Newbury Comedy Festival: Running On Air, at The Corn Exchange, Newbury on Tuesday, July 12, and You Look Like Ants, at New Greenham Arts, Newbury on Thursday, July 14
PROVING that Newbury Comedy Festival isn’t just about the big names and television faces, two smaller shows in town this week also demonstrated that sometimes comedy doesn’t just have to embrace the big laughs - sometimes it can also be life-affirming, heartwarming, thought-provoking and mind-expanding.
Fitting the first of those two descriptions very nicely was Running On Air - not performed in The Corn Exchange itself, but out the front, inside the vintage VW campervan called Joni owned by comedian Laura Mugridge. With an audience capacity of five, the setting takes both the concepts of “intimate” and “audience participation” to a new level, with singing, tape deck control, spice jar percussion and the obligation of someone to take on the role of Mugridge’s husband all required as we cosied up together.
Mugridge’s Edinburgh Fringe First Award-winning tale was heartffelt and true, exploring her ambivalence between life as a touring comedian and the draw of her life at home, with a new husband and the desire to start a family. Touring and performing in her beloved-but-temperamental Joni, she explained, was her compromise, taking part of her home with her on the road - although from her tales of myriad breakdowns (both car and owner) it’s possibly not turned out to be the most stress-free way of solving her dilemma.
Her warm conversational style and the delightfully strange setting made for a memorable experience, although sometimes it was easy to forget it was a performance, and the rhetorical questions weren’t there to be answered. “Have children now!” I wanted to say. “It’s never the right time! Just do it!”. But I didn’t. I knew my place, and that place was to play the swanee whistle to indicate falling temperatures (apparently I do an excellent “sad face”). And anyway, much as the campervan may be loved by Mugridge, her unreliability may mean that she would not be the ideal family getabout. I suspect Mugridge may need a little longer with Joni before she moves on to another kind of baby.
You Look LIke Ants, presented by writer-performer Stuart Silver was a philosophical, poetic performance piece, accompanied by Silver’s own virtuosic playing of the electric ukulele. Intriguing, hypnotic, and wavering throughout between amusing and bizarre, this was a balladic search for the meaning of life through the advice of others, with intertwined storylines featuring the most unlikely of characters, including Richard & Judy, Mark Knopfler and a talking rabbit. I will never listen to Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms again without thinking of Silver’s ukulele and that rabbit.
- First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, July 21, 2011