REVIEW: Live At The Theatre Royal Comedy Night, York Theatre Royal, July 1

Ed Byrne: Unexpected cameo…on the phone

ED Byrne did appear at the debut Live At Theatre Royal Comedy Night after all. On late substitute Milton Jones’s mobile phone in an impromptu exchange where Jones had the last word, over and over, setting up Ed for his genial jibes like Federer putting away a backhand passing shot.

“Byrne out” had struck this gig when the whimsical Irishman’s own phone had pinged him with the message of our times: “You Need To Self-Isolate” , until 23.59pm on July 7.

Byrne was indeed at home, doing passing-the-time things, by way of contrast with this fast-moving, no-interval comedy bill, kept on its toes in brisk fashion by host Arthur Smith, who was largely in rather jollier mood than his usual lugubrious, Grumpy Old Man schtick, as casual as his summer shorts.

So, here was the alternative Smith and Jones show, plus Rhys James in his first gig since times BC (before Covid) and Maisie Adam, the Pannal humorist familiar from panel shows, still defiantly sporting her half-shaven lockdown hair.

Maisie Adam; Hair-larious set back in God’s Own Country

James, looking impossibly boyish as he hits 30 this year, is from the time-honoured school of cheeky chappy comedy, full of wry observations and a winning line in self-deprecation, not least over sharing a name – albeit spelt differently – with England’s full back Reece James. He found his feet back on the comedy turf rather better than his namesake in his Euro 2020 debut against Scotland.

Maisie Adam, enthusiastic football player in a Brighton women’s team and fabulous storyteller, was loving being back home in Pannal, visiting Ripon and taking the train across the Knaresborough viaduct.

Like James, she was adjusting to a return to audience interaction after a surfeit of streamed gigs into the silent digital ether, an experience much like howling into the wind, and how she relished the sound of laughter, so vital to a comic’s timing and rhythm. Such delightful, sometimes daft, often astute company, the fearless, forthright Maisie is on the unstoppable rise, you better Adam and Eve it.

In the absence – save for that surprise phone cameo – of ‘edliner Ed Byrne, comedy paradise was found in Milton, the joker with a quip in every soundbite, a pun-slinger always one step ahead of the audience guessing games.

Milton Jones: Late substitute struck comedy gold

Hair wilder than Doddy, Hawaiian shirt as over-excitable as a teenager’s first holiday away from the parental grip, Jones had a hit rate of word-play gags so consistent, so precise, it was the equivalent of reducing a dartboard to only the bullseye and still never missing.

Behind the deadpan delivery, his abundant sense of mischief, gift for mimicry, smart political sensibility and unerring radar for what’s funny without the need for offence, all wrapped inside his endless joy in a one-liner, were such welcome light relief after so many months of darkness.

In Damian Cruden’s two decades of artistic directorship, comedy nights were strangely absent from the York Theatre Royal calendar, but chief executive Tom Bird is now taking a different tack, and you can surely expect more bills to follow the lead of the Smith and Jones show.

Ed Byrne out, Milton Jones in, as York Theatre Royal makes late line-up change

Byrne out: “Unable to appear due to circumstances beyond the Theatre Royal’s control”

OFF with his ‘Edliner! Comedian Ed Byrne will not top the Live At The Theatre Royal comedy bill in York on Thursday after all.

“We are sorry to announce that due to circumstances beyond our control, Ed Byrne is now unable to appear,” says the York Theatre Royal .

No Byrne’s night in York, but well equipped to take over at short notice is quip-witted pun-slinger Milton Jones.

Shock of the new: Milton Jones looks startled by his late call-up for the Live At The Theatre Royal comedy night

The shock-haired, excitable-shirted absurdist with the quiver of arrow-sharp one-liners will be joined by Rhys James and Maisie Adam, introduced by lugubrious host Arthur Smith. 

“If you have already booked your tickets, you do not need to do anything and we look forward to seeing you on Thursday,” says the box office. “If you need to contact us about your booking, please email boxoffice@yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or call 01904 623568 between 12 noon and 3pm. Our team will be happy to answer any questions and help in any way they can.”

