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The Good Ship late licence at risk

The late license of Kilburn’s popular music/comedy venue, The Good Ship, will be reviewed this Thursday. At the moment, it opens until 3am, but if the licensing committee rules follows the wishes of the police, it will be required to close at 2am – crucially with the last entry at midnight.

You could be barred from entry after midnight

You could be barred from entry after midnight

Owner John McCooke says that a very significant percentage of the venue’s revenue is generated between midnight and 3am so the suggested measures would “effectively closes the venue at midnight, making the business unviable”.

If you don’t know The Good Ship, it’s a bar with a friendly stage that hosts an astounding number of bands, comedians, DJs, charity and community nights. Music ranges across all the genres from math rock to REM cover bands to jazz funk. It provides a valuable opportunity for new acts to get exposure and more established acts to practice new material – it’s pretty common to turn up for the comedy on a Monday night and see a household name added to the bill.

This decision is happening in the same month that a London night tsar has been appointed to champion late-night culture. Amy Lamé, who is the first person to fill the role, told the BBC ‘We need to stem the flow of those closures [of clubs and venues across London]. Long-time locals may remember the sad closure of Kilburn’s The Luminaire in 2010. This was a huge loss to the west London music scene, which began its inexorable march east.

There is inevitably some dispute about whether the Ship’s opening hours are contributing to antsocial behaviour. In the Kilburn Times, McCooke says reports of bad behaviour are exaggerated. My personal experience, and that of local friends, has always been that The Good Ship offers a fun night out and it’s certainly an important, vibrant contributor to London’s arts culture. How many more pubs and venues will be turned into coffee shops, bakeries and luxury flats? We wish John and team all the best of luck on Thursday.

Review: Come In! Sit Down!

The award-winning Muslim and Jewish theatre company, MUJU crew, have brought Come In! Sit Down! to The Tricycle Theatre in celebration of their tenth anniversary. The piece is a devised sketch show, tackling perceptions of Muslims and Jews in Britain, and the challenges faced by those communities. It doesn’t sound like that would be a barrel of laughs, but the cast take great delight in sending themselves up, holding a fun house mirror up to some difficult and controversial subjects.

Dominic Garfield & Stevie Basuala

Dominic Garfield & Stevie Basuala [Photo courtesy of Rooful.com]

The performances across the board are very strong. Each of the actors brings their own skills to the group and for the most part they are well cast. Particular stand outs for me were Lauren Silver’s Jewish mother routine and Dominic Garfield’s Disney terrorist (to explain will give too much away!). There’s a great rapport among the company, and their enthusiasm and energy is infectious.

The musical numbers are very strong, and were the highlight for me. Although not all of the cast members have outstanding voices, they can all carry a tune, and it’s the sheer enthusiasm of the team which carries things along at a good pace.

Some sketches worked better than others, but that could be that the mixed audience missed some of the in-jokes, which would go down well with a mainly Jewish or Muslim crowd. The high points were very pertinent, but the message started to feel rather one-note as the piece went on, and at times it did feel like the audience was being rather ‘hit over the head’ with the inevitable commentary on terrorism. I would have liked to see a more nuanced approach, with the headline-grabbing material interspersed with more ‘everyday’ experiences.

My companion for the evening observed that the show has the feel of a weekly revue, with that slightly anarchic frenetic edge, and the sketches as a collection of hits and misses. While this is to be expected of a show that is being put together with very tight deadlines every week, one would expect a theatre piece, which has been developed over a longer time, to have been tightened up a bit, with some of the less-successful sketches re-worked or put out to pasture.

Overall though, the hits outweigh the misses, and at around 75 minutes, it’s a fun show with great performances, which whips along at a brisk pace. Its irreverent approach won’t be for everyone, but it’s great to see very talented people from Jewish and Muslim backgrounds coming together to challenge perceptions while making us laugh quite a bit.

Come In! Sit Down! runs at the Tricycle Theatre until Sunday 2 August. Tickets available here.

