Push festival returns to Manchester’s HOME to showcase some of the most exciting creative talents in the North West. On a bill which boasts a wide variety of theatre, film and workshops, there is just the one night devoted to comedy. Although lacking slightly in quantity, they more than make up for it in quality with a double bill of surreal sketch comedy from The Delightful Sausage and brutally honest stand up from Jonny Pelham.
Up first is The Delightful Sausage, with their Edinburgh Comedy Award nominated show Ginsters Paradise. The duo, Amy Gledhill and Christopher-Louise Cantrill, present a nightmarish vision of a Butlins-style holiday camp in a performance which is somewhere between sketch show and play. Amy and Chris are salmon coats (if you like deliberately tenuous puns, there’s plenty more where that came from) at the grotty Ginsters holiday resort, but with monstrous mascots and guarded fences, things are not as they seem.
The duo’s brand of comedy is surreal, gross and spectacularly silly. There are flavours of Reeves and Mortimer to their personae: goofy northerners on the surface, but downright distributing underneath. A routine which starts as a karaoke singalong of Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual”, but twists into horrifying visuals and repetition of the line “I wanna die” sets the tone for the show. Like Reeves and Mortimer, there’s a touch of the art school, with on-screen animations used throughout and a mascot costume that’s given me nightmares.
Though the gags themselves are far from intellectual, the show is cleverly constructed with a series of unexpected call backs in the final 10 minutes and an overarching plot which I was surprisingly invested in. The duo is impressively dextrous, using elements of film, excellent sound design and audience participation. Chris and Amy’s greatest asset though is their chemistry – it’s clear from the very first line that we’re in safe hands and the audience are made to feel in on the joke as they go off script to make each other laugh.
There’s a huge shift in tone with Jonny Pelham’s Off Limits. I had no idea what to expect coming into this show, so when Jonny started by delivering gags about his love life and dodgy living circumstances, I thought we might be in for a more pedestrian affair than the chaotic cabaret we’d enjoyed before the interval. This was soon shattered when Jonny dropped the bombshell that he was sexually abused at 8 years old. At first the audience tensed up, as it wasn’t entirely clear whether this was an off-colour joke. As he went on though, it became clear that the effects of abuse on his life and the journey taken to want to speak about it publicly were the main themes of the whole show.
Comedy shows about ‘serious issues’ have been on trend in the past decade, the pinnacle of which was arguably Hannah Gadsby’s stunning Nanette, which won the Edinburgh Comedy Award in 2017. Unlike Nanette though, Off Limits doesn’t often seem heavy. Every moment of Jonny’s emotional vulnerability is accompanied by a hilarious take-down of his own personality flaws. He is brutally, sometimes shockingly honest, but his delivery is candid and never preachy. He’s a master storyteller and has a talent for making big observations about society by integrating the minutia of his everyday behaviour into them.
It was a shame to see two such brilliant and inventive shows in an audience dwarfed by HOME’s Theatre 1. I’d love to see Push festival expand its comedy line-up in the future (give Foxdog Studios a show!) and I’m hoping more people go to see it. But it’s hard to fault HOME’s curation and the Comedy Night has proved that boundary-pushing comedy isn’t the preserve of London alone.