Archive for Comedy

Good Vibrations

Good Vibrations PosterAnyone in Belfast who plays in a band, appreciates music or even who buys records regularly will probably have come across Terri Hooley. Terri would admit that he is an unlikely businessman. He certainly can’t claim to be the most successful record shop owner in history, but then again, the Virgin Megastores, Zavvi, Tower Records and Our Price have passed into history and HMV is in deep trouble but Good Vibrations manages to hang on in there, despite it all.

The crazy thing is that Terri Hooley opened his shop in Belfast in the mid-seventies in the city’s most-bombed street above a dusty whole food shop run by the Guru Maharaj Ji’s Divine Light Mission. The city in the 1970s was a bleak place. Belfast city centre emptied at 6 o’clock of all but the brave or the foolhardy. The conflict – which Ulsterfolk euphemistically call ‘The Troubles’ – was at the height of its random tit-for-tat viciousness. People retreated in the evenings to the ghettos where they lived in search of some security. They socialised where they could; in local clubs, pubs, parish halls, Orange halls or illegal sheebeens. They rarely – if ever – met with people from ‘the other side’.

The novelist Glenn Patterson and Colin Carberry have conjured up a film script that really captures the nature of this anarchic mould -breaking larger-than-life character. Their script buzzes with dark Belfast humour and a soundtrack that brings everything to the mix from Hank Williams’ I Saw the Light, Phil Spector’s girl bands, through to Rudi’s Big Time and of course, the Undertones’ Teenage Kicks. The action was intercut with contemporary footage of background events. This gave an immediate reminder of the very real dangers stalking the city then. Many folk of a certain age would have been delighted to see one-time Scene-Around-Six news anchor Barry Cowan, (sadly no longer with us), on-screen again.

Terri’s mum was a devout Methodist and his dad was a revolutionary socialist. He never quite fitted in to Ulster’s divided society. In the Sixties, he protested against the Vietnam war and in favour of nuclear disarmament, but as the Troubles took hold many of his contemporaries forsook protesting for peace in favour of violence.

His first love was music, especially reggae, but he became enthused by the energy of the growing punk movement which drew young folk from both communities to the rundown Pound Club on the edge of the city centre to hear bands like Rudi and the Outcasts. This led him into launching a record label to introduce Rudi to a wider public. Other bands followed. The ‘big one’ was The Undertones from Derry whose single, Teenage Kicks went stratospheric after it was taken up by the influential Radio One presenter, John Peel.

Despite its bleak environment of bombs everywhere, soldiers on the streets, officious cops and random, casual violence, this is a real fun, feel good movie. Dormer’s Hooley often messes things up, not least his life and his relationship with his wife, Ruth. He’s more interested in the music than making money from it.

Some scenes will haunt the viewer for life. I was struck by the scene where Terri hears ‘that’ Undertones song for the first time and fell about laughing at a scene where a bemused British soldiers stops Hooley and the band in the van only to discover that they are both Protestants and Catholics from north, east and west Belfast. Terri had never asked them what they were.

Coming out at a time when old divisions threaten to open up again in Belfast, this movie reminds us that we can do better. In the country of the blind the one-eyed man is king. Roll on the DVD release. One Love!

PS.  The DVD is now available,

By David Kerr


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The Boat Factory

The Boat Factory

Happenstance Theatre Company

Hill Street Theatre, Venue 41

0131 226 0000

For more than a century, East Belfast has been dominated by what writer Dan Gordon calls ‘the Boat Factory’ – the Harland and Wolff shipyard.  In this centenary year of the sinking of one particular product of the Boat Factory, Happenstance Theatre Company have given the writer and actor Dan Gordon the opportunity to tell the world how the heritage and history of the shipyard and how it made him what he is.

After Davy Gordon’s (Dan Gordon) da ‘spoke for him’ he met a whole range of characters on his first day as an indentured apprentice in the Boat Factory, most notably that ‘cheeky wee shite’ Geordie Kilpatrick (Michael Condron).  Wee Geordie had been partly crippled by polio, so he had a bit of a limp.  He was inspired to sail the world once his apprenticeship finished by reading Moby Dick. In the Boat Factory everyone seemed to be either ‘big this’ or ‘wee that’.  There were no in-betweens.

