Recently I’ve attended a few different shows that I’ve had booked up for a while. I enjoyed watching two of my favourite stand-up comedians for the first time, namely Sarah Millican & Chris McCausland, and I’ve also been to see Grease The Musical, where I had my first touch tour since Covid restrictions were lifted. One of those shows was in a small theatre I’m already familiar with and can navigate around reasonably well by myself, but the other two shows were in much larger venues that I had never been to before, and in those cases the assistance I received was excellent. And nothing here is sponsored or gifted of course. So I hope you enjoy reading my reviews of all of these events!
Sarah Millican – Bobby Dazzler
Since moving to London, one of the things I hadn’t got around to before the pandemic was attending stand-up shows by some of my favourite comedians. I was just too busy exploring and getting involved with other things, so it wasn’t a priority back then. I did go to a few shows at comedy clubs during that time though, which were also fun (and which I will continue to do occasionally), so I still got my comedy fix here and there.
But with restrictions lifted and normality returning, and the extra need to have a good laugh after everything we’ve endured, I’m making a concerted effort to go to stand-up shows fairly regularly. So I’ve booked up for several this year already, with more to come as time goes on, as I’m keeping an eye on all of my favourite comedians to see when they’re touring. I won’t be able to see them all, obviously, but I’ll try and get to some.
So Sarah Millican was my first comedian this year, and what a great way to kick things off. She’s a wonderful observational comedian with a very successful career, and she covers a lot of different topics in her shows, including her relationship with her husband (fellow comic Gary Delaney) and her family, stories about other people she meets, and other general thoughts on many aspects of life. And she isn’t afraid to poke fun at herself along the way. There are also fun sections where she opens things up to the audience, inviting them to call out with their own stories or suggestions on certain topics, which helps to make every show interactive and unique in its own way.
She’s one of those comedians who talks about things that you can relate to, and that personal recognition is where a lot of the humour stems from. Even when she’s embellished her stories for comic effect, it’s not always obvious, as her stories are rarely far-fetched. And she does make a few jokes about issues specific to women of course, including occasional discussions about periods and intimate body parts, but not in a way that’s alienating or nonsensical to the males in the audience. Her routines are for everybody to enjoy and laugh about, she makes sure of that. Her delivery is very friendly and natural, so it’s easy for her to keep the crowd engaged.
She’s a great supporter of accessibility as well, making the effort to include Alt Text on her Twitter and Instagram pictures, and adding description into the text of her Facebook posts for “blind and vision impaired smashers who have software that reads text aloud to them”. It’s a shame more people don’t make that kind of effort, so she deserves a lot of credit for that.
I therefore have all of her stand-up DVDs (all of which have subtitles – another accessibility win), which I really enjoy watching and will share reviews of in my next post. But this was the first time I had seen her live. And it was also my first visit to the Hammersmith Apollo, which is of course famous for stand-up comedy thanks to Live At The Apollo on TV and other DVDs that comedians have filmed there. But it’s also an iconic venue that many music artists have performed at, including Queen. It’s a huge and beautiful place.
It was really easy to get around in there too. All I had to do at the entrance was show the ticket barcode on my phone for them to scan, and pass through the airport-style security (emptying my pockets into a tray and walking through the body scanner). It took a matter of seconds, it was all very efficient.
I then asked for assistance to find my seat because I’m visually impaired, and they were only too happy to help, with a lovely lady called Helen quickly coming over and guiding me in to the auditorium. Then at the end of the show, she came up to me and offered to guide me out with the rest of the crowd – which I hadn’t realised she was going to do, but was really pleased that she did, as it was naturally very busy with thousands of people all being funnelled towards one exit. It took 5-10 minutes to file out of the building, so we had a nice chat along the way. I was telling her about shows I’ve seen or plan to see, and she was telling me about having Britain’s Got Talent in the venue during the week, with some of the strange acts they get on there, as well as some other shows they have coming up.
So thank you to Helen for her help there. I hadn’t pre-booked any assistance, the staff just happily supplied it when I asked for it on arrival, and Helen remembered to check on me at the end of the show. So I felt very well cared for and attended to. And consequently I’m really looking forward to returning to the venue later in the year, because I have more shows booked there.
As for Sarah Millican’s show, the term Bobby Dazzler is a complimentary term meaning that someone is outstanding, and she was indeed excellent. I had a good view from the 3rd row on the right side of the stalls too.
She was about 15 minutes late starting, but that was fine, and there was a good choice of upbeat songs playing while people took their seats and waited. She did a little bit of material to begin with, before introducing her support act Andy Robinson – who naturally wasn’t as good as her, but was still quite funny. The most memorable part of his set was when he did an impression of Nicki Minaj rapping about him being a bad comedian, which he was quite good at!
