tue 26/10/2021

Comedy Shindig, Melbourne Hall review - Jason Manford headlines opening night | reviews, news & interviews

Comedy Shindig, Melbourne Hall review - Jason Manford headlines opening night

Comedy Shindig, Melbourne Hall review - Jason Manford headlines opening night

Summer season of outdoor shows off to a terrific start

Jason Manford has clearly missed performing in front of a live audience

What a great idea Just the Tonic's Comedy Shindig is; outdoor gigs at lovely locations under a huge awning - so who cares if the British summer turns out to be a bit wet this year? The season kicked off – in beautiful weather – in the grounds of Melbourne Hall near Derby, where a sunken Victorian walled garden provided a natural amphitheatre. Chuck in a barbecue and a bar, and it was a perfect way to enjoy an evening of comedy.

Host Lou Conran was terrific, and gloriously rude about the audience from the off. Much of her material is filthy – she's the co-host (with Sally-Anne Hayward) of the Spit or Swallow podcast, after all (which, as she explained, was not named with wine-tasting in mind), but it stayed just – just - the right side of tasteful. And the audience clearly loved it.

The headliner, Jason Manford, broke with tradition by coming on first as he had another gig to go to in Nottingham, which elicited good-natured boos from the Derbyshire crowd. Their response proved an immutable law of being British, said Manford: “Anyone who lives an hour away is a prick.”

Manford was here warming up for the Covid-delayed tour of his new show Like Me, and talked about the pandemic, how he had quite liked doing Zoom gigs (where he was able to mute hecklers) and how discovering that he was a “non-essential worker” had bruised his ego. Amid the everyman bonhomie, he got in some subtle political points about how the pandemic has been handled in the UK.

There was an extended anecdote, too, about his first arena gig and his time on stage sped by. Manford, who clearly missed performing in front of a live audience, is on cracking form – which augurs well for the tour.

After two energetic and rambunctious performers in Conran and Manford, I thought that Simon Lomas might pale by comparison. Lomas has a distinctive onstage persona – geeky, pedantic, delivering his material very slowly and with careful enunciation, with minimal audience interaction.

I was wrong; he did a superb 15 minutes of strong material, full of slow reveals and misdirects. Talking about his brother's nut allergy, he said: “I spend a lot of time checking labels.... to see which of his clothes will fit me when he dies.”

Matt Richardson, another energetic and likeable performer, finished the show. He had some freshly minted material about the wonderful setting – “I thought I'd turned up at the dowager countess's house in Downton Abbey” – while the rest of it was full of good-natured rudery about life with his girlfriend.

At Melbourne Hall until 18 July; other venues until 5 September

Jason Manford's tour starts on 18 August

Read more comedy on theartsdesk

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