorgate so do pay a visit if you are in the area.

And finally…

Do keep an eye out for the annual 50 hour London Improvathon. I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s event at Stockwell Playhouse and whilst I was able to dip in and out during the course of the weekend, several of the performers lasted the duration. Impressive stuff and well worth a visit next year!


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Ken ~ Bunker Theatre ~ 15.02.2018

Considering this was a show about the life of a man I had never heard of prior to randomly selecting to see this, I left at the end of a 90 minute performance feeling like Ken was an old friend.

Ken Campbell, theatre impresario and general eccentric, I think it’s fair to say. A real character.IMG_1495

We join Ken and his life through the memoirs and experiences of Terry Johnson, who stands on stage as himself, recalling his meetings with the great man himself. We see Ken’s life through Terry’s eyes, and as such, we live Terry’s experience of Ken.

We join Ken’s life in the late ’70s, and the explosion of colour in the set as you enter the theatre is perfectly matched by the chaos Terry encounters in meeting Ken. The audience sit around on mismatched furniture, arranged on three sides of the stage and some onstage seating. Large floor cushions, armchairs, sofas, the odd chaise longue sit alongside more traditional theatre bench seating and suit the mood of the piece perfectly. The two-hander production works well in this intimate setting, the sporadic layout allowing the simply magnificent Jeremy Stockwell to roam among those gathered to hear the stories and engage with the audience as he relates more tales of madcap 24 hour shows at the Edinburgh Festival and pulling pranks on the Royal Shakespeare Company.

I would love to sit down and chat to someone who knew him to gauge whether the man was as he appeared on this stage, but Terry Johnson’s writing felt very real, and there was an authenticity to Jeremy Stockwell’s portrayal which showed a man who found the extraordinary out of the ordinary.

I’ve since read up a bit on him and newspaper stories and quotes seem to paint a picture of a very special person who in spite of his flaws, we are all poorer for having lost, or never personally known. I feel that this show gave me a glimpse of that wonder though, and that has made my life richer than having no knowledge of him at all.

Ken is running at the Bunker Theatre until 24th February.


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My Obsession ~ RADA Studios ~ 09.02.2018

A change of scenery for Friday evening as I wandered off to RADA Studios near Goodge Street to see a recording of a radio play.

The comic two-hander play was written by and starring comedian Suki Webster, who I have had the pleasure of seeing perform many times. The play, entitled My Obsession, centres around Suki’s character as a super-fan of standup comedian Danny Heywood – played by Suki’s husband, Paul Merton – and her breaking into his hotel room one night.

I’ve seen both Paul and Suki perform many times, usually at improvisation shows. Paul is a founding member of the Comedy Store Players and also heads up a group Paul Merton’s Impro Chums which often tours the UK. Suki often guests with the Players and is a regular member of the Impro Chums but also appears at gigs like Slattery Night Fever and The Playground, in addition to hosting her own impro night Suki Webster’s Guest Speaker – which returns for a new season in June, hosted by the Museum of Comedy.

Putting aside the great choice in casting, because when you have two people so in sync any script will come alive, this script was really very funny – Suki’s done a wonderful job in making a show which focuses right in on the comic angle of the situation, but in a really endearing and warm way.

To go into any more detail would risk spoilers, so I’ll just leave you with the scheduled broadcast date of April 8th on BBC Radio 4, and will no doubt be on iPlayer shortly after. I’ll update links nearer the time.


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Medieval Banquet ~ St Katherine’s Docks ~ 05.01.2018

This was an unexpected surprise, and whilst I’m not really here for restaurant reviews, I’ll make an exception for this because the event is more about the entertainment than the food, but I probably ought to briefly mention the dining anyway.

I’ll hold my hands up and say as someone who really enjoys the history of music and especially the Renaissance and the culture that goes with it, I had my reservations about this night. But I needn’t have worried – in the end what was offered up was a fun night of mess hall dining as the entertainment continued in the centre of the space.

So let’s start with the layout and dining element of the night – a central performance area with blocks of seating either side. Each seating section comprised two long tables and had its own serving wench, who brought the four courses; soup, cheese and ham platters, chicken and vegetable dinner, and slices of fruit pie. Prior to attending (and again on the night) the venue checked for allergies, intolerences or other dietary preferences so they can substitute options for non-carnivores if you advise them when booking. The food was simple but nice and was accompanied by free-flowing ale and wine all evening.

