‘Only Joking’ at the Drama Barn

Holly Williams had a good laugh in the Drama Barn at ‘Only Joking’

Open Drama Nights kicked off this term with a free comedy night, ‘Only Joking’. A warm audience turned out to fill the Drama Barn and see just what York has to offer in the way of home-grown comedy talent. We were served up a variety of styles – from straightforward stand-up to improvisation deathmatch, via some musical turns – to banish the January blues.

Our compere for the evening – or self-styled ‘hilarity facilitator’ – was Chris Bush. Rising to the daunting task of being first up with apparent ease, Chris got things off to a comfortable start. His straight-up, chatty style – flitting thoughts and observation, set off with some sharp insights carried to surreal ends – was delivered in bite-sized chunks between the acts. While Chris kept things moving at an admirable pace, perhaps a lengthier solo slot in the future would allow him to really find his rhythm and develop his material.

The first full act was Adam Stevenson, who took the stage with a shuffling, self-contained confidence. Understated but controlled, his act told just one story. It was a slow-burning comedy, with laughs at the little, repeated details and his self-deprecating style. I rather expected a big punch line which never arrived, but there was some good stuff along the way, including a spirited, impromptu ninja impression.

Ian McClusky followed, as the first of two musical acts. His accomplished piano playing provided an overblown romantic accompaniment to his cover of ‘Women Call it Stalking’, originally by comedian Rich Hall’s alter ego, Otis Lee Crenshaw. A mock- serious lament on how women misinterpret his ‘romantic’ attentions, this lively number was one of the highlights of the evening, with Ian’s perfectly light delivery of lines like ‘Tears fall down my face/ It might be love or it might be mace’. Next up for good-natured ridicule were the vertically challenged and their general pointlessness, in a cover of Randy Newman’s ‘Short People’.

Fast-paced, foul mouthed and brimming with a frantic energy, Lewis Charlesworth provided the most theatrical entrance of the evening, bursting onstage spitting quick-fire expletives. An electrically charged performance, Lewis’ physical presence (ricocheting around the stage, hair swinging and eyes wild) was strong enough to carry the audience through his frequently filthy material, which dwelt on parental sex and bodily fluids. Lewis leapt easily in and out of the characters that made up his sketches, including his brilliant portrayal of a subversively well-spoken, schmoozing toilet cleaner, who takes job satisfaction in the amount of excrement he ends the day covered in.

Thoroughly warmed-up and enjoying ourselves, it was time for a bit of audience participation with the second musical act, Jay Foreman. From getting us to shout out what Dick Van Dyke has been in (and yes, someone did say ‘your mother’) to a sing-a-long with the legendary ‘Moon Chavs’, Jay had the audience in the palm of his finger-picking hands. And it’s not surprising – his witty songs perfectly suit student humour, with childlike/stoned meanderings about balloons floating away or chavs mugging Clangers, as well as the brilliantly accurate ‘Procrastinator’ song. A particular highlight, and one he rightly asserts all students can identify with, Jay advises against the essay threat that is instant messaging, with doom-voiced warnings ‘don’t go on MSN!’ over frantic guitar strumming.

Deathmatch improvisation further continued the audience participation theme, with us choosing settings, objects and animals for a crack team of improvisers to take as starting points for their sketches. Obviously these were more hit and miss than the pre-planned stand-up, but the on-the- spot, sideways thinking involved produced some very funny scenarios, from sawing gondolas in half with bananas, to llama golf and dogging at an archaeological dig. The four deathmatchers – Nik Morris, Tom King, Ollie Jones and Emma Miles – bounced off each other and the audience, with quick thinking and a willingness to look completely foolish, making the deathmatch a surprisingly successful way to end to the evening’s entertainment.

Providing a chance for students to give various kinds of a comedy a try in a receptive environment, and for the rest of us to be suitably impressed at just how funny they are, let’s hope ‘Only Joking’ becomes a regular event in the Drama Barn.

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