LAUGHTERMARKET at The Old Market

[For WeLoveBrighton.com]

This year’s LAUGHTERMARKET kicks off with a warm and fuzzy welcome from Sam Stone – the brains behind Brighton’s annual comedy event, and the balls behind curtain up. There’s a lot of pressure on the MC to open the show with a bang and, although it does take a while to get going, Stone’s witty banter soon makes up for a jerky take-off, and in a matter of minutes we warm to her high-pitched, nervous giggles and endearing charm.

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The first act of the night is Mock-of-the-Week-ette, Zoe Lyons, who you may also recognise from Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow. I’ll talk as straight as she does – Lyons is, quite simply, hilarious. Her commentary on recent events in the news is both impressively observed and very, very funny. We get everything from David Silvester’s warped take on the recent floods, to the ban on women drivers in Saudi, to the Nigella / Saatchi split… these political / pop-culture hot topics are delivered with many classic and cracking lines, and we can’t help butsnort along in laughter (puns intended). There are ample gags about the Brighton / Hove divide: the seagulls in Hove prefer Tiramisu, don’t you know? Lyons’s sharp sense of humour hits the button and the auditorium bellows with belly laughs throughout the entire set.

After a brief interlude, Rue Barratt (Stone’s friend and co-host) takes to the stage. Barratt’s response isn’t as enthusiastic as he perhaps expects – it may have made more sense to stick to one compère for the night for consistency’s sake. Saying that, we do get a guided tour around the Sussex coast and Barratt successfully andamusingly personalises Hove (the well-behaved child), Brighton (the unruly child), Hastings (Brighton’s junkie twin brother)! Barratt holds the fort and keeps the energy levels cranked up to an appropriate LAUGHTERMARKET level.

Joe Wells boldly strides on stage and his set drop-kicks into a few UKIP quips, which would have been funnier if it hadn’t already been covered by Lyons (perhaps a slight programming oversight?). Thank goodness everyone in Brighton is a liberal leftie – I’m not sure how his act would go down otherwise! We all know that comedy and politics work hand-in-hand but there’s always the danger that we’ve heard it before… and, yep, some of it we have, sorry Joe. Saying that, Wells offers a new way of looking at Marxism – we learn that the need to laminate scissors may result in a conflict of interests between capitalist and labourer (who’da thought? – WORKERS UNITE!). Overall,Well’s is on form and has us in stitches.

Next up; James McDonnell, who describes himself as a Kurt Cobain lookalike, who’s addicted to beans instead of heroin… and as soon as he struts on stage with a guitar and a recording device (for his absent mum’s benefit), we know we’re going to like him. We get a song about a sexual deviant with a short attention span, a brief musical medley about the stock market, and a death-metaller’s take on a lullaby… which made us all LOL in our seats (and perhaps go a little bit deaf). McDonnell’s act is a breath of fresh air and he works the audience with ease.

Headlining the evening is Holly Walsh; a delightful bouncy bundle of energy! Walsh is an extremely natural and confident comic. She demands attention and, despite what she says about being invisible, she has buckets of stage presence. Walsh directs the audience with grace and the effortless crowd interaction means she can show off her quick-witted impro skills. She’s naturally funny and it becomes apparent that we’re in safe hands. Walsh covers everything from those awkward family questions (‘when are you having kids?) and relationships pitfalls (including farting), to bum sex, show business and strip clubs.

Overall, The Old Market’s LAUGHTERMARKET does what it says on the flyer – lots of laughter in a Market; an Old one. I’ll certainly be heading back next year.

Things Unsaid (dramatic sketch)

[ANNE lies, apparently asleep, on a single bed in a teenager’s bedroom. Journals are scattered all over the floor, and boxes are stacked against the walls of the room. A model boat and an enormous alarm clock sit on top of a chest of drawers. For no apparent reason, ANNE sits bold upright and fumbles for the switch and turns the bedside table lamp on. Once the room is bathed in light, ANNE catches sight of MAN occupying the shadows in the darkest corner of the room.] 

