views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Summertime Ferret
The Hen and Chickens
31st July 2014


Photography provided by the Comedy Ferrets

Some comedy nights are fairly safe affairs - the fourth wall may be gently prodded, but always left intact. The Summertime Ferret is not one of those shows; the comedians all firmly believe in audience participation so you better be one of those people who likes to get involved. Even if you're not, they will make you a part of the whole shebang regardless and you'll end up with a slightly scary compere gyrating in your face with a blow-up guitar (sorry, Leeza).

Traumatic introduction aside, Paul Wogan makes for a good MC, rallying the crowd with promises of fig rolls and chocolate bourbons. I haven't been to a comedy show with a pop quiz before, usually the filler consists of "so, do we have any out-of-towners, here?" In that respect, he does try something original and he does successfully build goodwill with the room - free food always going down a treat. I'm not saying bribing your audience works, but one member - named Fig Roll Phil by the end of the night - seemed especially delighted with his haul and with the jokes too.

Wogan introduces three very different acts, the first of whom is magician Stu Turner. He claims not to look like anyone famous, but he's the spitting image of my neighbour, so he's wrong there. Turner tries a number of tricks, none of which are particularly magical, but he is engaging, self-assured and has his patter down to a fine art. Not all the jokes land well, but his grand prize deservedly earns fits of laughter.

Photography provided by the Comedy Ferrets

In a shift of tone, Cate Mackenzie, a veritable delight in red, offers Welsh sex therapy to the audience, relying on typical British awkwardness to drive much of the humour. There's not a lot to her act, but she's exceptionally warm and endearing and persuades even the most reluctant to join in her specially designed exercises to get us all loving ourselves a bit more. Mackenzie not only is a standup, but a practising sex coach, which goes some way to explain why the audience quickly trust her; she's got experience in getting strangers to open up.

Closing the night, Paul David Collins is a traditional "I-hate-my-wife-she-hates-me" type comedian. There's nothing new about an angry stand up - Dylan Moran being the obvious example - but nonetheless Collins goes down well, playing it safe with jokes about letting himself go and his wife's angry texts. Or perhaps at this point the audience are just grateful they aren't being asked to make sex noises and jiggle around on stage.

Putting together three very different acts makes for an interesting format, but across the board, the material is often quite thin. Wogan is forced to work exceptionally hard to keep the audience on side and just about succeeds, but the three acts do need some stronger writing. As a late night show, The Summertime Ferret benefits from a certain amount of forgiveness that only a slightly merry crowd will provide, but the Ferrets should be wary of over-relying on this as with the wrong audience, it just won't work. The show as it stands is still worth seeing, but you need to go in with an open mind and preferably a bottle of wine.

The Summertime Ferret ran from 31st July to 2nd August 2014 at the Hen and Chickens, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Highbury & Islington (Overground, Victoria)

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