Sunday, September 13, 2009


Civic Theatre


When was the golden age of Variety ? Harry Champion, Florrie Forde, Max Miller, the wartime Windmill, Sunday Night at the London Palladium ? Certainly not the age of X-factor and I'm a Celebrity, when it survives only at the end of the pier, and once a year for the Royals.
We prefer our singers and our stand-ups straight, milk chocolate or plain, hard centres or soft, rarely an assortment.

So it was a tonic to see a variety bill in front of the silver retro curtains on the Civic stage.

A shaky start, though, with a hesitant warm-up from comedian Otiz Cannelloni, tooled up with his spoon, his magic pencil, his balloon and his flatulence cards.

The three acts he introduced were all talented women who've been around a bit, and each in her way was a treat.

Barbara Nice [“Barbara as in Streisand, Nice as in the biscuits”] hails from Stockport, and is a fan of coach travel and charity shops. Imagine a Liz Smith tribute done by Paul O'Grady if you haven't had the pleasure. A well-sustained character comic of the old school, with a winning blend of folk wisdom and philosophy. And I admired the way she got the audience by the scruff of its neck and got us all on her side.

Chanteuse Barb Jungr [another scion of Stockport, spookily enough] has been compared to Nina Simone and Peggy Lee, but her devoted fan base would be quick to point out that she is a unique talent. With the excellent Simon Wallace at the piano, she gave us Bob Dylan and Marc Cohn, and ended all too soon with a potent version of Neil Diamond's Red Red Wine. She'll be back at the Civic in the new year, with her own show based on her New York residency.

Top of the bill was Hattie Hayridge [Holly off of Red Dwarf]. I loved her darkly surreal stream of consciousness – Canvey Island, Top Shop, seedless grapes, footless tights and bags for life – but the audience wasn't sure. Maybe they wanted more Jungr, or Barbara Nice's Robbie Williams cover. But I guess that's Variety …

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