Tag Archives: Leicester Square Theatre

The Museum of Comedy’s Monday Club – “London’s best ‘new material’ night”?

In London, there are loads of free ‘new material’ comedy nights. This often means inexperienced comedians turn up with half-written, half-baked half-ideas and the evenings can sometimes be more endurance test than entertainment.

One exception is the (in my experience) consistently good and – amazingly – free Monday Club show, held in The Museum of Comedy on – well – on Mondays.

The Museum of Comedy is a random collection of comedy memorabilia and a well-designed performance space in a crypt under St George’s Church in Bloomsbury.

It (The Museum of Comedy not the church) is owned by the Leicester Square Theatre and this coming Monday is the 1st anniversary of The Monday Club.  

So yesterday I chatted to David Hardcastle, who (with Tony Dunn & Patch Hyde) organises The Monday Club and runs comedy competitions for the Leicester Square Theatre and the Museum of Comedy.


David Hardcastle and (top) Tommy Cooper

JOHN: The majority of new material nights in London are – well – not very good but you always maintain a high quality. Genuinely.

DAVID: I hope so. It’s mostly invitation only – some people get in touch, but they have to be of a certain level. Because a lot or some of the acts know each other, there’s a sort of support group AND competitive element in it: they HAVE to write something new for it, otherwise people will know they’ve been lazy. 

JOHN: What is your actual title at the Theatre and Museum?

DAVID: Artist Development. 

JOHN: And comedy competition supremo…

DAVID: Well, originally, at Leicester Square, we just ran the one competition and now it’s the Leicester Square Theatre AND the Museum of Comedy AND the Great Yorkshire Fringe – and there are four competitions within them, so I’ve sort-of invented my own job.

One of the reasons for The Monday Club is we used to have people coming in through competitions but then we had nothing else to give them; no way of supporting them by giving them stage time unless they came back and rented the space to do a preview. So it’s hopefully a way of keeping those people in the loop and involved in the venue.

JOHN: You have a New Comedian of the Year competition, but you no longer have an Old Comedian of the Year competition.

DAVID: Now it’s called the Not So New Comedian of the Year.

JOHN: And the title was changed because…?

DAVID: A lot of people refused to enter a competition that had the word ‘Old’ in it. It is for comics over 35 years old and people argued 35 is not old enough to call anyone old!

JOHN: I say just give it to Lynn Ruth Miller every year: she’s 85!

DAVID: Well, she MCs it every year now.

JOHN: You sometimes MC at The Monday Club yourself, but not always.

DAVID: I quite enjoy it when I do it, but I never particularly want to do it.

JOHN: You’re not frustrated by putting acts on but you’re not one of them?

DAVID: You perform comedy and you reach a stage where you are sort-of competent but, if you’re not aged 23, it’s very hard to get further than that.

My full-time job is comedy admin, so I don’t have the time to perform as well, really. And I’m too lazy to perform. I’ve not written a joke in four years.

JOHN: Before comedy, you were doing what…?

David’s poster for US comic Doug Stanhope

DAVID: Graphic design, which I still do. I still do the design work for here and Leicester Square Theatre.

JOHN: Graphic designers and stand-up comics surely have a different mind-set?

DAVID: I think, if it’s a creative thing, that’s… Well, weirdly, there are a lot of comics from an art and design background. They start popping up online at this time of year saying Do you want poster designs for your Edinburgh Fringe show? 

I did fine art originally, at Bradford College of Art.

JOHN: You are from Bradford.

DAVID: Yes. Then I did an MA at Camberwell in London. There is no money in doing fine art, but you can make a living doing graphics. So I started doing that by accident.

JOHN: You used to run a night called Get Happy in Farringdon.

DAVID: My girlfriend at the time and I had both done Logan Murray’s comedy course and running Get Happy was an easy way to get stage time.

JOHN: You did Logan Murray’s course because…?

DAVID: I think stand-up comedy is one of those things where you always fancy giving it a go.

JOHN: Not me.

DAVID: I had always fancied doing stand-up.

JOHN: So you started in…?

DAVID: Around 2007, I think.

