Review: Guinea Pigs comedy night @ Manchester’s Sandbar, 10/08/16
One of Manchester’s finest ‘pay what you feel’ nights, Guinea Pigs specialises in the brand new. Whether that’s acts new to the circuit and finding their feet, or more established acts trying out new material and new directions, Guinea Pigs (as the name suggests) can all be a bit experimental.
While regular compère Red Redmond is away at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, showcasing his “drag princess” alter-ego Scarlet SoHandsome north of the wall, Guinea Pigs is left in the highly capable hands of Kate McCabe.
McCabe, with her chirpy American delivery and wild enthusiasm, is a great fit for Guinea Pigs. She maintains a friendly, supportive atmosphere throughout the show, playing to her strengths as a self-confessed geek by questioning the audience on Suicide Squad, Pokémon Go, and other pop-culture subjects. This kind of supportive atmosphere is ideal for a night like this, allowing the acts to experiment without fear that the audience will turn on them for an error of judgement or delivery, and McCabe cultivates it expertly.
First on the bill was Manchester native Danny Sutcliffe. Oddly, much of the material he arrived with appeared never to make it into his set. A few remarks and pieces of material clearly in the early stages of development surfaced from time to time, but Sutcliffe’s tendency to get distracted led to them being buried under a series of tangents. Fortunately, the tangents – a mixture of incredulous anecdotes and odd semi-rants about parts of society he doesn’t comprehend, filtered through The Simpsons-based pornography – seemed the more entertaining option of the two. Despite the clearly unstructured and largely improvised material, he delivered an entertaining show with a well-judged ending.
Next up, relative newcomer Hannah Platt, whose dark, misanthropic and downright miserable material comes as a sudden about-face after McCabe’s cheery introduction. This is well-written and well-performed material, touching on self-harm, depression and other dark subjects, and all delivered in a deadpan style with buckets of self-deprecation. Platt herself looks like she would be much more at home in a university prospectus’ bar scene than delivering such gloomy material, but that visual juxtaposition serves to imbue a reasonably well-trodden comic persona with a welcome millennial twist.
Adam Blaze was the other newcomer on the evening’s bill. In contrast to Platt, he has yet to develop a clear sense of comic persona, or any consistent idea of what style of comedy he wants to do. He delivered a mixed bag of different styles and, despite some strong material and good gags, the chop-and-change approach didn’t do Blaze any favours, making it difficult to build any kind of momentum. A fairly obvious newcomer, Blaze clearly doesn’t yet have the confidence required to make some of his material work the way it definitely could, but there are some very good jokes here, and a bit more experience would go a long way.
Headliner Chris Brooker of the booming voice and Somerset tones took the stage and immediately informed the audience that he used to look scruffier than he now does. Much of his act seemed largely improvised, bouncing off audience interactions to deliver jokes and anecdotes about his own failings and eccentricities. Brooker has been on the circuit for a while, and the usual compère’s trick of using audience interaction to segue from improvisation into pre-prepared material was used to full effect. Some of Brooker’s material has had several outings before, but mixed in with the new material it is testament to his skill that none of it seems either stale or underprepared, instead flowing naturally as a coherent, polished act.
Evenings like these, with their emphasis on new and untested comedy, can occasionally be a bit hit-and-miss. Guinea Pigs, however, blends the new and the established acts well, and delivers high-quality nights with many of the same headliners as the expensive clubs. Not bad when the entry fee is “whatever spare change you happen to have”, right?
Guinea Pigs is at Sandbar (Grosvenor Street) on the second Wednesday of each month.