Review: Happy Mondays at the Amersham Arms, 7 Feb 2011

At the risk of this blog becoming more of a New Cross blog than a Lewisham one, I thought I’d have a go at a review of where we and some friends went last night. I’ve never written one before so if there are any meta-reviewers out there, go easy on me, yeah? 😉

“I moved to London for my career,” said bottom-of-the-bill comedian Elis James as he kicked off his routine last night, “which, as you can see, is going… very well! Are you ready to party like it’s MONDAY?!”

In fact last night’s turnout at the Amersham Arms’ semi-regular Happy Mondays comedy night was the largest yet, and the crowd were, by and large, ready to party, or at least laugh in most of the right places.

I’m no comedy club regular, so forgive me if I’ve overlooked leaps and bounds of feminist progress across the circuit, but I found it really refreshing to have a female compere, Holly Walsh, instead of the more common testosterone-fuelled crowd-baiter. Which is not to say Walsh didn’t hold her own in the audience interaction stakes, getting to know most of the front row during the course of the evening to the extent that we came away aware of the unfortunate circumstances in which two friends’ year-long romantic involvement had ended. “Oh, er, this is awkward, how did I end up finding this out?” Walsh mused on learning of the woman’s affair. “I’m not qualified to deal with this. Not like Trisha is.”

(She also picked on me – my own fault for sitting in the front row and wearing a tie, I suppose. After a bit of banter – she seemed surprised to have alighted upon a married couple with jobs amid the sea of Goldsmiths student regulars – she actually got me up on stage to ‘conduct’ the crowd’s cheering and applauding rehearsals. I was delighted to be told that I have “the authority of a music teacher”!)

Elis James’s act was very much a ‘work in progress’, and he heralded it as such. Disjointed and self-critical, he was at his best when reeling off well observed tales packed with humorous details, but let down between these by pauses for introspection, interrupting his flow like ad-breaks in a feature film. With a bit more confidence around them, wonderful observations like “Noel Edmonds looks like a lion – but a lion which has gone to a fancy-dress party as a man” should make for an even more enjoyable show.

In the middle of the bill, but for many of those present the main draw, was Isy Suttie, better known for playing Dobby in Peep Show. Seemingly as much like Dobby as David Mitchell is Mark, Suttie came across as warm, enthusiastic, and perhaps a little insane. Much of her comedy was of a musical variety, her acoustic guitar accompanying a broad repertoire of delights, finishing with a twisted, half-Slovakian (or Slovenian? Forgive my ignorance) love song, which is not something one necessarily expects to hear from a Matlock woman at a pub comedy night.

Interspersed with tales of growing up, her family and the somewhat hackneyed use of Google translation into and back out of foreign languages, this was an act which somehow felt like more than the sum of its parts – perhaps a result of some dark matter: her quirky zest for life, and a sense among the roomful of Goldsmiths students of excitement that ‘Dobby’ was in the room.

Isy Suttie performing at the Amersham Arms on 7 Feb 2011

Isy Suttie performing at the Amersham Arms on 7 Feb 2011. ©

The final act of the night, Ivan Brackenbury, has been doing much the same routine for something like twenty years now: I can recall his weekly ‘hospital radio simulcast’ on Radio 1 in its mid-90s golden age with a 9pm comedy hour. Technically polished, Brackenbury (played by Tom Binns) is a nerdy hospital radio DJ persona, and controls from a laptop and mixing desk an onslaught of comedy illness-themed song-clips, purportedly dedicated to patients. Like a musical, often crude version of Tim Vine, the cringeworthy jokes come thick and fast: for the man who’s lodged a He-Man action figure in his rear end, here’s Something Inside So Strong; and for the chap getting his lugholes pinned, Holding Back The (Y)ears.

As with Vine, there’s more laughing than cringeing to be had, especially if you love a good pun. But hospital-themed humour may not be to everyone’s taste, of course, and Brackenbury certainly covers a broad spectrum of physical and mental ailments in an effort to ensure all are offended equally. The darkest moment came when stretching the hospital theme as far afield as maternity in Saudi Arabia, in order to make light of the harsh fate that may be suffered by unmarried mothers there; most of the intended humour was at the DJ’s increasing horror as he realised he’d plunged into such an appalling faux pas, but there was certainly a minority in the room not laughing at this point.

Overall, though, Brackenbury’s unique act hit the spot the vast majority of the time. Like designer worn-out jeans it was slickly produced to look shabby, and his accomplished performance rounded the evening off with lots of laughs, and enough music to keep the Amersham Arms crowd partying like it was Monday ’til, ooh, 10.30pm.

Happy Mondays is a great idea, taking the edge off the dullest day of the week for £6 (£4 NUS; seat guaranteed for anyone booking in advance), and with Walsh as its regular compere is always guaranteed to be entertaining between the acts, at worst. The next Happy Mondays is on 21 February and I think includes Dave Gorman, although they’re not meant to say so publicly for some reason, so Walsh just gave clues to his identity. (I assume having solved the clues I’m at liberty to post this information on the web. It’s OK, no-one will have read this far anyway.)