JOHN: And now you are in theatre management and Artist Development… So do you get a hard-on by finding new talent? I will think of some better way of phrasing that when I transcribe this.

DAVID: I’m spunking my pants even as we speak.

JOHN: Perhaps I will leave it in, then, if that’s the phrase.

Behind The Scenes at the Museum… of Comedy

DAVID: I know what you mean, though. When I first started running my own comedy night, I actually found that there was more satisfaction in putting an entire night together that works than there was going up myself and performing. I just found there was something really nice about the fact that people would come into a pub and watch something for an hour and a half and go away happy.

JOHN: Because you had structured it well.

DAVID: Exactly. There are so many comedy nights that aren’t structured and are just a shambles and then they wonder why they don’t work.

JOHN: I think club owner Malcolm Hardee’s rule-of thumb was you end with the best act, start-off with the second best act and have a good solid act at the end of Part One. So what is your template structure?

DAVID: Don’t let people bang on too long and let the audience know what’s happening.

JOHN: The acts all get 5 minutes.

DAVID: Yeah. It’s all about keeping it in manageable chunks, I think. And proper lighting; proper sound.

JOHN: Have the nights got better over the course of the first year?

DAVID: Yes. Because we have started to get some regulars in the audience. People don’t come back every week but, if we ask at the start, usually at least half of them have been before, which means we now have an audience that knows what’s going on and are on-board with the concept. Which is nice. You start with a warm audience, so it’s better.

We want it to be relaxed for the audience AND the acts. One of the reasons we start at 7.00pm and finish by 9.00pm is it leaves time to have a chat afterwards.

Crypt-ic comedy under a Bloomsbury church

JOHN: The acts you have on are good solid acts but not ‘TV names’ or mega names. Are the Big Names too big to play The Monday Club?

DAVID: I think audiences generally are more aware of the concept of new material now. I think once you reach a certain level, you can do a whole hour of new material rather than rock up and do five minutes. The Big Names can do an hour and sell tickets to it. Michael McIntyre has been here at the Museum of Comedy doing new material. Alexei Sayle is on for a week with a new show.

JOHN: When they’re Big and more experienced, they can try out entire shows rather than five minute chunks, which is the Monday Club format.

DAVID: Yes. But Josh Widdicombe has done a Monday Club. Rachel Parris did one.

JOHN: Next Monday is going to be a special show to celebrate your 1st anniversary?

DAVID: Yes, we are going to have on exactly the same people we were going to have on before we realised it was our birthday.

JOHN: But with added free cake, I heard.

DAVID: Oh yes. We’re having cake.

JOHN: Then I’ll be here.

DAVID: We have started describing it as “London’s best new material night” purely on the grounds it is difficult to prove any different.

JOHN: I like your way of thinking.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy

“Variety is Back and it’s Slightly Fat…”

“It is a marketing nightmare,” Slightly Fat Features originator Goronwy Thomas aka Goronwy Thom told me.

Wednesday to Saturday this coming week, Slightly Fat Features are back at the Leicester Square Theatre in London with The Slightly Fat Show. Six shows in four days – four evening shows; two matinees. Their blurb reads:

“Stuffed to the seams with staggering stunts, lots of laughs and orchestrated mayhem to dazzle and delight. Hard to describe until you witness it live. Suitable for kids but not a kids’ show. Cirque du Soliel meets Monty Python. This unique group has to be seen live to be truly understood!”

For once, a marketing blurb that is true.

“So why a marketing nightmare?” I asked.

“Because,” Goronwy told me, “we are straddling two things. We are a family-friendly show – it is totally clean; there’s no swearing. But, as soon as you are seen as a family show, you can lose a comedy audience, because they don’t want to see a kids’ show. And, if you are billed as a comedy show, you can lose the kids’ audience. That really has been a marketing problem for us.”

“Is that why you are doing matinees AND evening shows?” I asked.

Showstoppers do two shows,” said Goronwy. “There is Showstoppers For Kids and then there is also the normal one as well. We have done some late-night stuff and all-adult stuff. In Leicester Square, the 4.00pm shows will be very very family-based and the 7.00pm ones won’t be so much but, to be honest, the show stays exactly the same. We are straddling two things.”

