by Peter Heppel
Jeremy Lee’s showcases are different from the others, mainly because it is aimed at the corporate market. This means that many of the performers are from the Edinburgh Festival rather than the clubs, which the majority of them have probably never seen. Added to which is the fact that the venue was the Cadogan Hall just off Sloane Square, of which few of them have ever heard, for it is a conversion of a Christian Science church, though it is already well-known to lovers of classical music and is now beginning to book performers in the pop music field.
However, it was entirely suitable for the JLA event because of its spaciousness and comfort and most of the artists established an early rapport with the audience and did not present a challenge to artists who are more used to conference halls than theatres or clubs.
Simon Amstell, for example, was very much at home, letting us in to a few secrets of corporate entertainment, some of which were downright irreverent, in keeping with the reputation he has already acquired on Channel 4’s Popworld, to be continued no doubt with his forthcoming presentation of Never Mind the Buzzcocks.
Nevertheless he has a high likeability factor, which many of his fellow comedians seem have caught. Marcus Brigstocke, for example, was an eye-opener to those who know him only from brief but numerous appearances on the radio, in particular, and television. At full length, so to speak, he is a remarkably assured and witty comedian, made to measure for corporate audiences, preferably broad-minded ones.
The same applies to Edinburgh veteran Adam Hills, a good-looking Australian who finds the handicap of having a prosthetic leg of little moment. Indeed he makes it one of the major features of his act, assuring his audience that it is no obstacle to sex. He is particularly adept at the comparisons between Australian, American and British audiences.
Being broadminded is also essential to appreciate the comedy nuances of Tim Minchin. Something of a virtuoso pianist, he has written a series of hilarious songs, with lyrics which are hardly suitable for publication but steer clear of the offensive. One of the undoubted hits of the evening.
Justin Moorhouse, seen in Phoenix Nights and primarily a DJ on Manchester’s Key 103 radio, seemed to be something of a beginner in the standup trade but to judge from the reception of some of his material is a strong contender in this field.
Unbilled, veteran John Lenahan could hardly be left out of any JLA event because he is one of the most adroit exponents of magic in any branch of the profession. His one illusion was not really magic at all but a sensational effect achieved through natural means, another illustration that this comedian illusionist is a truly original and always watchable performer, with plenty of original effects in his locker.
Perhaps not quite so successful, mainly because their material was outshone by their props, were Big Howard and Little Howard and the Raymond and Mr Timpkins Revue.
The former is a completely original act, with Howard Read engaged in cross-talk with a diminutive cartoon figure seen only on the screen. Notably clever, it suffered on this occasion because the comedy material was on the weak side, but the timing and interaction is impeccable.
The Raymond and Mr Timpkins Revue was also commendably original, with two eccentrics rather outshone by their props. It is clever but intermittently amusing, more deft than daft, but essentially based on pop music of various styles. Interesting to hear again the distinctive sound of the stylophone, of which Rolf Harris was such a notable exponent.
The main musical exponent in the show was Keedie, whom I first saw in a Torquay talent contest a few years ago. Then partnered by her sisters in a pop act, she has now become a notable serious singer with a distinctly operatic voice, achieving success here with My Heart Will Go On and other demanding songs.
Opening the show with the Haka, for which the All Blacks are as celebrated as they are for rugby football, were Manaia Maori from New Zealand, an apt illustration that in the corporate field a spot of audience participation is virtually indispensable. There was no difficulty in attracting eager volunteers.