To check ticket availability, go to yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

‘When a joke makes a good point, I think people enjoy it,” says York-bound Ed Byrne

Ed Byrne: Topping the bill at York Theatre Royal next Thursday

JULY I will be Ed Byrne’s night in York when the observational Southern Irish comedian headlines an all-star bill for the Live At The Theatre Royal Comedy Night.

Byrne, 49, from Swords, County Dublin, has presented the television shows Just For Laughs and Uncut! Best Unseen Ads and co-hosted BBC2’s The World’s Most Dangerous Roads, Dara And Ed’s Big Adventure and Dara And Ed’s Road To Mandalay with fellow Irish humorist Dara O Briain.

He is a regular guest on numerous television panel games, most notably Mock The Week and Have I Got News For You and has appeared on TV cooking shows, such as Comic Relief Bake Off 2015. As a semi-professional hill-walker and fully paid-up humanist, he brought a refreshing warmth and honesty to BBC2’s The Pilgrimage.

Byrne last played York in March 2018, presenting his Spoiler Alert tour show at the Grand Opera House, where he explored the thin line between righteous complaining and brattish whining as he asked: “Are we right to be fed up or are we spoiled?”

Joining the self-deprecating Bryne will be Mock The Week’s whip-smart wordsmith Rhys James and Have I Got News For You panellist-in-lockdown Maisie Adam, who performed from her living room on the second Your Place Comedy bill with prankster Simon Brodkin last May, as part of the virtual home entertainment series organised by Selby Town Council arts officer Chris Jones.

July 1’s 7.30pm show will be hosted by legendary compere-beyond-compare Arthur Smith, the veteran gloomy weather-faced comedian and presenter from Bermondsey, London.

Tickets cost £20 at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or on 01904 623568.

The importance of being honest: Ed Byrne will play Harrogate Theatre on his autumn tour

ED Byrne’s Live At The Theatre Royal Comedy Night in York next Thursday is a one-off, detached from his If I’m Honest tour.

To see that show in North Yorkshire, you will have to wait until October 12 at Harrogate Theatre, when he will delve into a father’s sense of responsibility, what it means to be a man in 2021, and whether he possesses any qualities worth passing on to his two sons.

Noted for his whimsy, Byrne is more serious in tone in If I’m Honest. Take gender politics, for example. “I’ll admit that there are things where men get a raw deal,” he says. ‘We have higher suicide rates, and we tend not to do well in divorces, but representation in action movies is not something we have an issue with.

“It was Mad Max: Fury Road that kicked it all off, even though nobody complained about Ripley in Alien or Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. Of course, social media means this stuff gets broadcast far and wide in an instant, which emboldens people.”

Byrne continues: “The problem with men’s rights activists is that it’s not about speaking up for men’s rights, it’s about hating women. If you’re a men’s rights activist, you’re not going to care about the fact that there’s an all-female Ghostbusters remake.

“That’s nothing to do with men’s rights or female entitlement. That’s everything to do with being, well, a whiny baby.”

Byrne judges how to be provocative without being too polemical. “I did stuff about Trump and the Pizzagate right wing conspiracy, and a couple of the reviewers said, “Oh, I would have liked to have watched a whole show of this’. And I think, ‘well, you might have, but the average person who comes to see me would not like to see that’. I like to make a point or get something off my chest, or perhaps I’m talking about something that’s been on my mind, but the majority of stuff is just to get laughs,” he says.

“People who come to see me are not political activists necessarily, they’re regular folk. If you can make a point to them, in between talking about your struggles with ageing, or discussing your hernia operation or whatever it is, you can toss in something that does give people pause as regards to how men should share the household chores.”

“There’s something very satisfying about your audience growing old with you,” says Ed Byrne, who will hit 50 in 2022

Byrne goes on: “It’s not that I feel a responsibility. I think it just feels more satisfying when you’re doing it, and it feels more satisfying when people hear it. When a joke makes a good point, I think people enjoy it. It’s the difference between having a steak and eating a chocolate bar.”