“Have you got an elevator pitch for the show?” I asked. “A strapline?”

“Variety is back and it’s Slightly Fat,” said Goronwy.

When I saw their show in 2014, it included juggling, cling-film escapology, a pantomime horse, a classic quick-change sketch, a cup-and-ball routine, a Rolf Harris painting routine (presumably we won’t be seeing that again!), a song-and-dance routine, ‘Find The Lady’ with a real person’s head, a diabolo routine spanning the auditorium, a cute dog, occasional things going wrong (all scripted, I think), an audience participation song and a sawing-in-half magic routine… all with presentational twists, superb attention to detail and knowing post-modern nods and glances to the audience. The show got a standing ovation from the genuinely ordinary punter-filled audience at the end.

Before that, I had seen Slightly Fat member Herbie Treehead at the Glastonbury Festival; he also performed in this year’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe.

“Will they,” I asked Goronwy, “be the same seven people I saw in 2014?”

“Always the same seven since 2010. But, of course, with lots of new material.”

“You been trying it out somewhere?” I asked.

“Lancaster, Canterbury, York, Sidmouth, a lot of places to run it in.”

“All seven of you?”

“Mostly. One of our members – Richard Garaghty – has been filming Tim Burton’s Dumbo. He’s been doing that most of this year, dipping in and out of our try-outs, but he’s doing all the shows in Leicester Square.”

“Where did you started Slightly Fat Features?” I asked.

“Sidmouth in Devon.”

“That’s a slightly odd place to start.”

Slightly Fat Features – extremely indescribable

“A lot of us were old friends from street performing in Covent Garden. Some had known each other since the early 1990s though I didn’t meet any of them until about 2000. Then, when I moved from London to Sidmouth, I wanted an excuse for my mates to come down, so I put on a gig. We did that again and again and brought in guest variety and speciality acts until, in 2010, we said: Let’s just do it as the seven of us.

“We did stuff at the Roundhouse in London and it went on from there. The Edinburgh Fringe in 2013. Montreal in 2014. London’s West End in 2014. We all still work individually or as duos. We come together as Slightly Fat three or four or five times a year.”

“It must be a nightmare finding gaps in your schedules and getting together.”

“It is, but it’s worth it.”

“But you won’t,” I suggested, “have any creative clashes because your skills don’t particularly overlap.”

“Not really. And, since about 2013, Petra Massey has done additional direction on top of it and she acts as a sort of UN peacemaker. Where a routine ends. Certain lines. Certain gags. Looking at the bigger picture sometimes. If you get that laugh there, it might underwhelm the bigger picture. Especially with character comedy. Yeah, it DOES get a laugh, but let’s lose it so we can get a bigger laugh later on. Those kind of discussions. And avoiding in-jokes.”

“Why these seven people? Was there a conscious balancing of skills?”

“Originally, we were nine. Then one moved to New Zealand and one dropped out. I don’t think there was any conscious deciding: Oh, he’s a juggler; he’s an escapologist. It was just people who liked spending time together and developing stuff.”

“All seven of you continue to do separate street acts?” I asked.

“Yes. Apart from Robert Lee, who’s a musician. Me and Richard Garaghty have worked a lot as a double act for years now, mainly at European street festivals. And ‘booked street performing’, where you are invited to a town to perform. About a third of my work is probably still outdoor work and you can’t beat it for the immediacy and improvisation with stuff happening. It’s unbeatable for that, though you have to be careful you don’t get too stylistically lost in it.”

“How?”

“Sometimes, in order to keep an audience and sustain them and make them pay you, you have to… Well, I have seen brilliant street performers go inside on a stage in a theatre and their style needs a bit of tweaking, otherwise it can be a bit shouty. Because you have more focus from an audience in a theatre. Street performers are just talking and talking and talking and talking. In a theatre, you can get away with more quiet parts. Street style can sometimes be too fast in a theatre.”

“With seven people to divide it between, you’re not going to make money.”

