Monday 21st May

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The Harlem Globetrotters preview: “It’s like no other sporting event you’ll go to in your life.”

Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

The Harlem Globetrotters have long been one of the greatest brands in world sport, synonymous with entertainment, athleticism and the fight for equality.  And this travelling team of outrageously talented basketball players remain true to those principles, as London fans will see for themselves at the SSE Wembley Arena on Saturday night and at The O2 on Monday week.

Those attending the matches against their traditional stooges – the Washington Generals – will be treated to a spectacle they’re unlikely to forget: an exhibition of audacious team moves, trick shots and crowd interaction unrivalled in other sporting arenas.  With entertainment placed so firmly at the forefront, it’s no wonder the Globetrotters have dug such a deep well of affection over the course of their 92-year history.

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Category: Comedy
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Mark Thomas: “Stop seeing refugees as victims. They’re humans showing remarkable courage and imagination.”

Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

When picturing the West Bank, many think of people blighted by shortages, air raid sirens and fear – the result of decades of fighting and Israeli occupation.  Accordingly, most attempts to improve the lives of over half a million refugees sandwiched between Israel and Jordan focus on better access to food, water and jobs.  

But Mark Thomas – the leading campaigning comedian – saw people needing creative outlets and, vitally, laughter.  He set up a series of comedy courses in the Jenin Refugee Camp – among the most radicalised and allegedly responsible for 28 suicide bombings during the Second Intifada – with the aim of putting on shows for locals to enjoy.  

This week and next, Thomas tells the story of this incredible initiative in Showtime From The Frontline at Theatre Royal Stratford East, alongside Faisal Abu Alhayjaa and Alaa Shehada – two talented Palestinian performers who graduated from the course.

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Category: Comedy
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Jonathan Pie: Back To The Studio review

Rating:

Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer and Reviewer

Tom Walker serves up another superb blend of well-informed political analysis, hard truths, gratuitous swearing and guilty laughs

As revealed here last week, Tom Walker has bigger plans for his comedy creation, Jonathan Pie, than the three-minute clips he gifts to the world each week.  And in his second full-length show, Walker shows that Pie is well and truly cut out for a longer format.

Walker’s first show – Jonathan Pie Live – was a toe in the sitcom water for the Alan Partridge aficionado, showing Pie flailing in light entertainment before gradually unravelling rage at his collapsing marriage and being prevented from saying what he really thinks on TV.  But in Pie’s current incarnation – Back To The Studio – some of that frustration’s alleviated by fronting a ‘dry run’ of his own Political Roadshow, giving him the perfect platform to spout his views on what’s wrong with the world.  All he thinks he need do to impress the onlooking TV execs is flick two fingers up at the political establishment – within reason – and style out the amateurish jingles straight from Mid Morning Matters.

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Category: Comedy
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Tom Walker: “When Pie’s shouting at the Tories, he’s also satirising the Left in the same moment.”

Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

By any metric, 2016 was an extraordinary year, not least for Tom Walker whose comic creation, Jonathan Pie, surfed into the satirical landscape on a wave of deceptively insightful diatribes about austerity, Brexit and Trump.  Soon, millions of people awaited the spoof news correspondent’s latest rant-filled take on current events – in short and sharp three-minute instalments – with bated breath.

Seizing the moment, Walker – together with comedian Andrew Doyle – penned a solo show giving greater depth to the Pie character as he struggled to host segments of Children In Need.  The result was a success, receiving a four-star review here and praise for its “ability to spew out persuasive points amongst the bile”.  Tomorrow night, Walker returns to Hammersmith with a second live show, Back To The Studio, addressing the way we consume news and avoiding his main mistake from last time around. 

“That first show was a massive learning curve,” Walker says, “because I’d never done anything like it.  I’m an actor, not a stand-up comedian, so I foolishly made it too contemporary, focusing on austerity and the Tories.  When I wrote it, Brexit was miles off and though Trump had announced his nomination, everyone still thought he was a joke.  So on the morning after the Brexit vote, I had to scrap a third of the script and rewrite it.”