The entertainment is where the night comes into its own. As you enter the venue, singers, dancers and jugglers are wandering around the main space, performing in turn as crowd gather around the costume hire and various trinket stands before taking their seats. During the event, there are structured times for serving a course, allowing people some time for eating, then a section of performance.

The singing was superb – both solo and choral numbers from all singers were strong on the night. The contortionist was unbelievable good and I still can’t quite get my head around some of the bending. The juggler was very entertaining – I was most impressed when he was juggling upside down using his feet – rather incredible.

But the main event is the sword fighting, and that didn’t disappoint. The knights encourage their supporters to get involved and the crowd went with it. Up close theatre combat is always fun and this was no exception.

The night at the Medieval Banquet comes in at £50 per head for adults, and all things considered I think it provides good value for money. £50 would be more than I would pay for a meal generally, but if you factor in the entertainment and drinks being included then I think this is more than fair. Still, if that stretches your budget there are often group deals for more than 4 people – family discounts and general group “6 for 4” deals, so keep an eye out for those on their webpage.

The Medieval Banquet runs all year but timings are seasonal, so check their site for event details and any special event news.


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Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour ~ Duke of York’s Theatre ~ 02.06.2017

A riotous one-act turn full of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll might not be to everyone’s tastes, but the Duke of York’s Theatre is currently home to a refreshing addition to the West End.


I missed the run at the National Theatre last year, as part of a national tour which led to the production winning “Best New Comedy” at the Olivier Awards a few months ago, so the announcement of a West End transfer was a welcome one.

Based on Alan Warner’s novel The Sopranos, the show features six headstrong Oban girls, heading to Edinburgh for the day to compete in a school choir competition – and to go “f**king mental” at the same time.

I’d not read the novel prior to seeing the show, nor had I wanted to read too much about it – sometimes with a show, it’s nice to go in without any degree of expectation as to what you will see. The notice on entry regarding strong language gave some clues as to what the night might entail – and it didn’t disappoint!

The fast-paced soundtrack of primarily ELO numbers perfectly accompanies the whirlwind day of fun in Edinburgh, and the show plays out almost like a highly caffeinated comic strip, full of action, drama and killer lines.

But don’t presume the show has no heart or is lacking emotion. For all the bravado of the girls, there are always hints to remind the audience that they are taking their first steps into the adult world, with all the uncertainty, fear and trepidation that affords any adolescent. Add into the mix the genuine heartache which comes to light during the show, and you actually get a group of well-rounded characters with real depth to them.

I wish it didn’t feel noteworthy that the core cast of six and the support three-piece onstage band were all young women – the gender imbalance in theatre is improving, definitely with representation onstage and more gradually with the meatier roles – but it really was a joy to see such a tight-knit group take on their principal roles plus a host of peripheral characters.

All six of the cast were fantastic to see -Caroline Deyga and Laura Sweeney as Chell and Manda had some great comic lines and superb delivery. Sweeney also providing a great secondary character as a shy, unassuming lad who walks around with a budgie in a cage, but carefully places the cage on the floor when he’s breakdancing to impress.

Frances McCann as Kylah and Karen Fishwick as Kay delivered astounding vocals, with McCann really giving the show the rocky edge it needed in those high octane band numbers. Fishwick’s portrayal as the seemingly well-to-do Kay was understated and very real throughout. The later two-hander scenes with Kay and the loud, brashy Fionnula, expertly portrayed by Dawn Sievewright,  were a meeting of two extremes of the group, and worked very well.

For me, the performance of the show was Isis Hainsworth, who played Orla. Throwing herself into a hedonistic celebration of recovering from cancer, she’s very much the baby of the group, but immediately has the audience onside. Her story unravels throughout the course of the play and you learn more of her experiences in hospital, whilst enjoying watching her develop her romance with the boy-with-the-budgie.

All in all – a heart-warming, riotous coming-of-age story that will leave you half nostalgic for your youth and more than half glad you don’t have to go through that again!

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is playing at the Duke of York Theatre until 2nd September.


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