As the show title would suggest, If I’m Honest pumps up the tendency towards self-deprecation. “I do genuinely annoy myself,” he admits. “But the thing of your children being a reflection of you gives you an opportunity to build something out of the best of yourself, only for you to then see flashes of the worst of yourself in them. It’s a wake-up call about your own behaviour.”

Byrne observes that “self-aggrandising humour is a lot harder to pull off than self-deprecating humour”. “A lot of people get really annoyed when Ricky Gervais is self-congratulatory,” he says. “I always find it very funny when he accepts awards and does so in the most big-headed way possible. I think it’s a trickier type of humour to pull off, talking yourself up in that way.

“I don’t think I’m being massively hard on myself. The fact is when you’re the bloke who is standing on the stage with the microphone, commanding an audience’s attention, you’re in a very elevated position anyway.”

If I’m Honest expresses the frustration that comes with middle age. “I’m bored looking for things, I’m bored of trying to find stuff, because I can never find it, and it is entirely my fault,” says Byrne.

“Nobody’s hiding my stuff from me. Although my wife did actually move my passport on one occasion.”

Amid the mordant and occasionally morbid humour, If I’m Honest accommodates quietly triumphant moments too. “I thought I was being quite upbeat talking about the small victories,” says Byrne. “You know, finding positivity in being able to spot when a cramp was about to happen in your leg and dealing with it before it does. I was very happy with myself about that.”

Next April, Byrne will turn 50. “You see comics who are my age and older but are still retaining a level of ‘cool’ and drawing a young crowd. I can’t deny that I’m quite envious of that,” he says. “But there’s also something very satisfying about your audience growing old with you.”

Ed Byrne, If I’m Honest, Harrogate Theatre, October 12, 8pm. Box office: 01423 502116 or at harrogatetheatre.co.uk.

More Things To Do in York and beyond and on the home front in loosened lockdown. List No. 32, courtesy of The Press, York

Love letters straight to your art from York Theatre Royal’s reopening show, Love Bites

THE Downing Street briefing on Step 3 of the roadmap rollout is just around the tantalising corner. Charles Hutchinson highlights the rising tide of upcoming shows, ongoing festivals and exhibitions and online options.

Love story of the month: The Love Season: Love Bites, York Theatre Royal, May 17 and 18

YORK Theatre Royal reopens with two nights of Love Bites, both a love letter to live performance by York artists and a celebration of the creative talent across the city.

More than 200 artists from a variety of art forms applied for £1,000 love-letter commissions to be staged on May 17 – the first day theatres can reopen under Step 3 of the Government’s lockdown loosening – and May 18. The 22 short pieces will be performed each socially distanced night, introduced by broadcaster Harry Gration.

“We hope Love Bites will turn out to be ‘a many-splendored thing’!” says director Juliet Forster. Prompt booking is advised at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or on 01904 623568.

Ruth Rogers: Violinist performing at Ryedale Festival’s online Spring Festival on RyeStream

Online festival of the week: Ryedale Festival’s Spring Festival, running until May 8

TOMORROW night will see the fast-rising combo The Immy Churchill Trio toast the arrival of spring with Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year, a late-night session of jazz standards from the Great American Songbook online from Helmsley Arts Centre at 9pm.

Finishing the festival at Castle Howard with The Lark Ascending on May 8 at 3pm, the virtuosic London Mozart Players and violinist Ruth Rogers will perform Grieg’s Holberg Suite, Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending and Vivaldi’s Spring from The Four Seasons.

The Spring Festival season will be available to view on RyeStream until the end of May.

Are you going for Scarborough air? York artist Malcolm Ludvigsen painting on the bracing seafront at the East Coast resort

Exhibition launch of the week in York: Malcolm Ludvigsen’s Art, Village Gallery, York

PROLIFIC York plein-air artist Malcolm Ludvigsen is the focus of Village Gallery’s first new exhibition of 2021 in Colliergate, York.

