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Review: Laughterhouse at Bombed Out Church ****

September 12, 2020

It’s been a long year without much to laugh about, so the fact that at least one Liverpool comedy club is planning on reopening its doors is good news.

Ahead of Laughterhouse restarting gigs (in Covid safe surroundings) at its Fenwick Street base, it stepped in to stage two sets as part of the inaugural Liverpool Theatre Festival.

Comedy is a particularly communal experience enjoyed best in close proximity to other audience members, so sitting in the splendid isolation of socially distanced bubbles inside the Bombed Out Church (and in daylight at the first show) meant the audience as well as the acts had to work a bit harder to develop a conducive comedy atmosphere.

But a palpable desire for live entertainment helped overcome some of the awkwardness of the singular setting, while the constant stream of drinks orders coming in from the garden bar also lubricated the laughter.

Coronavirus has also become a shared experience, albeit one none of us really wants, so it’s inevitable the ‘Rona’ is going to make its way into comedy routines, particularly those which rely on observation.

But rather like the grim days of the Great Depression, what people really want isn’t to be reminded about the bad bits of life but instead to be offered a way to escape them. Which is why screwball comedies and Busby Berkeley movies dominated the big screen in the 1930s.

The audience at the Bombed Out Church.

Top: Steve Royle. Photos by David Munn.

 

Neil Fitzmaurice, following MC Chris Cairns to open the bill, trod a careful path through Coronavirus’ greatest hits (cast your minds back if you will to February’s insane pasta hoarding and fights over loo roll) but found more fertile laugh-out-loud ground in virus-free memories of childhood and in family dynamics where however hard we try we all end up turning into our parents.

Steve Royle also touched briefly on these “mad, crazy times” as well as riffing on the idea of today’s verses yesterday’s youth, before swapping swabs and self isolation for silliness and demonstrating why he’s just reached the final of Britain’s Got Talent.

Royle, dapper in his trademark waistcoat and Pollock-splashed shirt, brought a real physical energy to a performance which had some lovely sly and conspiratorial visual gags as well as showcasing the natty circus skills honed to perfection during countless Blackpool pantos and 12 years as Mad Edgar at Camelot theme park.

The bill was rounded off by an ebullient turn from the very likeable Daliso Chaponda, son of Malawi (“the world’s number one supplier of Madonna babies”) and Liverpool comedy favourite of many years standing. And it appears he feels just as warmly about the city as its audiences feel about him.

Covid may have furloughed the rest of us, but Chaponda – who himself reached the final of BGT in 2017 - has been kept busy over the summer being wooed by various media outlets as a Black Lives Matter talking head.

Malawi Hogwarts, William the Conqueror, Merseyrail fines, Brexit negotiations and a teenage exorcism all swirled together in a carefree 20 minutes that gave us a taste of ‘normal’ life again.

 

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