“No,” Goronwy laughed. “We are seven plus a stage manager sometimes plus accommodation, travel. We are absolutely not going to be hugely rich from it. But it’s a place where we can develop material; that’s a golden thing to have.”

“Have you got a five-year plan?” I asked.

“No. My five-year plan is not to have a five-year plan.”

“I understand,” I said, “that The Boy With Tape on His Face has always had five-year plans.”

“I think it’s destined to underwhelm you – you might not get there. Or you might find it too easy to get there and it puts up a barrier I don’t think we need. But there have been discussions about whether or not we should have one – exactly because of The Boy With Tape on His Face. Exactly that.”

“Have you thought,” I asked, “about America’s Got Talent?”

“That is,” agreed Goronwy, “what Boy With Tape on His Face did. And Piff and Paul Zerdin.”

“I think,” I said, “Mr Methane, farteur of this parish, was in the semi-finals of Germany’s Got Talent. He is not German.”

“We haven’t been approached by America’s Got Talent yet,” said Goronwy, “but we have been by Britain’s Got Talent.”

“Well,” I said, “I think everyone should appear on anything and everything because you never know where things may lead, but a lot of people disagree.”

“In the professional industry,” Goronwy replied, “as far as I can tell, America’s Got Talent has got more prestige than Britain’s Got Talent; and it might break you into the States – Piff went over there and now he is touring the US.”

“The seven of you are good enough for Vegas,” I said.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Music Halls

In Paul Boyd’s wonderful Molly Wobbly musical, one Tit has been chopped off

Molly Wobbly’s wonderful Tit Factory at the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe

Paul Boyd’s “astonishing” show at the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe

Paul Boyd wrote the intro and outro music for my chum Janey Godley and Ashley Storrie’s weekly podcast.

He has also written 22 musicals. So he is an interesting man.

When I saw his musical Molly Wobbly’s Tit Factory at the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe, I wrote in my blog that it was “astonishing. It has more catchy tunes in it than all of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals combined… It is a combination of Rocky Horror style exuberance, British music hall jollity and the best of West End musicals… Its effervescent vitality is quite something to behold.”

Now the show is about to start at the Leicester Square Theatre with a week of previews starting on 27th January, followed by an initial six-week run. The cast now includes Spike Milligan’s daughter Jane.

Paul outside the Leicester Square Theatre

Paul outside the Leicester Square Theatre

I had a chat with Paul Boyd in Leicester Square this week.

“I see,” I told him, “that the title has lost the words Tit Factory. It is now just called Molly Wobbly. Is that for commercial reasons?”

“Yes,” admitted Paul. “The pressures of commercial theatre. Not so much for London but, if it ever ended up touring the regions, you would never get the original title into a brochure. The one thing I always fought for was the title, but I finally gave up last year when I had a fight with Transport For London who would not advertise it. They wouldn’t advertise Molly Wobbly’s T*t Factory and they said: We wouldn’t even advertise Molly Wobbly’s *** Factory.

“I thought: Well, if I’ve got those sort of problems in London, imagine what it will be like in Bridlington or Bath. At Leicester Square, they are selling it as Rocky Horror meets Carry On meets Little Shop of Horrors. That’s fine. If you can sell it as that, do it.”

“Well,” I said, “my view on most things is: Write it as Art. Sell it as baked beans.

“Well, that’s it,” said Paul. “And, if you can sell that title…”

“I think it’s a really good title,” I said. “And pure kitsch is saleable.”

Molly Wobbly Leicester Square flyers

Flyers for upcoming Leicester Square Theatre’s production

“That’s how you market it,” said Paul. “But, if you sit down to write it, you have to be prepared not to tie up loose ends. You have to think: I’m just going to go completely off the wall. All my other shows are very neat. When I sat down to write Molly Wobbly, I had no idea where it was going or how it was going to end. With Molly, I didn’t even know what a Tit Factory was when I started.”

“You thought of the title first?” I asked.

“Yes. Because it was for a competition I did not want to win. In 2006, Cameron Macintosh ran a competition to write a musical for a theatre which was opening in Inverness.”

“The Eden Court?” I asked.