Erstwhile maths professor Ludvigsen spends much of his time on the beaches and headlands of Yorkshire, fascinated endlessly by the sea and sky.

The show of Ludvigsen oil paintings will run until Saturday, June 19 with Covid-secure, socially distanced measures in place. Opening hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4pm.

Not a spoiler alert: Irish humorist Ed Byrne will play York for the first time since his Spoiler Alert tour in 2018

Comedy gig announcement of the week in York: Live At The Theatre Royal Comedy Night, York Theatre Royal, July 1

THIS will be Ed Byrne’s night in York when the observational Southern Irish comedian headlines an all-star bill.

Joining headliner Ed will be Mock The Week’s whip-smart wordsmith Rhys James and Have I Got News For You panellist-in-lockdown Maisie Adam, hosted by “compere-beyond-compare” Arthur Smith, the veteran gloomy weather-faced comedian and presenter from Bermondsey, London.

Tickets are on sale at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk and on 01904 62356.

Cuppa and a couple of gigs at Pocklington Arts Centre for Omid Djalili in July

Comedy gig announcement of the week outside York: Omid Djalili, Pocklington Arts Centre, July 22, at the double

POCKLINGTON Arts Centre has confirmed its first live shows since Tom Rosenthal’s Manhood comedy gig on March 14 last year.

British-Iranian comedian Omid Djalili will perform twice on Thursday, July 22. Significantly too, those 7pm and 9pm performances will be without social-distancing measures, but full of provocative, intelligent cultural observations.

Djalili, 55, originally had been booked for July’s now-cancelled Platform Festival at the Old Station, Pocklington.

Dancing Dan: Dancing On Ice star Dan Whiston glides into Rawcliffe Country Park in August

Get your skates on: Cinderella On Ice, Rawcliffe Country Park, York, August 17 to 22

DANCING On Ice three-time champion Dan Whiston will lead the company for Cinderella On Ice, a show fuelled by high-speed ice-skating and aerial feats.

“I cannot wait to get back on the ice and for the crowds to witness this amazing show after such a troubled past 12 months of lockdowns,” says Whiston. “We hope to both wow and amaze.”

Fairytale On Ice’s ice-palace production will be performed by “some of the world’s most elite entertainers and skilled skaters after thousands of auditions”. Tickets for the 4.30pm matinees and 7.30pm evening performances are on sale at fairytaleonice.com.

Seven UP: Shed Seven’s Shedcember tour to climax with two nights at Leeds O2 Academy

The return of the York heroes: Shed Seven, Shedcember tour

SHED Seven will close their 2021 Shedcember tour with two nights at Leeds O2 Academy on December 20 and 21.

The York band’s 18-date itinerary will take in further Yorkshire shows at Sheffield O2 Academy on November 30 and Hull City Hall on December 1, but not a home-city gig, alas.

The Sheds’ concerts are billed as Another Night, Another Town – The Greatest Hits Live – a nod of acknowledgement in the direction of last December’s 21-track live double album. Tickets are selling very fast at shedseven.com, gigsandtours.com and ticketmaster.co.uk.

Senegal and Wales combine in the Pocklington-bound music-making of Seckou Keita and Catrin Finch

On the move: Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita, Pocklington Arts Centre

WELSH harpist Catrin Finch and Sengalese kora player Seckou Keita will now play Pocklington on May 21 2022.

The 7.30pm concert has been rescheduled from June 10 2021 for the usual Covid reasons. All original tickets remain valid; further tickets go on sale from 10am tomorrow (7/5/2021) at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Finch and Keita will be showcasing songs from their next album, as yet untitled and set for release next year. 

Rapper and beatboxer Testament testifying in Orpheus In The Record Shop

And what about?

AS lockdown’s gradual, grinding release continues to make an impact on live performance, Leeds company Opera North will seek to entertain viewers at home. Check out Orpheus In The Record Shop, available for free at: bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000vbtx/lights-up-orpheus-in-the-record-shop.