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Category: Comedy
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Adam Riches: “Acting didn’t satisfy the side of my brain that was interested in challenging myself riskily.”

Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

Adam Riches may be one of the most charming, loquacious masochists around.  

The performer whose commitment to art saw him shatter his right leg from the knee down when performing at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2008 but reappear four days later in a wheelchair.  A character comedian who acknowledges that his chosen style – often incorporating a large slice of audience participation – means “effectively ruining your sketch immediately from the ideal”.  And a risk-taker who’s chosen to revisit a show that, in his own words, “bombed so badly in 2003 that it took me a very long time to get over.”

Given this, it’s no surprise to see the former Edinburgh Comedy Award-winner take the unusual step of putting on five different shows at Network Theatre this week as part of Vault Festival, including that ill-fated 2003 production, Plat Du Nuit: The Comeback Special.  He’s actually taking on seven scripts, given that Thursday’s performance combined three works-in-progress – Coach Coach 2: Coach Harder, The Lone Dueller and The Guy You … – that will develop into stand-alone shows at this year’s Fringe.  This partly explains why he’s taken on this challenge.

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Category: Comedy
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Kiri Pritchard-McLean: Appropriate Adult review

Rating:

Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer and Reviewer

Pritchard-McLean uses this hilarious, frank and thoughtful show to deliver an important call to arms.

Kiri Pritchard-McLean is a creative whirlwind, the driving force behind the brilliant Gein’s Family Giftshop, All Killa No Filla podcast, Amusical cabaret events and Suspiciously Cheap Comedy nights.  And in her second hour-long solo show, she proves herself to be an extremely impressive stand-up, as adept at handling heavy subject matters as she is unleashing punchy lines laced with Northern mischief.

Appropriate Adult deals with Pritchard-McLean’s rocky 2017 that “changed everything” when she split from partner Jim Meehan (who left Gein’s at the same time) and had to shelve plans to adopt and start a family.  Understandably, she was hit hard by the break-up and initially unsure whether to discuss it onstage.  But, having chosen to do so, Pritchard-McLean handles it thoughtfully and without malice, concluding each display of vulnerability with a killer line.

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Category: Comedy
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Naomi Sheldon: “I’d love a world where we reclaim our emotions, not wait for them to affect our mental health.”

Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

Naomi Sheldon’s an ideal inspiration for anyone stuck in a rut.  In just two years, she’s gone from frustrated actress to creator and star of one of the most powerful, talked about plays in London.  

Good Girl, which Sheldon wrote in 2016 and debuted at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, runs for five nights at Vault Festival from tomorrow before transferring to the West End’s Trafalgar Studios for four weeks.  And in between performances, she’s busy penning the screenplay for a TV adaptation in conjunction with Clerkenwell Films, the company behind the highly acclaimed Misfits and The End of the F*cking World.

It’s quite a turnaround for the engaging Sheldon who, despite learning drama at the same school as Dame Judi Dench, had grown disillusioned by the lack of “juicy, meaty parts” available.  “I felt unsatisfied as an actor,” she says, “so thought about writing my own solo show.  I quickly realised that’s relatively easy to do, as you don’t need to wait for permission from the industry.  It’s an incredibly empowering process.”

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Category: Comedy
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Lauren Silver: Surprise! review

Rating:

Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer and Reviewer

Lauren Silver’s superb show exposes her anxiety in the most visceral, warm and entertaining of ways

Anyone who’s attended an arts festival in recent years couldn’t help but notice the positive trend of performers talking about their mental health in a way that many would’ve recoiled from a decade ago.  This year’s Vault Festival is no different, with the likes of Sofia Del Pizzo, Naomi Sheldon and Joz Norris putting on important shows that address and explore anxiety, depression and related conditions.

Where Lauren Silver’s excellent piece of theatrical comedy differs is in actually provoking her social and anticipation anxiety to appear on stage.  She doesn’t just talk about it: she makes us live it with her.

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Category: Comedy