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Review: Comedy In The Dark @ The Electric Cinema

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Did they really need to play 90s boyband favourite ‘Baby when the lights go out’ before the show? Good job I was getting my buzz on…

As predicted, this event quickly sold out and luckily I got hold of some tickets. Even more luckily it was first come first served so the husband and I bagged one of the sofas (Yesssss! Get in!).

For those of you not familiar with the Electric Cinema, the back of the auditorium contains several squashy leather sofas, with shelves to put your cocktail/ beer/ mixed nuts on and space to get close and cuddly with your date. As this show was taking place in pitch black, I should think there were more than a few pairs of wondering hands (not for us though, dear readers: marriage has it’s more glamorous moments but tonight wasn’t one of them due to both of us being sick – I’ll spare you the details). The Electric Cinema though – can’t recommend it highly enough for dates.

Back to the comedy, after excitable compare David Morgan gave us the rules (no running off to the toilet, and a code-word to be uttered only in an emergency to flick the lights back on and summon the police, ambulance, SWAT teams etc), the night began in earnest.

In the dim light, David walked off and Joe Lycett crept on. I say crept because Joe Lycett would perhaps belong to Slitherin House (albeit reluctantly) if he inhabited the Harry Potter universe. About 20 seconds into his act the lights were slowly dimmed to utter darkness and we were left with just his voice. And Joe Jycett has a most interesting voice indeed. It has a creepy Vincent Price-like quality that I could keep listening to all day. In the darkness it was like listening to him on the radio, describing his life as someone who doesn’t quite fit the mould enough for a successful life (this is the premise – I have no idea if it is true). After his allotted 10 minutes the lights came back up, unseating not just the audience but Mr Lycett himself who forgot his thread and had to be prompted by hecklers with ‘what about the story?’ He dutifully obliged but I feel that he probably suits a longer set.

Unwelcome spotlight: I thought the point of this show was that we were in the dark.

Next up was Old Etonian wunderkind and winner of the 2009 So You Think Your Funny Award, Ivo Graham. Relating tales of his recent virginity loss and passing his driving test, Master Graham sounded more like Pitt The Younger (the Blackadder version) rather than a youthful Bill Hicks. My husband (who had not heard of anyone on the bill) was left commenting ‘this boy just hasn’t quite got ‘it’. Needs more practice.’ I am sorry to agree. Perhaps Ivo was having an off-day but I wouldn’t have known he’d garnered so much hype based on his performance tonight. He too was somewhat thrown by the pesky lights and didn’t quite get his mojo back.

Josh Widdicombe was the final act and the only man that did not surrender to the sudden intrusion of the lights. He just calmly kept on with his story and finished in his own sweet time. Josh is a pro and I am sure comedy super-stardom beckons shortly because he really has his act down pat. He handles the crowd beautifully with absolutely no sign of nerves and is not afraid of the pause, unlike so many newer comedians on the circuit.

I had a great time. I wasn’t in a good mood at the beginning but this night really cheered me up. Stand-up comedy is a notoriously unforgiving business, attempted by only the most foolhardy courageous of souls so I applaud all the acts and wish them well with their careers. No one died on stage or failed to give at least one good joke so the night was a success.

The only thing I would change about the format would be to avoid bringing up and dimming down the lights between acts. I guess it was for ‘elf n safety’ purposes but it would actually have added to the comedy to hear the clowns stumbling onto the stage and merely hearing their voices. The comedians often ended up precariously close to the stage’s edge in any case so if they’re going to topple over, let them go!

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Crack a spine & get into Book Fest

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Why are all public domain images for bookshelves a) mirrored and b) full of computer books which have no place in this post?

Again it seems most events in Brum coincide with the new academic year and the Birmingham Book Festival is appropriately slotted here in the first week of October.

Birmingham Book Fest and its accompanying Fringe Festival are going from strength to strength. Admittedly some of the more high-profile events featuring well-known authors such as Stuart Maconie and Caitlin Moran are sold out but there is still lots going on over the next week if you are in town. Along with the numerous helpful writing workshops, I’m particularly interested in the night of European Literature at the Ikon Gallery in Oozells Square this Friday which features authors from Hungary, Sweden and Bulgaria. Hungarian vampire novels? Yes please!!!!