Then Sarah came on and did her full set, with the whole show (including her support act and a 20-minute interval) lasting about 2 hours altogether. And she was very funny as always. I don’t want to give too much away, naturally, as her tour is still ongoing, but some of the topics included eye tests, exercise, dieting, going to parties, nightwear, ageing and periods. There was also an interactive audience segment as usual, inevitably about the pandemic on this occasion, with answers relating to massages, chickens, boyfriends and babies!
At the end of the show Sarah explained that there were badges available saying “I Am A Bobby Dazzler”, as it’s a tradition that she gives out badges to her audiences. Helen kindly picked one up for me on our way out, so it’s nice to have that as a little souvenir.
She also promoted her online shop, through which she supports a couple of businesses she likes. So there are mugs from Spiffy saying “I Am A Bobby Dazzler” & “If It Was Easy, It’d Be Biscuits” (the latter will only make sense if you’ve seen the show!). And there are items of “Well Done Flower” jewellery from I Am Acrylic. There’s nothing there I want to buy personally, but it is nice stuff.
She also had an important message for the ladies in the audience about the importance of getting their mammograms, which many women get anxious about and avoid, even though it’s a very small discomfort that can be life-saving. And she encouraged people to donate to the Samaritans (which I did), who were at the venue with buckets. Always a very worthy cause.
So I really enjoyed the show, and will definitely aim to see her again on any future tours. And I know I’ll be visiting the Apollo again plenty of times too.
Grease The Musical
The day after I saw Sarah Millican, I went over to Tottenham Court Road in the heart of London to see an audio described performance of Grease The Musical at the Dominion Theatre, which is running until the end of October. It’s in another beautiful venue that I’d never been to before, but again the staff were very friendly and helpful.
The best part of this experience is that we had a touch tour before the show, which I know a few theatres have started doing again with their AD performances, but this is the first time I’ve been able to take part in one for over 2 years. So it was very exciting be able to have such a privileged experience again after so long.
We didn’t get to go on stage or meet the cast, as they were busy with their preparations, but we were taken to the bar area where a few of the backstage staff and technicians had some of the props and costumes out for us to look at. So we got to look at a record player, a transistor radio, a leather jacket worn by one of the Burger Palace Boys (the group of guys who are renamed the T-Birds in the film), a shiny pink outfit worn by one of the Pink Ladies, a few wigs for different characters, a fluffy spider used in the Halloween section, and the torch shone by the policeman. It was fascinating to get up close with such a variety of items, and chat to a few of the people working on the show along the way. It was very generous of them to give up their time for us, and really enhanced the experience of seeing the production itself afterwards.
The audio description also worked very well during the show. It was delivered via the Sennheiser MobileConnect app, which you can either use on your personal device with your own headphones (as I did on my iPhone, having used it for a few other shows in the past), or by borrowing one of the venue’s iPads with it loaded on there. As well as the very informative introduction in the pre-show notes, Kate Taylor-Davies and Tony McBride from the VocalEyes team were very good at describing what was going on during what is quite a busy and fast-paced show. During the musical numbers, for example, gaps between lyrics were used effectively with quick descriptions of the key moves taking place, almost like they were adding descriptive backing lyrics of their own.
The theatre staff were also very attentive before and during the show to make sure everything was working. During the interval I was approached by 2 lovely members of the theatre team, one of whom I remember was called Rebecca, along with audio describer Tony, to check that I was alright. So I felt very well cared for. And I even got a free little pot of ice cream in the interval thanks to the 2 generous American guys beside me, who I got chatting to! They live in Miami and were on their first holiday since the pandemic. It also turned out, after mentioning the show on Facebook later, that my friend Emily Davison from Fashioneyesta and her mother had been there too – they hadn’t had time to get there for the touch tour, but apparently they were in the audience somewhere!
And the show itself was brilliant of course. The story is extremely well known, following the lives of the teenagers at Rydell High School, particularly Danny (played here by Dan Partridge) and Sandy (played by Olivia Moore), who had a summer fling together, and are then reunited when she comes to the school for senior year. The peer pressure from his gang prevents him from accepting and showing his true feelings towards her, while she is pressured by the girls to look and act like them. But of course it works out for the two of them in the end. It’s not a hugely deep, thought-provoking story by any means, but then that’s not what you go to this for.
The show contains all of the big songs as you’d expect, with lots of enjoyable music, choreography and lighting, and the story flows very well too, with plenty of humour and a few touching moments. We were even allowed to film the megamix medley at the end, or sing and dance along with it if you knew the words and actions (suffice to say I took the former option!). Plus the big celebrity name in this production is Peter Andre, appearing in his first West End role playing Vince Fontaine. And while I’m not a fan of his music, he acted and sang very well in this. Like everyone else he was clearly enjoying himself.