As well as their portrayals of Davy and Geordie, Gordon and Condron carry a outstanding array of complex characters to this impressive production. Dan Gordon brings such an expressive face and eyes to the stage that he often doesn’t even have to speak.

This is a warm, witty, evocative, and often laugh-out-loud hilarious story of the men who built the Titanic and the Canberra. It’s not afraid, though, to look at the darker side of the Yard in the 1920s when Catholic workers were expelled for ‘disloyalty’. Nor does the script avoid the dubious tradition of ‘homers’.

Some of the best lines come from the repartee between the two main characters as they climb scaffolding and look out over the whole yard during their lunch break. The Boat Factory is a remarkable, vivid look back at what has become a forgotten time for most folk in Northern Ireland.

This play is due to go on tour once it finishes its run at the Edinburgh Fringe.  Catch it if you can. It’s superb.

***** Five Stars

David Kerr

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Baby Wants Candy


Baby Wants Candy

Assembly 3, George Square

Baby Wants Candy is your one-stop call for improvisational musical comedy.  Each evening the five cast members perform a never-to-be-repeated original musical show, using a title suggested by a member of the audience.  The lucky audience member whose suggestion is used gets a free t-shirt at the end of the show over-printed with the title of his show.

It’s impressive to watch how one cast member picks up cues from the others and runs with it, often in a total tangent to what went on before.  I get the impression that occasionally one member might playfully try to wrong-toot another.  Sure it’s great crack. This kind of ‘spontaneous co-ordination’ must take a lot of practice to perfect.

Aided by a wild bunch of frenetic musicians, this small team has put in a lot of hard work and are reaping dividends. They are playing to packed houses every night.

Baby Wants Candy is just the ticket for anyone looking for a bit of light entertainment at this year’s Fringe.

**** Four Stars

David Kerr

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I, Tommy


I, Tommy

Venue 14, The Gilded Balloon, Teviot

0131 622 6552

Tommy Sheridan was the socialist activist who became the champion of a campaign against Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax in the 1980s.  While in prison for defying a judge’s interdict he was elected to Glasgow City Council for the Pollak area.  He went on to win a seat in the first Scottish Parliament for the Scottish Socialist Party.  By the second election his party gained another five MSPs.

Tommy was brash, opinionated and populist.  As this play demonstrates, he was also his own number one fan. He was vain and narcissistic and believed that he could charm his way out of anything; a minor league Bill Clinton or Tony Blair. The ancient Greeks has a word for this attitude; hubris.

I, Tommy is riotously funny, but this farcical treatment just underscores how one man’s arrogance destroyed his party and set back for a generation the cause he claimed to believe in. Tommy, who cultivated an image of teetotal responsibility, was always a ladies’ man.  His downfall was to visit a swingers’ club in Manchester – without his glamorous wife Gail – and lie about it.  He could have resigned as party Convenor, admitted a mistake, and moved on as did Paddy ‘Pantsdown’ Ashdown a few years earlier.

Tommy’s risky strategy was to brazen it out, perjure himself in court and brand all his comrades on the SSP executive as back-stabbing, lying, treacherous, ungrateful bastards. It worked, at first.  His initial court victory over the News of the World was at the expense of his comrades who found themselves facing up to five years in prison for perjury.

In the end, the onetime revolutionary firebrand’s house of cards came down on top of him.  Sentenced to three years for perjury, he served only one year before his release.  Today, left wing socialism lies helpless in the gutter where he left it and he has become just another celebrity, a tragic laughingstock.  The only person he has to blame for his predicament is Tommy Sheridan.

Des McClean captures Tommy’s mixture of passion and pugnacious bombast perfectly.  Colin McCredie, our narrator, has a sad, resigned look about him in the role of Tommy’s betrayed former friend and comrade Alan McCombes. Laugh loudly, laugh heartily, but take this message to hear, beware of charismatic would-be saviours, they may have feet of clay.

