The legendary show, The Good Old Days, returns to City Varieties Music Hall to delight Leeds crowds once more. Though the target demographic for this show is undoubtedly not the younger generation, I think this is a nostalgic, sentimental show that has the potential to delight a range of audiences.
With lovely tribute to the late Johnny Dennis, legendary ‘Chairman’ of The Good Old Days, David Graham takes on the role with respect and does a wonderful job. He seems nervous and not entirely comfortable handling the audience, but his cute one-liners are received warmly by the crowd.
Jan Hunt opens the show with some classic musical hall tunes and, though I don’t know them, the audience seems to enjoy singing along. Opera singer Judith Hibbert does much of the same, and the duo team up in the second half to deliver a rather uncomfortable innuendo-filled ditty dressed as Missionaries. The audience laughs and sings along as it’s clearly of a certain era, but I find it a bit of a cheap laugh.
This theme continues with classic comedian John Styles MBE. His performance in the first act contains some magic and comedy, which drags a little, but it’s his second set I really don’t understand. ‘The Chelsea Pensioner’ makes a few very non-PC jokes which I find very jarring. More worryingly still, the audience absolutely laps it up. I would argue that jokes about pedophiles and rapists never really should be counted as funny, but these days I personally don’t think they’re acceptable and I find his time on stage goes by painfully slowly.
Now on to the good stuff (because thank heavens for variety). Andy Eastwood is simply incredible – not only is he likable and funny, he’s extraordinarily talented. Ever heard the William Tell Overture played on the banjolele? It’s an absolute delight. He mixes up his two slots on the bill with a range of well-known Music Hall songs and classical hits – all on the banjolele, ukulele and violin. Pretty astonishing stuff!
In my view, the only person on the bill who doesn’t get some serious bonus points / leeway for the nostalgia-factor is comedian juggler Goronwy Thom. He’s very funny and extremely talented at juggling (sometimes… we’ll forget the slight mistakes and droppages as he handles it all with humour which actually adds to the act). He has to deal with the toughest crowd, too, and it seems the younger audience members like him the most for his fresh, new take on comedy juggling and his likable banter with the audience. He’s less classic Musical Hall and more contemporary variety, which is right up my street. I’d definitely see his solo show if he came back up to Leeds (please).
Headlining the show is the ever-incredible Billy Pearce. If you’ve seen him in Panto, you’ll know exactly what his style of comedy is. He’s an absolute class act and performs with his very own brand of energy that has me in stitches throughout both sets. As well as hilarious one-liners and short one-man sketches (acted like a pro), he sings, dances and improvises with the audience. At one point, a particularly a charming elderly lady gets involved with his routine in an impromptu manner, which Billy Pearce handles stunningly like the kind-humoured gent he is well-known for being. His improvised, off-the-cuff witty lines are often funniest, and in my view he is one of Britain’s best comedians. I’ve grown up idolising him from his work in the pantomime, so it was a dream come true for me to see him perform a comedy set – and what a treat it was.
Without Billy Pearce, I’m not sure the show would have been remotely as enjoyable – the cringey moments probably outweighing the laughs (and even then the funny moments are mainly provided by Goronwy Thom, if I’m honest). However, with more The Good Old Days shows in the pipeline at City Varieties, it’s certainly worth going along and getting the chance to see a range of performers. For those wanting to reminisce on The Good Old Days, this show hits the spot. With a few tweaks to the bill, this can also be a top-quality variety show for all to enjoy. Definitely worth checking out future line-ups.