Inspired by the ancient Greek myth, rapper and playwright Testament fuses spoken word and beatboxing with a cinematic score performed by the Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North.

Originally performed during Connecting Voices at Leeds Playhouse, it has been reworked for film by Alex Ramseyer-Bache and Playhouse artistic director James Brining as part of the BBC Lights Up season.

Byrne’s night as Irish comic Ed headlines York Theatre Royal comedy bill in July

Ed Byrne: Headline set at York Theatre Royal

JULY I will be Ed Byrne’s night in York when the observational Southern Irish comedian headlines an all-star bill for the Live At The Theatre Royal Comedy Night.

Byrne, 49, from Swords, County Dublin, has presented the television shows Just For Laughs and Uncut! Best Unseen Ads and co-hosted BBC2’s The World’s Most Dangerous Roads, Dara And Ed’s Big Adventure and Dara And Ed’s Road To Mandalay with fellow Irish humorist Dara O Briain.

He is a regular guest on numerous television panel games, most notably Mock The Week and Have I Got News For You and has appeared on TV cooking shows, such as Comic Relief Bake Off 2015.

Byrne last played York in March 2018, presenting his Spoiler Alert tour show at the Grand Opera House, where he explored the thin line between righteous complaining and brattish whining as he asked: “Are we right to be fed up or are we spoiled?”

Joining Bryne will be Mock The Week’s whipsmart wordsmith Rhys James and Have I Got News For You panellist-in-lockdown Maisie Adam, who performed from her living room on the second Your Place Comedy bill with prankster Simon Brodkin last May, as part of the virtual home entertainment series organised by Selby Town Council arts officer Chris Jones in tandem with ten independent Yorkshire and Humber arts centres and theatres during lockdown.

July 1’s 7.30pm show will be hosted by legendary compere-beyond-compare Arthur Smith, the veteran gloomy weather-faced comedian and presenter from Bermondsey, London.

Tickets cost £20 at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or on 01904 623568.

Simon Brodkin and Maisie Adam are stream team for Sunday’s Your Place Comedy gig

Sunday service: The stream team of Simon Brodkin and Maisie Adam, delivering comedy to your living room

PRANKSTER Simon Brodkin and Have I Got News For You panellist-in-lockdown Maisie Adam form the second Your Place Comedy double bill on Sunday.

The 8pm show will be streamed live from their living rooms to yours, looking to build on the success of the April 19 launch, when more than 3,500 people tuned in to watch Mark Watson, Hull comedian Lucy Beaumont and compere Tim FitzHigham.

Chris Jones, Selby Town Council’s arts officer and manager of Selby Town Hall, is again co-ordinating this weekend’s online fundraising show, working in tandem with nine other small, independent arts centres and theatres from across Yorkshire and the Humber during the Covid-19 shutdown.

Brodkin and Adam’s show will be free to watch on YouTube and the Twitch video live streaming service, with an option for viewers to donate if they have enjoyed the broadcast. All money raised will be distributed equally among the supporting venues, each being faced with navigating their way through these challenging Coronavirus days.

Compere Tim FitzHigham and a pyjama-clad Mark Watson on screen during the inaugural Your Place Comedy online broadcast

Joining together in this rolling initiative to put the fun into fundraising are Selby Town Hall; The Ropewalk, Barton upon Humber; Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds; East Riding Theatre, Beverley; Junction, Goole; Helmsley Arts Centre; Shire Hall, Howden; Otley Courthouse; Pocklington Arts Centre and  Rotherham Theatres.

“In a nutshell, at a time of huge uncertainty and upheaval in the Coronavirus lockdown, including for the live entertainment industry, I got these venues from around Yorkshire and the Humber to come together to provide our audiences with some much-needed laughter during these difficult times, each chipping in a small amount of money to put on each live stream,” says Chris, who was up until 4am on Tuesday morning putting everything in place for Sunday’s gig.