***** Five Stars

David Kerr

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Déjà Vu

Déjà Vu:

The Shankill Players

Dorothy Evans, the Creative Director and Writer of Déjà Vu has created a real monster; a low-life alcoholic hate-the-world cynical bully called Charles (played with evil relish by Mark McClean). He delights in spreading misery wherever he goes, whether it’s to his longsuffering wife Gail (Nichola Price), his younger brother Winston (Adam Crooks) or his world-weary mum Etta (Lynda Hastings) a woman with a few secrets in her own past.

Artful lighting with two alternating sets side-by side on the same stage area allowed fast-paced scenes to hurtle along without any need for an interval break.


This fusion of personal tragedy, long-hidden family secrets and blackBelfastgallows humour really hit the spot with most members of the audience; who laughed out loud at some parts only to be stunned into shocked silence a few moments later as the plot developed.  It’s a pity that some half dozen members of the audience couldn’t manage to keep quiet and did their damndest to spoil it for others by gabbling away inanely during the action.

The Shankill Players are best known for lighter stuff than Déjà Vu; usually annual pantomimes, so it’s good to be reminded that they are capable of stretching themselves in order to stage more serious work.  This little company deserve a lot more recognition than they are currently getting. I don’t know if this is Dorothy Evans’ first script or not, but she is well on the way to knocking Martin Lynch off his perch, if she can keep up this kind of pace over the next few years.


***** Five Stars

This play is set to tour several venues in Northern Ireland




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The Descendants (2011)

thedescendantsThe Descendants

Director: Alexander Payne

Runtime: 115 minutes. Certificate: 15

George Clooney plays the role of his life in Alexander Payne’s Oscar-nominated film, The Descendants.  Everything is larger than life in this poignant movie, set in the Pacific island paradise ofHawaii.  The haunting soundtrack exclusive features Hawaiian music. This music captures the mood and feel of the islands, especially the beautiful scenery.  This will definitely boost the Hawaiian tourist trade.

The film is a complex character study of how ordinary people deal with the family dilemmas that life often throws up in their faces. Even the most dysfunctional of families are often able to come together and help one another in their time of need.

That’s the story of Matt King (George Clooney), a high-flying, workaholic lawyer who struggles to cope with his wayward daughters after his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) ends up in a coma in hospital. Elizabethwas injured in a speedboat accident and it seems that she is not likely to recover.

Matt has no idea how to handle his mouthy ten-year-old daughter Scotty (Amara Miller) and his even more annoying foul-mouthed 17-year old Alexandra and her dozy boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause).

The Descendants is an intimate film about the challenges of family life on ordinary people who are both suffering from and trying to overcome a painful loss. This bittersweet story weaves together moving drama and wry humour so deftly it is no wonder that it has received so many Academy Award nominations.  This is a satisfying film that will move viewers to both laughs and tears with an ending that pulls off the impossible; it manages to be both sad and happy. It deserves to win every Oscar it’s down for.  Clooney will have to work hard to better this one.

Reviewed by David Kerr

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MILTON JONES: Lion Whisperer

Milton Jones, Lion Whisperer

Assembly Hall,Mound Place, Venue 35

MILTON JONES is the king of one-liners and absurdity. They just keep coming out of the man so fast that it’s hard to keep up. If you’re too helpless laughing at the last one, you might miss the next one.  Introduced by ‘his grandfather, the warm-up man’ who shuffles onto the stage in long coat, flat cap and shopping trolley, any latecomers arriving get told the same joke; ‘I had a nephew who lived in Leith. He doesn’t trust banks so kept all his money under the mattress. He reckoned that nobody will look for it in the front garden.’

After ‘granddad’ Milton bounds on to the stage in a strikingly loud shirt. He keeps up a steady stream of one-liners, enlivened with a few props from the shopping trolley and one of those large jotter pads on an easel you see at earnest meetings and seminars.

Some of his lines falls into a pattern, so the audience can anticipate what’s coming and still enjoy it; ‘Not all horses are Trojan horses… I know that now… That was a messy afternoon’; later, ‘Not all pigs are piggy banks…’ and ‘Not all ducks are toilet ducks…’  It’s wonderful surreal stuff. Milton Jones is just the tonic you need after a stressful day.

Reviewed by David Kerr

***** Five Stars

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