ANNE:   You shouldn’t be here.

[Silence. ANNE pulls the duvet up in order to cover herself.]

You always turn up when I least expect you.

[The enormous alarm clock goes off. It sounds like a siren. ANNE wraps the duvet around herself and darts out of bed. She clumsily flings herself across the room and turns the alarm clock off.]

[Regaining composure] You’ve caught me off guard. I’m not a morning person, you know that.

[Silence.]

Don’t say anything. Not a thing, you understand?

MUM:   [O/S] Are you awake yet?!

ANNE:   [Shouts.] Yes!

MUM:   [O/S] Do you want some tea?

ANNE:   [Shouts.] No!

MUM:   [O/S] Eh?!

ANNE:   [Shouts.] Thank you! No, thank you!

MUM:   [O/S] Yes to tea?

ANNE:   [Shouts.] No, no to tea! NO TO TEA! No THANK YOU to tea!

[ANNE starts getting ready. As she potters around, she continues addressing MAN].

Remember the deadline we set? Was it you or me who tore that up? You. Probably you. We do nothing but talk crap. Like this was ever going to be so simple. Deadline, ha! Yeah we knew that wouldn’t happen the moment we – the moment you suggested it.

[She starts getting dressed, albeit clumsily in a bid to not expose herself.]

The other day I went to this cliff. There’s a cliff near here. Famous one apparently. National Trust stamped all over it. And as I was walking along the edge, I looked down – not over the edge, on the ground I mean – I wasn’t thinking about jumping off or anything – and your name was there. Written in pebbles. Or lumps of chalk. On the grass. I mean, how ridiculous is that? Some arsehole had written your name in little stones on a cliff edge. I mean, what’s that about?

[Pause.]

You’re everywhere. Haunting me and my every cultural endeavour, that’s what that’s about.

[ANNE has chosen an inappropriate shirt. She furiously unbuttons it and throws it aside. She hasn’t got time to be self-conscious. She decides to get into her tights and leaves the shirt decision for the time being.]

And you know that song we’re not supposed to have? Well it comes on the radio all the time. And just so we’re very clear – I blame you.

[At this point, she’s struggling with her tights. She rips them and curses… and with new found fury, she lets herself go.]

I want to tell you I love you. And that I hate it. I hate that I want to tell you and I hate that I do. I hate loving you. For ages I trained myself to keep you at arm’s length, to keep my distance, to remember that I am nothing but a blip. Not even a blip. I am nothing. To you.  I’m everything to myself and everyone else; don’t get me wrong I haven’t got confidence issues. But to you, I’m nothing –

[MAN makes to interrupt.]

No don’t say anything. I need to believe that. I need to believe you think nothing of me otherwise my heart will burst.

[ANNE laughs at herself.]

God, that’s cheesy. See, this is what you do to me. I’m never cheesy.

MUM:   [O/S] What are you doing up there?!

ANNE:   [Under her breath.] Fuckssake… [Shouts.] It’s ok, I’m getting ready; I won’t be late… I can’t think when you keep yelling up the stairs!!

MUM:   [O/S] You don’t need to think – just put some bloody clothes on!

[Brief pause.]

MUM:   [O/S] Remind me what this is for?

ANNE:   [Shouts.] He said try writing it so I’m writing it!

MUM:   [O/S] I can’t hear you.

ANNE:   [Shouts.] Nothing! Nothing! Please go away… I’ll be down in a minute.

MUM:   [O/S] I’ll get the car out then.

[ANNE calms herself down.]

[To MAN. ] Sorry about that.

[Brief pause.]

[She speaks while putting a new pair of tights on.] Remember that story I told you? The one that made your eyes glisten? Well I don’t think we can have that. I’ve been thinking about it and I don’t think we can. We – I mean I knew what I signed up for. But it’s not, it’s not what I want, this isn’t what I signed up for. Well I did but I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t know I didn’t want it at the time. Does that make sense?