“Yes. I was asked if I would submit an entry, but I didn’t have time to write a musical. I was touring South Korea or Taiwan with another musical and had loads on. The rules for the competition said you could submit ‘up to ten minutes’ of material from the full-length show. I didn’t have the full-length show, so I wrote a 10-minute musical and made it sound like an extract, and, to make sure they would never ask for the rest of it, I decided to call it something that no-one would ever produce and the words just came into my mind: Molly Wobbly’s Tit Factory. And, inevitably, it got short-listed. I had to pull out of the competition because I had no time to write it and no idea what it was about.

“It stayed as a 10-minute musical for about four years and then the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, heard the 10-minute extract and wanted to commission a full-length show and they twisted my arm and convinced me and I sat down thinking: What the hell is a Tit Factory and what happens there?”

A song from the original Lyric, Belfast production is on YouTube:

“What was your elevator pitch for Molly?” I asked.

“I’ve never found a succinct way of selling it. It’s about giving a woman a makeover and, by the end, the town of Little Happening has got a makeover. It’s about people bettering themselves and getting their ideals, whether or not that’s everybody’s ideal – and people, under the influence of a potion, deciding how they can be sexier or more beautiful.”

“With laughs,” I said.

“Lots of titters,” said Paul.

“How does anyone decide they want to write musicals?” I asked.

“Well,” said Paul, “I did Gilbert & Sullivan at school in Belfast and I’m a big G&S fan to this day. I had a good music teacher called John Ross Dallas – JR Dallas.”

“Like me,” I said. “I had a music teacher at school who loved G&S – They are SO clever and SO funny.”

Gilbert & Sullivan

G & S + Carry OnRocky Horror Show = Molly Wobbly

“At the age of 16,” Paul told me, “I played Coco in The Mikado and, at 17, I played Major-General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance. I performed those things and I suddenly realised that there was something I was good at. All my teachers who had ignored me, because I was useless in all of their classes, were suddenly talking to me. I remember the Physical Education teacher came and congratulated me. I hadn’t spoken to him about anything other than chilblains for about seven years.

“Then I went to the University of Ulster to do a History degree and changed subjects to Theatre Studies. I ended up doing a terrible course which was so bad I decided the only way I was going to have fun was to write a musical. I was 19 and wrote a show called Macbeth: The Musical in 1992. A producer came to see it, bought the rights and toured it all round Ireland. So I had a show touring at the age of 20 and I haven’t stopped since, maybe because I’m afraid of trying anything else.

“Originally, writing musicals was an accident – a way of having something to do as an actor. Then I stopped acting in them and just wrote them.”

“You’ve written rather a lot of musicals,” I said.

Molly Wobbly was No 18 or 19. I’ve done 22 now.”

“But not,” I said, “without problems in Molly’s case…”

Molly Wobbly Hackney Empire Gary Wilmott

Gary Wilmott in unseen Hackney Molly Wobbly

“2013 was a very strange year,” said Paul. “The show had been a big hit at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012. The Leicester Square Theatre wanted to put it on at Christmas 2012, but it wasn’t my call in those days: the show was owned by other people. There was this idea that it would go to the Hackney Empire and it was happening and then suddenly it wasn’t happening. It fell through at a day’s notice.”

There is a promo on YouTube for the unseen Hackney Empire production.

“We had rehearsed the show for three weeks,” explained Paul. “We had a fabulous cast and had wonderful production team – we had decades and centuries of experience. It was Friday morning and we were due to open that night. Then the finance all fell through on the day we were due to open. The money suddenly wasn’t there.

“Then, in 2014, I got the rights back and I was free to do what I wanted with it. So last year, we did a stage concert of it at the Phoenix Artists’ Club and then we were invited to take it to the Leicester Square Theatre.

Paul Boyd - Things are looking up now

Things – very much looking up this week for Paul Boyd

“There was a guy called Christopher Malcolm, who has now passed away. He was involved in the Rocky Horror company – he played the original Brad, directed all the big Rocky Horror shows in the 1990s and, in 2012, he started working with me on Molly Wobbly’s Tit Factory and helped me shape it from the 2011 one-Act version to the Edinburgh Fringe shows which you saw in 2012.

