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Viva Variety. Riverhead Theatre Louth. 17 June 2022.

Updated: Apr 8, 2023


Viva Variety

Crown Juals Productions

Riverhead Theatre

Louth

17 June 2022

In a the tradition of the great variety shows of years gone by, Louth was treated to a wonderful evening of entertainment under the direction of Louth's Deputy Mayor and performer extraordinaire, Julia Burnett. It has been a very long time since I have seen a show of this ilk, the last time was probably in the 1970s whilst on a family holiday in Torquay. There, I witnessed Freddie Starr in his heyday, along with comedians, dancers and magicians if my memory serves me right - which it probably doesn't. This production has been staged in response to the situation in Ukraine and was raising much needed funds for the Disasters Emergency Committee.

Star billing went to Jimmy Cricket, the veteran Irish comic whose catch phrase "Come here... there's more..." is imprinted on my memory from years of watching Royal Variety Shows and the like. But there was a whole array of performers gracing the stage at the Riverhead Theatre, each giving their services to a really good cause. The legendary British showbiz charity organisation The Grand Order of Water Rats was exceptionally well-represented this evening with three of their two-hundred current members offering their services. The first, was ventriloquist Alan Simmons.

Alan was one half of the comedy duo The Simmons Brothers for 36 years and became a Water Rat in 1987. His solo work involved an act with his companion Denny who joined him this evening at Louth. Alan also performed as the compere for the evening's proceedings, reminding the audience just how impressive a ventriloquist he is, whilst also singing and doing stand-up comedy. His act was a winning blend of charm and talent and Denny went down a storm.

The show opened with Studio 2000's dancers bringing colour, youth and vibrancy to the stage. They have to be one of the county's hardest working dance groups, providing support for many notable occasions during any given year. Just this year, I have seen them support the Platinum Jubilee with an appearance performing a highly enjoyable routine based around Only Fools and Horses. I have seen them dance in the Riverhead Theatre's panto Peter Pan, and know that they will be working towards their own annual showcase too. They always provide a rich, colourful and bouncy showpiece, and are reliable and talented as individuals. They are a credit to Nicky Wright as the owner of Studio 2000 and to Louth itself. They never let the town down. If you get the chance go and see their full show, you won't be disappointed.

The second Water Rat to appear is the immensely talented Tommy J. Tommy was recently seen on Britain's Got Talent as a unicycling, comedy juggler and at 18 years of age is the youngest member of the organisation. This is a performer well-versed in working an audience and playing to the gallery.

His act, assisted by his glamorous assistant, Lucy, instantly won him respect in Louth. His skilful juggling and daft, often self-deprecating humour belies a real talent, that was not as well-represented on BGT as it deserved to be. He is a performer who will keep this kind of act fresh and see it through into the twenty-first century. He charmed the audience and impressed as he rode his unfeasibly high unicycle and juggled blades and flaming torches. I could have watched a lot longer. This young man will be around for many years to come and gaining the kudos associated with being a Water Rat (whose ranks have included the likes of greats Tommy Cooper, Jimmy Tarbuck, Charlie Chaplin and far more) at such a young age is a humungous achievement, demonstrating the respect of the industry and Britain's Got Talent really didn't give him the respect he deserved.

Louth acapella group, Octangle joined the bill to perform a series of close harmony songs, popularised by the likes of the King's Singers, well-know to television audiences on variety shows in the 1970s making their appearance totally suitable this evening. To hear such talented vocalists deliver such beautiful harmonies, unaccompanied is a joy to behold. Their control and precision in delivery was excellent and they showed that years of practice makes perfect. They saved their strongest song until last and performed the moving Children's Prayer whilst describing its relevance to the fighting in Ukraine, the reason behind tonight's event. They also took the opportunity to plug the Louth Male Voice Choir, of which they are all members, and an upcoming concert. If tonight was a taster then it should prove an excellent night.

Jimmy Cricket rightly deserved top-billing for this show. James Mulgrew - to use his real name became a household name as Jimmy Cricket in the 1970s with his own TV and radio shows.

At 76 years of age Cricket is still gigging regularly and keeps his act fresh and up-to-date with gags about the pandemic and the vaccination etc. I am not one given to laughing out loud at shows like this but for once I genuinely did. I had thought I might find his act a little traditional for my taste, having grown up as a part of the "Alternative Comedy" generation in the late 70's and early 80's, but Jimmy Cricket was genuinely funny and a great entertainer. I struggle to remember the jokes he told but remember how he made me feel, and he genuinely amused me. There was no reliance on stereotyping people (apart from sending his own persona up) and his humour was never mean-spirited. He was warm and witty, and actually very funny.

The third Water Rat in attendance is Lincoln-based Steve Barclay. Barclay is known as a singer/comedian/panto dame/actor. Another traditional comedian, Barclay strode across the stage delivering quickfire quips and one-liners. His act was interspersed with brief musical interludes that demonstrated his range as a performer and singer and he concluded the act by bringing on his banjo/ukulele and performing the George Formby classic When I'm Cleaning Windows. So versatile is this man, that it is difficult for him to do his act justice in a short slot, amidst an array of talented fellow performers. Steve does a 1940s comedy show with tributes to the likes of Formby, Arthur Askey, Rob Wilton and Max Miller. I would love to see that show give him the platform he deserves as a solo performer.

Julia Burnett, the show's producer and director gave us an hilarious tribute to Victoria Wood, recreating her step aerobics class resplendent in an oversized pink leotard and commentating on, and conversing with, all those participants in the class (invisible to the audience but perfectly pictured in our imaginations, thanks to Burnett). The energy and enthusiasm of Burnett in this sketch was infectious and the audience were rolling with laughter. Her facial expressions summed up the real feelings of her character despite the words being shared. Once again, I would love to see more from Julia Burnett as a performer, but there is only so much that one performer can do in a limited time slot, so perhaps another variety show in the near future would allow some of these artists such as Ms Burnett and Mr Barclay to really shine.

The final act of the evening was Lincolnshire's own 50s revival band, The Tailfins. Opening with Ritchie Valens' rocker, Come On Let's Go the band quickly own over the audience who expressed a desire to dance though the seating at the venue prevented jiving from breaking out spontaneously. Their short set consisted of mostly familiar rock 'n' roll standards though the inclusion of Sandy Vale and the Valiants' foot-tapper Sunshine Tattoo was a nice touch. With a four-piece line up consisting of two guitars, a slap bass and drums, the sound was solid and rocking. They played a brief tribute to British rock 'n' roll with two of Cliff's early hits in Move It and Please Don't Tease. It seems that the band would be more comfortable playing in a venue with a dance floor for their audience to really let go, but they were a great addition to this varied and talented bill of artistes.

The whole event was a pleasure to attend and knowing the proceeds were going to such a worthy cause made it even sweeter. I hope that rather than being a one-off event, this might be the start of a return for this kind of variety show locally, "Viva Variety"!!!


Andy Evans

18 June 2022


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