After the longest six months of our respective lifetimes, it brings me real joy to be able to once again attend a live entertainment show. The Liverpool Theatre Festival is a nine-day collection of standalone shows covering numerous genres, all emanating from the Bombed Out Church. After a bit of forced rescheduling, the first of these events was one designed to tickle the famous Scouse funny bone, that being a presentation from Laughterhouse Comedy, and to say that it achieved its primary goal would be an understatement.
Chris Cairns served as our host, offering a mini routine of his own prior to and between each act. As the compère, he introduced three acts who all offered their own specific brand of stand-up comedy: Neil Fitzmaurice, Steve Royle and Daliso Chaponda, Fitzmaurice is perhaps best known for his TV work, appearing in the likes of Phoenix Nights and Peep Show, though he is something of a local stand-up legend in Liverpool, making him an easy inclusion. Royle is currently a finalist on Britain’s Got Talent, a competition that can be truly life-changing for its winner as well as some of the runner-ups (ask Susan Boyle), so it was fun to see him perform live during this crucial period of his career. As for Chaponda, he has BGT experience of his own, having come third in 2017, but I had seen him perform a few months prior to the TV show and thoroughly enjoyed his act, so I knew I was in for a treat with him on the bill again here.
Due to circumstances which should be obvious (assuming you haven’t lived under a rock and avoided the news for the past six months, though that wouldn’t be a bad strategy to get through the Coronavirus pandemic to be fair), the show was a streamlined affair, totalling just under 90 minutes from start to finish, and with each act having approximately 20 minutes each, and Cairns having an opening 10-15 minutes with some amusing transitions between performers. Similar time scales will be applied to the other Liverpool Theatre Festival shows, which not only complies with current guidelines but leaves attendees wanting more, which is always a good thing.
Before I get to the comedians themselves, let’s talk about how the organisation of this event was spot-on. Many reading this may be anxious about attending live shows due to the fact that the pandemic is far from over, but the team (led by Bill Elms) couldn’t have done a better job of keeping everybody safe and secure. Upon entry, attendees had their temperatures checked and their hands sanitised, with the request (but not the demand) to bring along a face-mask (I wore mine throughout the night, though I also kept the hood of my coat up throughout as well, since it was a chilly evening!). In terms of seating, there was room for around 200 people, but the chairs were separated accordingly based on how many tickets were bought per group. As a reviewer, I sat alone with plenty of space around my person, while a family of four sat together in front of me. This put me at great ease and should be very reassuring for potential customers who don’t want to take their chances alongside strangers just yet. What’s more, drinks were ordered via QR codes shown on their tickets, and the staff themselves wore masks when serving beverages. All of these measures won’t be necessary forever, but they are necessary for the time being, and they should remove all doubts about being safe and secure when attending the Liverpool Theatre Festival. How this transfers to more established venues remains to be seen, but for this occasion, I was totally comfortable and very impressed with how the situation was handled.
Onto the performers now, and I think we can all agree that after the past half-year, we could all do with a good laugh. Cairns, Fitzmaurice, Royle and Chaponda all came through aplenty in this regard: Chris was a fantastic host, setting the tone right from the off (“It’s actual people! Actual f–king people!”), bringing a cheery outlook to proceedings from the get-go, and getting big laughs early from an audience who, now more than ever, were there to relax and have a good time. All four men tackled various aspects of the Covid pandemic, and why wouldn’t they? Whether it was addressing the initial panic buying of loo rolls, the sky-rocketing divorce rates during lockdown, and even the potential obesity-related drawbacks of the Eat Out To Help Out scheme, it was nice to be able to put aside the doom and gloom of the ongoing state of the world and to laugh at some of the more ludicrous aspects of everything related to life from mid-March onwards.
Going into deeper detail, each comedian also had a different approach that stands as their personal trademark. For Chris, it was about getting to know members of the audience, whether it be discussing the personality of a policeman from Glasgow or an imminent groom on his stag do dressed as Zelda. For Neil, it was chatting about family life, and how he and his children have various standards on what constitutes a worthy Christmas present. For Steve, it was about showing his juggling talents that have allowed him to garner attention from the likes of Amanda Holden and David Walliams. And for Daliso, it was about explaining the true and positive reality of his upbringing (“people think I was poor, but we had a Volvo!”), and why the other global news topic of the past few months – the Black Lives Matter movement – has been beneficial in ways that aren’t immediately obvious. I personally thought that Daliso stole the show, having the audience in uproar with his occasionally outrageous yet totally spot-on viewpoints, so much so that I could have listened to him alone for another hour.
I also have to give a mention to the venue. The Bombed Out Church, or St. Luke’s Church to provide its proper title, was a perfect setting for this event under the circumstances. The open-air location gave this a genuine festival feeling (as intended), and it also allowed for cool lighting and an awesome back-drop for the night’s entertainment. I got the vibe that I was at a performance staged as part of a wedding celebration, and though there was no bride and groom (well, the guy dressed as Zelda ticked that box I suppose), I still felt that this was something pretty special indeed. The Church had been used for occasional events in the past, but I personally hope that we get collaborations like this again in the future at this venue; as a monthly or even a quarterly event, I would cherish being able to attend live shows at the Bombed Out Church beyond the climax of the Liverpool Theatre Festival.
To be honest, just being able to go to a show again made this a success, but the Liverpool Theatre Festival knocked it out of the park with the Laughterhouse Comedy event. Everybody was happy to be in attendance and just wanted to enjoy themselves, and all four comedians stepped up to the plate to put smiles on all faces, masked or not. I would highly encourage people to check out Laughterhouse Comedy in its more traditional setting, but I would also greatly encourage anyone reading this to help support the local arts and culture scene by attending as many shows as you can for the Liverpool Theatre Festival. Not only will you be helping to support the supremely qualified men and women who make up Liverpool’s entertainment talent pool, but you will get to experience some awesome entertainment, as I can personally vouch for after attending the first evening. Laughterhouse Comedy was an ideal start to the Liverpool Theatre Festival, and it kicked off this unique celebration of live local performances with a bang.