[She realises the tights have a ladder.]

God it’s too fucking early for this! Did I mention I’m not a morning person? [She becomes more manic.] I’m a night owl and I can’t do this shit!

[She takes a few minutes to get all her clothes on. While ANNE puts on the final garments, she catches MAN looking at a photograph in a frame on the wall.]

Don’t look at that. It was light years ago and it’s not supposed to be up there.

[She catches MAN looking at the boxes.]

[Indicating the boxes.] This is just a temporary measure.

[Pause.]

[Indicating the photo.] That ring cost me a small fortune. Shame it’s floating along somewhere in the Med now. That was the day I had to wear a polo neck at work and pretend to laugh along at the love bite jokes. No idea why we took a fucking picture.

[She turns her back on the photo and goes to put the final garment on.] Why are you there in the dark? Why are you even here?

[MAN doesn’t answer.]

You remind me of a night terror. No offence. I just mean like when I’d sit up bold upright and swear to god there was somebody in the corner of the room. And I’d be there staring at the corner with eyes wide open. Part of me knew I was hallucinating at the time, I think. I must have known really. That’s why I willed myself – or willed my eyes to let the image go. So I could be alone again. And get back to sleep.

MUM:   [O/S] COME ON, SHIFT YOUR CHASSIS!

ANNE:   [Shouts.] I can’t put my face on in the car, Mum!

[Pause.]

[To MAN…] Are you going to fucking say something?

MUM enters stage right. MUM cannot see MAN.

MUM:   Who are you talking to?

MEATLiquor – Brighton

Since I’ve already covered MEATLiquor, London – https://josuthers.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/meatliquor/ – I figured I should give Brighton’s version a bash.

First up? Liquor. Two of us had the Pink Flamengo, and the braver of our trio opted for Game Over. And the latter pretty much did what it said on the tankard.

Here’s the menu (page 2 for meat, page 4 for cocktails).  http://www.meatliquor.com/?attachment_id=153

Next up? Grub. And yep, the menu is pretty much identical to the capital’s counterpart. One Cheeseburger, one Buffalo Chicken Burger, and one Mushroom Cheesesteak, please. We shared a couple of portions of Fries and tucked into to a tray of Buffalo Wings, while we smothered our faces in meaty goodness.

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I know the clue’s in the name but if you’re a vegetarian (I know there are a few of you in Brighton), you’ll have one only option. The Halloumi & Mushroom Burger. If you’re a pescapallion, you’ll have two to choose from – H&M Burger or the Fish Sandwich. Needless to say, it’s not Veggie-friendly.

We’re not animals, I assure you, but there is no sophisticated way of eating at MEATLiquor. The food is served on trays. You don’t get cutlery. And grease will end up everywhere; perhaps in your ear holes but all over your mouth at the very least. It’s messy. But don’t worry; you get a whole kitchen roll. And you’ll need it.

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Brighton’s MEAT is – in a word – “trippy”. The LDN ML is like popping into Sweeney Todd’s for tea… but the south coastal version is much more psychedelic and, from what I’ve learned from observing Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a bit like an acid trip. Some of you may have to eat in cages. For those afraid of clowns, caution is advised. The rest of you may end up propped up on stools, crammed onto a table that’s way too small and way too high for comfort… but who cares because it’s trendy and hip!

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A cocktail & a main meal (you won’t be hungry afterwards) will cost you around £20. Yes, you could get the same burger from one of those vans that await on those dank & dark clubbing corners (come on, we’ve all been there) – but again, the price accounts for the cool factor. Yes, it is a bit gimmicky, as are all these pop-up-no-you-can’t-book-in-advance restaurants… but it’ll make for a fun night out if you can cope with a dollop of pretentious on the side of your meat.