“Their contributions to Your Place Comedy go towards paying the artists a guaranteed fee at a time when all live income has been taken away, and, in exchange, venues get a show to sell to their own audiences as one of their own, helping maintain those vital relationships with audiences they have nurtured over the years.”

Watson and Beaumont’s April show raised £3,500 in donations for the venues. “We were overwhelmed by the response to our first ever broadcast,” says a delighted Chris, who was interviewed about Your Place Comedy on BBC 5 Live on Tuesday.

Prescient move: Simon Brodkin handed a P45 to Theresa May at Tory party conference

“The fantastic audiences, who are the absolute lifeblood of the ten venues involved in this project, watched and donated in their droves. Drawing more than 3,500 viewers was considerably more than the venues’ combined capacities, so the show went even better than we had imagined, to say the whole project was put together from scratch in the space of two weeks by three people with no live streaming experience.” 

Come Sunday, compere Tim FitzHigham, writer and star of BBC Radio 4’s The Gambler and presenter of CBBC’s Super Human Challenge, will introduce Brodkin and Adams’s sets from their homes, from his.

Prankster and character comedian Brodkin, 42, is best known for his alter-ego Lee Nelson and, latterly, as the man who handed Prime Minister Theresa May a P45 during the 2017 Conservative Party Conference. North Yorkshire-born comedian, writer and actor Adam, 26, has made her mark on Have I Got News For You, Mock The Week and 8 Out Of 10 Cats and appears regularly at the Harrogate Comedy Festival.

“It’s a distinctly different style line-up to the first show,” says Chris. “Simon is a truly fascinating performer. A former doctor turned character comic, he’s reinvented himself as one of the best pranksters the UK has ever seen. Listening to him spill the beans on how those daring exploits are pulled off is remarkably compelling.

One giant leap for Maisie Adam: From Pannal to the Have I Got News For You panel

“Maisie is destined to be omnipresent on our TV screens. Originally from Pannal, just outside Harrogate, she played her first ever gig at Otley Labour Club in 2016. She’s since had a pretty meteoric rise, winning the best new act competition in the country, So You Think You’re Funny?, in 2017; being nominated as Best Newcomer in the Edinburgh Comedy Awards a year later, and now appearing regularly on prime-time panel shows.”

Maisie, a former head girl at St Aidan’s School in Harrogate, appeared from her home in Brighton on last Friday’s home-alone edition of BBC One’s long-running satirical quiz show, Have I Got News For You, partnering team captain Ian Hislop.

Reflecting on the comedic impact of the first show, Chris says: “Both Mark Watson and Lucy Beaumont were fantastic. Mark is relatively experienced when it comes to live streaming and was comfortable enough with the format to perform in his pyjamas.

“For Lucy, it was a first foray into ‘audience-free’ comedy, but her set was pitch perfect – even featuring a rather bizarre bedtime story! – and broadcast live from the pub that her husband, [comedian] Jon Richardson, has built in their house.”

Lucy Beaumont: A “pitch-perfect set, even featuring a rather bizarre bedtime story”

How did the format work, Chris? “We were very aware that one of the limitations of live streamed comedy was a lack of audience interaction, so we devised a function that allowed viewers to send messages directly to the acts,” he says.

“This worked incredibly well and really gave the show that extra feeling of intimacy and warmth that you get from watching comedy in a small venue environment.”

Before the April 19 debut gig, Chris had said: “If the first one is a success and this looks like a sustainable model, I would hope to do several more through the lockdown period and possibly beyond.”

Now he is projecting an initial run of five shows. “We hope that, for as long as our doors have to remain closed, we can continue to connect with audiences and bring them big laughs from some of the UK’s best performers through the Your Place Comedy project,” he says.

“At a time when so many life-affirming social connections have been lost, and a great number of performers have had their livelihoods taken away overnight, it is brilliant to be able to support artists, audiences and independent venues in this way.”

For full details on Your Place Comedy, and to find out how to watch the show, visit yourplacecomedy.co.uk.