Saturday, May 28, 2011

Rouse! Rouse! - review of Rob Rouse

Rob Rouse at New Greenham Arts, Newbury on Saturday, May 14

AS eager to please as Ronnie, his over-friendly mongrel featured on film to start the show, comedian Rob Rouse bounded onto the stage full of the joys of spring to tell the tale of The Great Escape - the upping of his family’s sticks from London to the Peak District. The move proved to be a fertile source of material for Rouse, as characterful neighbours and the local wildlife welcomed his family with open arms and a lot more besides.

From a neighbour grateful that Ronnie had slaughtered his chickens because it “saved him a job” to lively pensioners Bill and Margaret, stories of village life blossomed in the telling, mulched up with the joys of family life with a potty-training toddler and long-suffering partner. Former geography teacher Rouse explained that as he embraced the joys of country living he took on the challenge of living off the land, in particular taking his obsession with roadkill to extremities beyond the comfort zone of his vegetarian girlfriend. 

As warm and comforting as nettle soup and packed full of gently exaggerated anecdotes and insights into the skill of “contact technique parking” (“you don’t need parking sensors, that’s what the bumpers are for”), the two hour-plus show flew by with no obvious padding from its original 60 minute Edinburgh Fringe format. I particularly loved the Polish-“speaking” dog, patiently retrained to understand English commands (“teaching its new owners four or five key Polish words didn’t seem to have been considered”) and a wedding reception where Rouse discovered that the villagers knew how to enjoy themselves with an iPhone.

The show built up to an extended denouement involving the rotting corpse of a roadkilled sheep in Rouse’s car boot, during which the suspensions of reality were stretched to snapping point. The believability may not have held throughout, but overall, Rouse’s performance was a breath of fresh country air.

  • First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, May 19, 2011

Getting down with Da Vinci - review

Review by Bill Ainsworth 

Da Vinci at Ace Space, Newbury, on Friday, April 15.
A mixed bag of musicians comprising veteran songwriter and keyboardist Jim Johhnson, who has worked with such luminaries as Brian Eno Cozy Powell and Peter Green,; bassist  Francois Pirois, a “crazy Frenchman”; youthful guitarist Ollie Trethewey, a music student; drummer Steve Cruikshank, who I saw many years ago in legendary local dub radicals Military Surplus & RDF; and saxophonist and clarinettist Alan Whetton, who has been in Dexys Midnight Runners amongst others; plus vocalist, where required, Lydia Johnson (Jim’s daughter) make up Hungerford based outfit Da Vinci.

After what had been an emotional day for those members who had attended the funeral of fellow Military Surplus/RDF member Steve Swann (R.I.P.) the band entertained a crowd as varied in age as the band at Newbury’s wonderfully intimate, yet amply sized Ace Space.

The band’s style would be equally suited to a swish cocktail bar or an ocean liner’s lounge, they opened with a pair of diverse cover versions, Cole Porter’s Summertime and Portishead’s Glory Box, which suited 20-someting Lydia’s lush, rich vocal talents beautifully. This was followed by a series of Jim’s mellow songs and instrumentals, with Alan’s instruments very much in the leading role. These included Visions, which reminded me of a late70’s/early 80’s U.S. TV theme, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly which one; a jazzy Miles & Miles (Geddit?); It’s Only Love; Funk Off; a gorgeous song called Stay With Me;  and Love For Lydia, during which the lady for whom the tune was written stayed in the wings, smiling and dare I say blushing, which was understandable.

After the interval Steve said a few words in tribute to Mr Swann before they launched into Bob Marley’s I Shot The Sheriff, which was the cue for the first few people to leave their drinks on their subtly candlelit tables and hit the dancefloor. Van The Man’s Moondance followed and then, my favourite band composition of the night, Passion. The second set was more up tempo than the first and styles ranging from Dave Brubeck to The Police came to mind. The band said their farewells with a second airing of Passion, even groovier than the first, at which point I was reminded of the suave and sadly short lived heyday of Swing Out Sister.

A very chilled and enjoyable evening was had by all.

  • By guest blogger Bill Ainsworth, first published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bridging the gap - review of Paul Chowdhry

Paul Chowdhry at New Greenham Arts, Newbury on Wednesday, April 27

BRITISH-Indian comedian Paul Chowdhry got a surprise when he walked on stage at New Greenham Arts, commenting “this is the whitest audience I’ve ever had” - although the dedication of his Asian fans was demonstrated by some having travelled from as far as Southampton for the initial date of his first national tour.

Already well-known among the Asian community, Chowdhry has a number of catchphrases that his fans clearly loved, but meant that it took a while for those unfamiliar with his work to get fully up to speed with his hard-hitting style.

However, once proceedings were fully warmed up, Chowdhry proved to be a most interesting and entertaining comedian, with a show that touched on issues of racism, ignorance, generation gaps and miscommunication, demonstrating that it is possible for people from every culture to laugh at themselves and each other if there is mutual respect and appreciation.

Apart from some misjudged off-the-cuff jokes aimed at a couple in the audience about the man giving his partner a “slap” - taken good-naturedly by the targets, but touching on a theme which I don’t think should ever play a part in a comedy show - Chowdhry balanced his rehearsed material well with audience interaction. He also demonstrated a talent for mimicry and threw out some cracking one-liners - “The Royal Wedding will have 1,900 guests attending. That’s just one side of the family at an Indian wedding”.

An unintentionally funny moment arose when Chowdhry accidentally referred to the “Newbury Gazette”, resulting in several heckles of “Nooo, it’s the Newbury Weekly News” from different parts of the room. “Now I know what really upsets you,” commented Chowdhry. That’s right - it’s not jokes about the BNP membership helpline being run from India that rises the hackles of a Newbury audience - it’s not getting the name of the local newspaper correct. I think he felt suitably chastened.

Chowdhry’s Not PC national tour may herald the start of him hitting the mainstream, but I get the feeling that he won’t be prepared to compromise his act for the comfort of a wider audience.  Don’t expect to see him chatting on Alan Titmarsh’s sofa any time soon, but certainly try to catch him live if you get the chance.

* Paul Chowdhry will be at the Wyvern Theatre in Swindon on June 8 and The Forge at The Anvil in Basingstoke on June 23.

  • First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, May 5 2011