There may be a touch of the post-Fringe blues in the air at the Festival Theatre Studio. A new ‘multi-purpose cultural resource’, the venue is trying to be all things to all men; but it doesn’t feel like an ideal venue for comedy. The sparse crowd doesn’t help with the creation of a boisterous atmosphere, but the vibe feels like we’re awaiting the arrival of a motivational speaker at a tobacco industry conference. It’s a literal comedy black hole, the sole decoration being a series of standing obsidian screens reminiscent of the obelisk in 2001.
Compere Raymond Mearns does his best to burst the subdued bubble with his lively, if standard, banter involving those brave enough to sit at the front tables. A man with enough rambunctious anecdotes to cope with days of audience interaction, he’s a consummate host.
Sadly, the genial, magnificently-bearded Canadian Chris Betts takes a while to get the crowd onside; much of his material raising nothing more than sporadic chuckles. He expresses some weariness with a strange country-wide trudge over the last week to similarly low numbers, yet he soldiers on gamely and begins to win people round by the end of his set.
Julia Sutherland has no such trouble. Like fellow Glaswegian, Mearns, she’s effortlessly voluble and charming. Her effervescent self-deprecation is not exactly breaking any new ground, but she’s able to draw on her experience as a TV and radio host for an entertaining perspective on how she’s viewed as a woman, by herself and others. An anecdote of her being press-ganged into participating as a life model on television is a particular highlight. She often works as a compere at similar comedy showcases, and one suspects she would be an ideal host.
Brendon Burns needs little introduction these days, but the comedy hell raiser of old is beginning to mellow, or at least that’s what he claims. Blaming falling arches, he reclines across some chairs, microphone clutched like a mug of cocoa. We needn’t have worried – he’s getting fairly annoyed about growing older, which leads to an interesting, if graphic, explanation of “morning glories”, among other woes. Even a literally laid-back Burns is still an incendiary prospect and in full flow he’s like Bill Hicks in his pomp with the same skill at tempering his misanthropy with humanity. A fine comedian indeed.
These evenings are a monthly event. Reservations about the venue aside, showcases like these are always welcome, particularly if it continues to attract the likes of Brendon Burns.