The annual Real Variety Show, held by Jeremy Lee Associates, is an intriguing curiosity. For someone who generally sees comedians playing to paying customers, it’s quite refreshing to see them sing for their supper in front of a corporate crowd who have not yet splashed out on paying for them.
Jason Manford was a steady choice as host – brisk, businesslike, but with enough cheeky charm to keep proceedings bubbling along warmly. He brought some amusing tales of other corporate gigs with him tonight, including a builders’ event at which waiters were being asked for “glasses of champagne with six sugars”.
It was the job of highly regarded songstress/comedian Vikki Stone to kick off the cavalcade. She did so with a ditty about her love of Phillip Schofield, a YouTube hit, and a love lament set to the tune of the Jurassic Park theme tune.
Star of Balamory and of Rev, Miles Jupp was up next to regale us with his poshboy persona. “I’m privileged. Not just to be here but in general.” His supercilious shtick was inflicted upon Boris Johnson (“he always looks like he has come round from a general anaesthetic”) to the impossibility of ever getting a truly quiet coach on a train.
The Boy With Tape On His Face, Sam Wills’ marvellous mime, tickled an unsuspecting crowd with his clowning. Among the set pieces he squeezed into his short spot was his manipulation of an audience ‘volunteer’ into re-enacting the potters wheel scene from Ghost, with some playdough and a plastic container.
Yorkshireman and baby-faced circuit veteran Paul Tonkinson cut straight to the chase with his greeting of “hello corporate people”, but ultimately belied any misgivings he had about his turn by providing a really crafted set, largely about domesticity. “I get pleasure from denying my family heat” was his take on how being a dad made him start worrying about heating bills, among other matters he was hitherto unfettered by.
The CK Gospel Choir ended the first half with an energetic medley of four songs including the always incredible You’ve Got The Love a song that, no matter how it is arranged, is always impressive.
Lewisham lad Rob Beckett opened the second half. His ice-cream cone quiff hair and flashing white teeth, accentuated by his white shirt, had already made quite an impression before his knockabout material about his food and drink pet hates (cous cous and strawberry and kiwi Robinsons) kicked in.
“You might have heard of my brother – Colin” is the teasing opener of character and magic act Piff the Magic Dragon. His elaborate card trick tonight was aided by Mr Piffles, a chihuahua, whose canine wiles won over many of the audience.
Known already for his stints on Live At The Apollo and Mock the Week, Josh Widdicombe gave a taste of his ‘restrained hysteria’ and the nasal incredulity that he pours over the little things in life, such as the paradox that is an Argos Extra store and the paltry size of cereal servings.
Hal Cruttenden is another polished performer and capped off some slightly risque set ups with acceptable aplomb: “I saw this girl the other day – I thought if I was twenty years younger… I’d get really obsessed with her and do absolutely nothing about it.” As ever, Cruttenden got quite a lot of mileage out of his Northern Irish wife and admitted that when she said “I want to spend the rest of my life with you” he was too scared to say no.
Five-piece troupe, The Noise Next Door closed the show with two fast-paced improvised songs. One was based on a lady from the front row called Olivia who simply told the group that she liked red wine, hated fish and wanted to visit Australia. Before long the troupe were leaping about and singing her a boyband-style serenade complete with cork-popping innuendo.
An ebullient ending to a show that must have given its audience plenty to think about in choosing their favourite acts.