Review: The 2000 Year Old Man at JW3

Taken from the famous 1960s recordings by Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, this specially commissioned adaptation is a live re-creation of material from The 2000 Year Old Man sketches, in which an interviewer questions a man who claims to be 2000 years old and shares his memories and opinions on the history of civilisation, in a broad Yiddish accent.

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The hour-long show is funny and engaging, and very much a celebration of a simpler time for comedy.  There are decent performances from both sides, with Chris Neill’s Interviewer nicely understated to balance the larger-than-life 2000 year old man, played by Kerry Shale, enthusiastically channeling Mel Brooks.

The energetic performances go some way to bringing a modern feel to the work, it is pacy and they have made the most of the opportunity to physicalise what is essentially a verbal exchange, but for the most part the material itself feels, unsurprisingly, dated. There is very little subtlety at play and I think modern audiences expect to find layers in comedy which are simply missing from the broad stereotyping and sex gags we are presented with here. It’s funny, sure, but all just a bit one-note.

In putting the piece together, Kerry Shale has selected moments from the original recordings to create a cohesive whole. I’m sure this was quite an undertaking, and the team have done a great job of constructing the show so you can very rarely see the ‘joins’. There are a few moments which are laced with satire and this is where the work felt fresh and relevant, and got the biggest laughs of the night.

I went into the show with no knowledge of the original sketches, and I’m sure fans of Brooks and Reiner would appreciate this homage in a way that I, in my ignorance, am unable to. At an hour, it’s the right length and is a fun, lighthearted show that entertains and does provide several laughs, just not side-splitting ones. It’s a show which works well in the JW3 hall, a fantastic performance space, and I hope it will find an appreciative audience who are looking for good, old-fashioned gags.

The 2000 Year Old Man runs at JW3 until March 22nd.

Robin Williams’ impromptu gig at The Railway in West Hampstead

Robin Williams

To add to the current wave of global misery, Robin Williams was found dead yesterday morning, suspected of committing suicide after well-known bouts of depression. Deepest sympathy to his family and friends.

The story I was told shortly after I moved into leafy West Hampstead was that Robin Williams occasionally visited da hood because he was mates with the owners of The Railway pub in West End Lane, back when it was a much respected, if somewhat down-at-heel, venue. The Railway sits a few yards from the tube station and next door to the English National Opera rehearsal studios in Broadhurst Gardens which previously housed the Decca recording studio where, famously, the Beatles failed their audition in 1962, and where the great John Mayall albums with Eric Clapton and Peter Green were recorded.

In those days, West Hampstead was mostly students in bedsits and artists who couldn’t afford Islington or proper Hampstead. It wasn’t called “East Kilburn” for nothing. Great parties, though.

Anyhow, apparently Robin was visiting his mates when he was overcome by the urge to do an impromptu set. Like a bird that has to sing, he got up and did loads, presumably secure with a relatively small no-pressure audience that loved him.

No pix, no video, just happy memories of a very lucky audience. We need a blue plaque.

Reader Lisa Minot was at the gig.

He turned up at the end of the weekly Comedy Club that was held in the back room (and we were very loyal regulars, went every week) – he had asked to impro to a UK audience before a Princes’ Trust concert. When the normal comedy acts finished, a guy came on and just said: ‘Some American guy wants to try some new material, if you stay, we’ll keep the bar open’

Easy choice and when Robin walked out on stage, our first thought was: ‘Hey, that’s the guy from Mork and Mindy’

He then proceeded to perform, non-stop, for nearly two hours, seemingly without any material, just improvising and interacting with the very small audience of mainly students. It was utterly brilliant and even now, nearly 26 years on, I can remember knowing that night was special.

A few months or year later, Good Morning Vietnam came out and the rest is history.

RIP Robin Williams — one of the funniest and saddest guys ever.

[Ed: This is an updated version of a post that first appeared on Anna’s blog here.]

Improv comedy comes to Lower Ground Bar

Did you know there was a regular comedy improv night in West Hampstead? You do now. Every other Tuesday, The Inflatables and sister group StoryBag perform at The Lower Ground Bar (or Bar 269 as it seems to be called now).