I can’t make any comparisons to the film, as it’s been so very long since I last saw it, perhaps even as far back as my teenage years. So I don’t remember it in any detail now. And I haven’t seen any of the previous iterations of the stage musical either. So, while I knew the basic story and the most famous songs, it felt pretty fresh to me in many respects. Which is probably a good thing, it just allowed me to enjoy the show for what it was. I will watch the film again soon though.
There’s also a TV version of the musical called Grease Live!, along with a sequel to the film, both of which are available on Amazon Prime. I’ve never seen those before, so I might take a little look at them out of curiosity. Plus there was a prequel film in the works before the pandemic, though it’s not entirely clear if that’s still happening, and there’s a musical rom-com TV series that’s currently in production for streaming on Paramount+, but I’m not bothered about either of those particularly. I’m not a huge obsessive Grease fan, so I don’t need to see everything. The main musical is the most important and fun aspect of the whole franchise, and seeing it live is the best way to experience it, which I’ve now done.
So I’m very pleased I’ve finally seen Grease live, it was really good fun. And I bought the programme as well, which has lots of cool photos from the show, details about the cast, band and production team, a list of the songs, and information about the Dominion Theatre and the Nederlander Organisation that owns it. So it’s a very nice souvenir to have.
Chris McCausland – Speaky Blinder
Chris McCausland has been performing stand-up comedy to great acclaim for nearly 20 years, as well as doing little bits of acting here and there, and hasn’t let his blindness stop him. And while he’s appeared on many TV shows in that time, it feels like it’s in the past 4 years where he’s really broken through into the mainstream and become much more widely known, including to me, thanks to appearances on popular comedy programmes like Live At The Apollo (even hosting an edition earlier this year), Would I Lie To You?, Have I Got News For You, QI, 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown & The Last Leg, among others, while millions of people will also have seen him on EastEnders.
He was also interviewed for the Tracks Of My Life programme on RNIB Connect Radio in April, talking about his favourite music. And you can see Part 1 & Part 2 of an interview he did with the Enhanced Vision / Optelec Youtube channel.
So, having enjoyed his TV comedy appearances, and naturally wanting to support a visually impaired performer, I took the opportunity to see his new show Speaky Blinder at the Leicester Square Theatre, nabbing myself a great front row seat by booking early. I didn’t ask for assistance here, as I know my way around the small space just about well enough despite the dim lighting, and I know the seat numbers start from the right end, so I just carefully made my way down the aisle to the front and counted my way along.
The support act, Jon Long, came on first for about 20 minutes, and was quite good. He had a guitar with him, so his act was a mixture of talking and music, including songs about the items he saw people putting in the recycling when he worked at a tip as a tour guide, and another song about his hatred of jogging. So that was a fun start.
Chris then came on and did his full act, including a 20 minute interval, and he was brilliant. He was confident, relaxed and friendly, and his routine was a solid collection of hilarious jokes and anecdotes, all the more impressive considering he has to memorise it all and can’t rely on visual prompts, and he had to rewrite the show as a result of lockdown (like all comedians have had to do).
The material revolved around his life as a blind father and husband, and other general aspects of his life. It wasn’t all about the effects of being blind, but naturally as a major part of him it came up regularly, sometimes quite poignantly when he spoke from the heart about certain things, and it was always very interesting to learn more about it. Again I won’t spoil too much given that his tour is ongoing, but the topics he covered during the show included things like the impact of lockdown, exercising, meditation, using speech on mobile phones, his wife Patricia, the birth and growing-up of his daughter Sophie, and the way he imagines people and the world around him in his head. It was all very well written and constructed, including nice callbacks to earlier gags towards the end as well.
He did say he might stick around at the end to say hello to a few people, and he may well have done. But I didn’t know how long to wait or where he would be – and let’s face it, one visually impaired person trying to find another is always a challenge, especially in a dimly lit room! Plus I didn’t just want to loiter around on my own given that everyone else around me was making their way out anyway. So I just stuck with the crowd, left the theatre and came home. Getting to say hello would have been a nice bonus, but it wasn’t essential. His show was excellent, which was the important thing, and I’ll definitely look at going to future tours he does.
So that’s it, I hope you enjoyed reading about those shows, I can highly recommend them all. I’m really glad I’ve finally got around to seeing some of my favourite stand-up comics, and got to see another famous musical. And I’ve got a couple more theatre visits lined up for July as well, so I look forward to sharing those with you too!