“Christopher’s plan for the show was always to start it small, like they did with Rocky Horror – to start it as a cult thing. He was always wary of the plans to take it to the Hackney Empire or anywhere that big – not because it was Hackney, but because it was a 1,200-seater theatre.

“He passed away in February 2014, so he never got to see it at the Phoenix, but that was very much in keeping with his plan. The Lyric in Belfast was 300 and the Edinburgh Fringe venue was 400. The Phoenix Artists’ Club was 40 or 50.

“Where we are going to be in the Leicester Square Theatre sits 70. So it has the right feel. You’re actually sitting in Mammary Lane. It’s almost immersive. It feels like an undergroundy show with room to grow. If it grows, fine; if it always stays a little cult show, also fine.”

The YouTube promo for the original Lyric Theatre/Edinburgh Fringe shows gives a good flavour of the show:

2 Comments

Filed under Music, Theatre

A Hardee annual celebration: St Malcolm’s Day and the story of the penis in the flying frozen chicken

I thought I knew most things about the late “godfather of British alternative comedy” Malcolm Hardee, who drowned at the end of January 2005. We met around 1985, I wrote his autobiography for him in 1996 and, in his memory until 2017, I am organising (if that’s the word) the annual Malcolm Hardee Awards for comedy.

But I didn’t know there has been an annual piss-up in South London every February since he died. Apparently, for the last five years, the first Monday in February has seen a celebration of Malcolm’s life

Gordon ‘Bres’ Breslin tells me next Monday (7th February) is the day this year.

“That’s the day,” he writes, “that the Beckenham Tunnel Club and Up the Creek hecklers get together for what we call St. Malcolm’s Day. We had a memorial lunch to Malcolm on the first Monday in February 2005 as a way of getting over the loss of a comedy legend and we have been doing it ever since. We get together just to reminisce about the bizarre acts he put on and Malcolm’s own routines. So if you are passing the La Rascasse bar and restaurant in Beckenham High Street any time from 1.30pm through to late evening please feel free to join us.”

Alas, on Monday evening I’m going to the Fringe Report Awards at the Leicester Square Theatre, but I’ll certainly be popping in to Beckenham in the afternoon.

Bres also told me this anecdote about Malcolm. It was May 1997, it was Whitsun Bank Holiday Sunday and Bres’ birthday and what better way to celebrate, he thought, than a trip Malcolm’s Up the Creek comedy club in Greenwich…

“We took our usual seats in the first row by the stage,” Bres told me. “A double act came on for the Open Spot. Their act had something to do with a frozen chicken. They were obviously novices at this game and posh with it: you could sense the crowd smelled virgin blood and would up the heckle levels.

“What must have been a funny skit to their pals in a ski chalet in Verbier went down like Eddie Shit doing his Freddie Mercury impression. As the act disintegrated, the duo chucked their frozen chicken into the audience in disgust. Naturally, it was thrown back at them but it didn’t quite reach the stage. I’d never seen a live chicken fly through the air let alone a frozen one and it was bloody heavy. It landed on my table and I kept it warm and safe from further abuse. It was my birthday, after all.

“Later, Malcolm was bringing the evening to an end when, flush with birthday alcohol, I thought I should get on stage with the now de-frosting chicken. It seemed a good idea at the time, because my mate Adrian had somehow got on the panda and was playing his harmonica as a duo with Malcolm. So I got on stage with the frozen chicken and suggested that Malcolm should stick his knob in it.

“The, by now, very vocal audience thought this would be a great idea and, so as not to disappoint, Malcolm duly whipped out his knob and oversized bollocks and stuck the whole bundle in, giblet to giblet as it were.

“I’ve often wondered whether the double act seeing this happen incorporated it into their own act!”

So I will certainly be celebrating St Malcolm’s Day with Bres and his pals this Monday 7th February at La Rascasse, 59-63 Beckenham High Street, London BR3 1AW.

It starts at 1.30pm and goes on way through to late evening.

Gordon Breslin is at gobres@btinternet.com

From now on, I will be putting St Malcolm’s Day in my diary every year.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy