Crazy Coqs at Brasserie Zedel
2nd January 2017
Fast becoming one of the most significant events in the cabaret calendar, this entertaining monthly gathering, pioneered by the indefatigable Tom Crowley and trusty cohorts, is a wonderful place to enjoy ‘alternative’ comedy and music in the comparatively safe surroundings of a respectable West End club. On this occasion, the event was made particularly special through its coincidence with Mr Crowley’s keenly anticipated 30th birthday: an anniversary milked tonight for all its ominous and portentous worth by regulars Molly Beth Morossa as Molly the Imaginary Friend, Lucy Farrett as Tina Claessens the Stage Manager, and the cheerful Professor Expert the Producer, made flesh by the charming Andy Goddard: all of whom, if we are to believe what we are told, are still younger than their MC. So much for the company.
The guests tonight rejoiced in the headliner, Bisha K Ali, who trod fairly securely recognisable ground in working very familiar ‘stand-up’ terrain, frequently addressing the audience in terms that are familiar from a thousand similar acts. More imaginative was Anna Savoury’s carefully ingratiating and quasi-spontaneous routine of talking us through, and – worryingly – into, her occult library, various tomes of which were hauled out of her impressively sized bag and displayed for our nervous edification, and one of these, after an appropriate amount of audience participation, was actually awarded to a lucky (?) winner. There was also music in the form of a couple of niftily executed chansons by the glamorous Diva Regina, elevating the intellectual pretensions of the evening still further by performing extensively in French, Spanish and Italian (complete with requisite national flags, and a dress fabricated out of the European banner).
However, the real stars of the show was the act placed first, a real discovery in the form of PÖJJ, and whose antics upon the stage were easily worth the price of the ticket alone. Ostensibly a sketch trio made up out of graduates of Bristol uni, Hughie Stanley, Pete Simpson and James Alexander (Camden Roundhouse Resident Artist) met performing for the Bristol Revunions, the University’s sketch troupe, and formed PÖJJ in late 2016. Since then they have performed across London, hosted their own nights and debuted a hugely successful work-in-progress show at Camden’s Etcetera Theatre. The group has forged strong links with the Seven Dials Comedy Club, Tottenham’s exciting STYX venue and Farringdon’s fringe favourite the Betsey Trotwood theatre. But they are so much more than just another cabaret act.
What they offer is theatre in miniature, of the same kind that Crowley himself epitomises. On this evening, their brilliantly sharp and precise direction – all devised by themselves, robustly drawn characterisations and inventive but simple stagecraft enabled them to canter through a faux Dickensian narrative with the kind of assured confidence that will probably propel onto television before very much longer. There isn’t a single wasted second or superfluous gesture or idle word in their superbly honed and wonderfully funny script. I also understand that elsewhere their work combines audio and video projection to make even more of each moment onstage. This year will see them continue to perform across London as well as enter the Leicester Square Sketch-Off and take their successful hour-long show to the Brighton Fringe. If you see any cabaret comedy act this year, see this one.
Crowley has proven, not least through his inspired curatorship of an entire room in the Vaults Festival, that he can and will find and put up on the stage some of the best new artists around. This event continues that excellent track record, and nobody should be in any doubt of his importance to what is happening in entertainment and theatre in this country right now. Coming up at this year’s marathon festival beneath Waterloo Station he and his collaborators will have plenty of shows running; meanwhile, The Night returns to Brasserie Zedel on the first Tuesday in March.