REVIEW: Charlie’s Comedy Cabaret, Hoopla at The Miller

The Miller is a place full of special superstars on this cold Thursday night. Downstairs, Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney and Stokey, is giving a speech to the remnants of south London socialism. And upstairs, we have Scottish character comedian Charlie Vero-Martin [1], and a lovely gaggle of alternative comedy talent.

With an infectious laugh and casual, we’re-all-friends-here manner, Vero-Martin is a charming host. She sets us all at ease, tells us not to heckle, and reassures the front row that it’s not the kind of night where you have to worry about being in the front row.

The first act, Qin Wang, gets us off to a bawdy start with a filthy and very funny joke about DNA emerging delightfully from her tiny frame. From here, she spins off into cultural and righteously Britain-mocking observational humour, with excellent lyrical and linguistic flourishes, then returns to the filth.

This is a punchline-stuffed set, with Wang absolutely aware of the audiences’ expectations and how to subvert them. I’m looking forward to seeing where she goes from here.

Next up is Andy Barr, who smiled at me downstairs at the bar so I already liked him. Pint in hand, artfully dishevelled, and the master of the perfect pause, nod, and gesture, Barr talks booze, kids with guns, and the state of Britain in such a confident but stylised manner that I’m both laughing and trying to figure out where the character ends and the comedian begins.

But, you know, in a good way.

Sally Hodgkiss is slightly nervous, particularly now Charlie has revealed it’s her first stand up gig in many a year (13, it turns out). Back then it was all fun, games, and wanking walruses.

Now she’s out of a relationship, pondering the collective and individual traumas of lockdown, and looking really great in hats. Will the madness and horror of the past two years lead to a great outpouring of art, creativity and beauty? Or will we all just take too many drugs and fall over? Like Hodgkiss, I’m looking forward to finding out.

Blake AJ wants to know more about the sea mammal masturbation. And so the first part of his set is a back-and-forth between him and Hodgkiss, who mimes all we need to know. In my notes I have written this up as “Walrus Wanking Redux”; from here, we get some very funny and very relatable material about radicalised boomer parents, ghosts, and the incredible lightness of being from Essex.

As we said at the start, this is a cabaret night, but so far it has been entirely stand-up comedians. Have we been lied to? Should we storm the stage furiously, demanding our money back? No, because sandwiched around an interval we have improv from Minority Report and mysterious character performance from someone known simply as PAM, whose daughter Christine has driven her down from Yorkshire specifically for the performance.

First things first: I love improv, but Minority Report didn’t quite hit the mark here. It’s a tough gig, to do improv after a line of stand-up comedians, because the rhythms are so different and the pay-offs are things that build, slowly, until you get rewarded in transverse wave oscillations of association and repetition. As the scenes folded out and in from each other, we never quite got the pay-off we needed, despite the charm of the players and their token white guy Dave.

PAM – she insists on all capitals – is the creation of Eliza Cass. She is exaggeratedly, clownishly inept to begin with, artfully knocking her mic and looking for all the world like she’d rather be anywhere other than on stage – an artifice that the audience immediately understands. Her poetry is delightfully bad, and her character is all jaffa cake seduction and Victoria Wood style kitchen sink wordplay. I am a fan.

Hey we’re definitely in cabaret mode now. Vero-Martin even tries out some magic, before Harriet Braine treats us to some lovely musical comedy and a truly fabulous shirt with owls on it [2]. Her parodies are about how boring she is, but they’re delightful and I don’t believe her one bit.

I might have got the comedians in slightly the wrong order by this point – my apologies, there were a LOT of acts – but I must just mention Matthew Highton whose rambling stories, anecdotes about things overheard on trains, silly voices, and mastery of the art of the repetition elicited the biggest laughs of the night.

Controversial opinion coming up: the headliner, Ria Lina, was not my favourite. But that’s ok, right? This stuff is very subjective. She’s been on Have I Got News For You and Live at The Apollo, and here she was very polished, professional, and righteously ripped Jimmy Carr a new one.

But the material – on visiting an STD clinic – was a variation on many acts I have heard before, and some of the terminology fell flat, not due to any failure of Lina’s charisma but because of the very slight differences between American and British clap-prevention houses (as I like to call them). It’s either that, or the crowd were a bit too shy to go along with such private stuff.

But fortunately, she accidentally picked on our MC’s own parents when asking about marriage and regular check-ups, and that gave the evening the rocket-fuelled ending it, we, and Charlie herself all deserved. Yay!


Charlie Vero-Martin performs at the Leicester Comedy Festival on Sunday 20th February

[1] Full journalistic disclosure: Charlie has performed at my own night, Factually Inaccurate, on three separate occasions, once as a Scandinavian marine biologist, once as the long-dead poet Dante, and once as herself.

[2] Full journalistic disclosure: I really like owls

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