The evening kicks off at 7.45 (doors 7.30pm) with 40 minute of “short form” improv. Those of you like me, who grew up on a diet of Whose Line Is It Anyway, will recognise this style of improv. The audience throws out suggestions while a troupe of four comedians runs through various games and scenes at a rapid pace.

After a break, it’s longform time. If you’re not familiar with longform improv, it’s all the rage. Rather than quickfire games, this is a 40 minute long play based loosely around three initial audience suggestions. It’s a different beast to the short-form stuff you may have seen before, but no less enjoyable.

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The impresario behind this new night of laughter is local resident, voiceover artist and actor Andrew Gentilli. He realised at drama school that he loved the improvised scenes more than the scripted material. “It’s so much fun to perform and so much fun to watch. It has a certain energy to it”. He fell in love with improv and now he runs two groups of his own – The Inflatables (which is the short-form group) and Story Bag (the long form group).

The Lower Ground Bar may not be the most obvious choice of venue for comedy, although it has hosted a regular events in the past. Andrew lives locally but he wasn’t aware of its venue potential until another local friend suggested it. “It’s got charm, and it suits the raw energy of improv. It’s got a no frills quality that I like. There’s a real intimacy between the audience and the performers, which is really good.”

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Improv has exploded in London over recent years. Local resident Phil Lunn, who often provides musical accompaniment to Andrew’s shows (though has yet to grace the ‘stage’ at the Lower Ground Bar), points out that 15 years ago there were probably only 30 or 40 people performing improv in London. “Today it’s 10 times that,” he says. “The audience is bigger too, and there’s more interesting stuff going on.”

Andrew’s quick to quell the idea that his show is too outré. “It’s great to be aware of the trends in improv, but it’s also important to have an eye on what a fresh audience will enjoy. I’ve always loved short form and that’s fallen out of fashion as people went for long form and free form and whatever form but it’s now coming back into fashion. Regardless of that, I love watching it and performing it. As an actor I love having the audience throw curveballs at you.”

If you want to throw some curveballs at Andrew and his comedy friends, then get yourselves to the Lower Ground Bar with a crisp £5 note in your pocket. Next one’s tonight.

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Whampevent: It’s funny because it’s true

STOP PRESS: If you’re coming tonight – be there by 7pm or you probably won’t get in

If you didn’t know that Kilburn’s Good Ship runs a Monday night comedy club then you have had your head in the sand for the past few years. Now you can find out and meet some lovely locals at this last minute whampevent.

It’s a no-brainer this. The club gets great acts, and tickets are dirt cheap. I mean stupidly cheap. It’s five pounds on the door. Five pounds! There’s even a small discount for booking ahead. Yes, you can get to see three or four good comedians for less than five pounds. There’s even a raffle where you can win the notorious Bag of Shit from the Pound Shop

This Monday (September 30th), the headline act is Andy Zaltzman. If you don’t know him, well you probably should. Aside from being a big sports fan, he’s an affable political comedian who’s worked with John Oliver (Jon Stewart’s sidekick on the Daily Show) and has written for Bremner, Bird and Fortune.

Time Out said, “The best political comedian in the business, Zaltzman lets loose a veritable torrent of jokes, facts, observations, very short stories, silly remarks and inspired asides… Zaltzman is breathtakingly good.”

I saw him at The Good Ship last year, and he was excellent.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I thought we’d organise a fairly impromptu whamp drinks & comedy night on Monday.

This is all very simple. You need to either buy a ticket online (there aren’t a lot of these left), or just turn up on the night. The bar is expecting a sell-out, so you need to be there before 7.30 by 7pm to guarantee getting in. I’ll be there from just before 7pm and we’ve got a table reserved, so there’s a focal point, but we’ll just be hanging out in the bar. Look for PJ Harvey, we shall be beneath her.

Come along, meet some friendly locals, enjoy some great comedy. The support acts are Paul Myrehaug, Andrew West and Andrew Watts.

See you there!