In the remainder of this post though,   I have tried to focus on the best of the free events. That way you can spend your pennies on the lovely books and keep the impoverished writers from freezing this winter.

The outwardly depressing Central Birmingham Library is full of literary delights within.

The hub of the festival is situated in the Birmingham Central Library. It ‘s good to see this library is still getting used, especially as the mammoth spira-graph accident replacement in Centenary Square is rapidly nearing completion. As a recent literature grad, I have a lot of respect for libraries and their contents, even the ones housed in Brutalist 1960s architecture. The library’s Pop Up Bookstore will be selling some of the featured books and merchandise at discounted prices so it’s perfect for a bit of ultra-organised Christmas shopping. The added bonus is sticking two fingers up at those marauding e-readers (seriously, have you ever smelt one? Not nearly as satisfying as bound book with a spine waiting to be cracked!) Head on down here to catch these wonderfully free babies:

Writers Without Borders: Independence Party, Tuesday 9th October, 7.30-9 pm (free but booking advised)

The annual showcase for this Birmingham-based multicultural and professionally diverse group of scribblers takes place in the Library Theatre and will feature works of prose, poetry, drama  and dance based around the theme of (you guessed it) independence. It’s a popular event so it’s worth going to and you may end up seeing a future literary superstar.

City of 1000 Stories, Tuesday 2nd October-13th October

This is intriguing because I’m not sure what kind of installation it is yet. I’m heading down tomorrow when it opens. It seems to involve drawing. The best part is that it only takes a moment or two and the event will be open most afternoons so you can pop down on your cigarette break.

A Right Read, Friday 5 & Friday 12th October, 12-2 pm

This appears to be a clinic for poorly book clubs. It will help you turn your imaginary book club (i.e. you on the sofa, reading while eating a Mars Bar, drinking an alcopop and flipping through the celebrity column of the Daily Mail) in to an actual literary salon (other people on the sofa with you – thus giving the gift of perfect posture –  sipping a cheeky little Pino Prigio, nibbling mini beef wellingtons and applying Marxist theory to Fifty Shades of Grey). It could also help your book club out of a slump (i.e. what to do after you’ve exhausted the Jackie Collins back-catalogue). But it cannot promise to help your book club with one-upmanship, alcohol consumption or in-group affairs.

Go, enjoy, look bookish!

Extreme Knitting: Found Alive and Well In Birmingham

If you’ve been to the town centre recently, you may well have noticed that the columns on the Birmingham Art Gallery and Museum have sprouted their very own leg-warmers.

This is an example of extreme knitting and was conducted by the Kings Heath based knitting group Stitches and Hos (ahem) who took over a vacant city centre shop (so many to choose from at the moment) and invited people to take a break from mindless consumerism to knit part of a panel. In the end over 400 people took part to create the striking yet cosy er… column cosies.

Extreme close up: just to prove it’s knitting and not paint.

The giant yarn panels have been knitted in the Olympic colours as part of the London 2012 Festival celebrating the arts in this Olympic year. This project was named K2TOG (Knit 2 Together for those of you unfamiliar with knitting pattern terminology) and the column cosies will remain on display until the end of September, braving the ravages of the British weather.

Extreme knitting and it’s more anarchic cousin guerrilla knitting have a peculiarly British eccentricity about them. They strike just the right note of quirkiness and humour (how can the idea of militant knitters swooping in under the cover of darkness and covering a phone box, a pier or even a Harley Davidson in pink 4-Ply be anything other than comic?). It takes me back to my home village in Warwickshire where the statue on the village green is dressed up as a different character every Christmas.

This project has been particularly heart-warming to me as I have not seen it personally (I am currently housebound by my pesky health) and knitting has been one of my refuges this summer. It also alerts me to the fact that knitting groups are thriving in Brum and I have made my mind up to pop along to some of them and see if any more guerrilla knitting projects are in the pipeline.  I’ll keep you posted on my findings. Wouldn’t it be great if someone could knit a cosy for Antony Gormley’s Iron Man sculpture in Victoria Square? Might cheer him up a bit. Maybe something in dusky pink?

Antony Gormley’s Iron:Man in Victoria Square

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