To Sleep

[Reviewed for WeLoveBrighton.com]

Madam Renards & TS Theatre present ‘To Sleep’ at The Marlborough Theatre, Brighton. Two strangers slowly and subtly bond during a night in A&E. She’s a brash and cocky seventeen year old girl. He’s a worn out middle-aged man. Both are bleeding from the wrists. Both have failed their attempts at a final goodbye. Although at theirlowest points in life, an unexpected and unusual friendship blossoms between the pair, as they both look for a way out of the world. Covering one night in the lives of two star-crossed suicidals, ‘To Sleep’ is a new play by Matt Fox, which explores how people deal with the most difficult human situations and how relationships can develop between different people no matter how appalling their shared experiences might be.

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Let’s start with the negatives and get them out the way. Firstly, the acting in the first twenty of the sixty minutesis a little bit wooden. At times, lines are just said without much thought or connection to the text. However, I believe there are two fair and just reasons for this:

During the first crucial minutes of the play, an audience member became unwell and collapsed in front of the stage. This may have momentarily thrown the cast off track (and fair dos)… but, to their credit, the actors handled the event with the utmost professionalism and were back on form within minutes of the incident.

The writing in that first scene isn’t particularly actor-friendly…

…By which I mean; it must have been quite difficult for the actors to breathe truth into the scenario, as striking up conversation in an A&E waiting room is probably a seldom occurrence and one that’s tricky to fathom; plus it’shard to believe that failed-suicidals would feel particularly chatty on the night of their demise. That’s not to say that it can’t be done, but I think Fox’s script lacks a certain degree of subtlety at the very beginning of the play.

As a previous NHS employee, I’m pretty sure suicide-wannabes wouldn’t be left to their own devices immediately after having their wrists stitched back together. They’d probably be under observation or something. Whereas, these two lost lambs seem to be having a chin-wag in the reception area… (unless they’re in a ward in which case the staging isn’t clear), but not a regular ‘have you been waiting long?’ conversation… no, this particular chat is about Stanley knife versus kitchen knife. It is for this reason that the writing in the first scene just doesn’t work as well as it could. I know it’s a piece of theatre and that imagination is required but the opening doesn’t flow or feel particularly natural (which I believe is the playwright’s intention). It is, therefore, a challenge on the audience’s part to suspend disbelief and engage with the characters.

In addition, some of the direction is a bit clumsy. There’s a moment when Hayley (Ellie Lawrence) “sees” the burns on Martin’s (Peter Hynds) back and comments accordingly – but Martin’s back is nowhere near her line of vision.

Saying that, after the first scene, things pick up. Suddenly Hynds and Lawrence come into their own and thechemistry between the pair develops. There are some genuinely poignant and moving moments and we can sense a real connection between the characters, despite the unlikeness of their friendship – which makes it even more beautiful to witness.

Despite dealing with the rather depressing theme of suicide, the tragedy is laced with dark comedy and there are some cracking lines in there that are well delivered. Fox boldly deals with the practicalities of ending a lifeand there are some gems in the script that prompt many a wry smile and guilty giggle, including:

‘Suicide is more acceptable than f*cking a minor’

‘You’re thirty-nine years old, no wonder you want to kill yourself, you’re nearly forty!’

‘Dear Unfortunate Corpse Finder…’

‘I don’t want to be found with a c*nt-full of jiz anyway’ (yes, that is an actual line)

Despite missing the mark somewhat, this hour long play is bound to get you thinking about life, about relationships and about the absurdity of our fragility. 

Day Four in Norway (an Aurora Camp / Tromsø)

The ringing in our ears the next morning indicated that we hadn’t died in our sleep. Hurrah! And to top off the overall success of our night in the arctic, the fire was still roaring away (thanks to the only guy in our tent, Tim, to whom we are forever grateful). Feeling rather proud and perky, we wrestled ourselves out of our cocoons, pulled the boots on over our PJs, and stomped our way to the haven of warmth (aka, the bathroom with heated flooring). After layering and snow-suiting it up again, we headed to the sami tent for a spot of breakfast and a much-needed shot of caffeine.

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10am. Dog sledging o’clock.

Vicki asked if we could drive our own sleigh. They agreed. This seemed like a great idea at the time. And then we had our tutorial which last approximately five minutes and concluded thus: – “If you tip the sledge over – and it happens a lot – if you tip it over, do not for the life of you let go of the sledge, because the dogs will continue running and your partner will be dragged with them until they reach the furthest corner of the mountains or the edge of the world. Understood? Good. Off you go then!!’

ERM… and then a little metaphorical poo happened in my pants. Mainly because I was the one sitting in the sledge, and Vicki was the designated driver. Not that I didn’t trust Vicki or anything, but it’s a wee bit unnerving when your life is in the hands (literally) of a driver who freely admits that her hands are numb before the sledging commences. And you’re going to hold on how?!

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Anyway, as it turns out, Vicki had to drive the sledge uphill for the most part of her husky experience, which resulted in the following speech pattern:

–          “I’m getting tired now!”

–          “I don’t think I can push this thing anymore!”

–          “It hurts!”

–          “I don’t think I can do this anymore!”

–          “I can’t… I just can’t…”

Yep, those lines were on repeat for a good half hour. I sat smugly in my snuggy sledge as I took in the sights but, inside, I was shitting it about my turn and tried to convince Vicki to continue as she was doing such a great job:

–          “Vicki, do you want to drive back?”

–          “F*ck off, Jo!”

Yeah, that didn’t work.

And, as fate would dictate, my drive was all downhill… which basically meant I spent half hour screaming and I’m pretty sure there would have been tears if my tear ducts hadn’t frozen over. Not that I’m a total wimp or anything… but, believe me, it is beyond terrifying when you feel the sledge slowly pulling to one side, seconds away from catastrophe, as you stand with both feet on the brake, desperately willing the death-contraption to slow down, before realising your body weight won’t cut it, the five dogs are stronger than you and that your and your partners life is in their paws.

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Was it fun?! Yeah totally! But it was the kinda fun you get from the exhilaration of a close call… like para-shooting, bungee jumping, free-falling, or abseiling… the latter being the only thing I’ve done (at a Girl Guides camp). To toast yet another survival, we had lunch. Finnbiff. I didn’t just sneeze. This a traditional Norwegian dish and looks a bit like this:

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Reindeer, mushrooms, creamy sauce, berries, mash potato… It was very tasty and just what the doctor ordered. Warmed our cockles, it did. But… and perhaps this was something to do with the thought of eating a second cousin of Bambi, as opposed to the actual meal… but soon afterwards, I was as sick as a husky. (Fully aware I need to ‘man up’). 

Anyhow, we returned to Tromsø sentrum for our final night stay at the Quality Hotel Saga (which was perfectly located, right in the centre, and served the best breakfast of the holiday)… and once I had finished de-reindeering my system (d’oe, oh dear, I hope it wasn’t a female dear), Vicki and I went out to paint the town as red as our little faces. It turns out that all the best restaurants in Tromsø get fully booked way in advance… so, a little heads up here, book a day or so prior. We eventually went to Steakers by the port but by the time we could get a table (9.30pm), we were pretty plastered… because our pre-dinner bar crawl involved the following hip ‘n happening joints: SOLID, Bastard Bar, Blå Rock, and two more that I’ve forgotten. We did not go to Victoria Fun Pub because it did not look fun. Anyway… we had a cracking final night out, even met some of the local film buffs and celebrities who were part of the Tromsø International Film Festival (most of whom were found nurturing a beer at Bastard and Blå).

So would I recommend a Norwegian adventure? Yes, yes, I would. We crammed a lot into the four days but we wouldn’t have done it any other way. The memories will stay with us for a lifetime. We saw the Northern Lights, a shooting star, a hotel made of ice, three hundred huskies and some of the most stunning landscapes the world has to offer… it was like a trip to Narnia, only better. Go! Prosper! But pack thermals!