thu 30/05/2024

Picnic at the Castle review - entertaining mixed bill | reviews, news & interviews

Picnic at the Castle review - entertaining mixed bill

Picnic at the Castle review - entertaining mixed bill

Warwick Castle provides striking backdrop

Flo & Joan gave a rousing rendition of a few of their songs, interspersed with some subtle throwaway gags

Of all the outdoor spaces being utilised to keep live performance going in this maddest of years, Warwick Castle is surely among the most striking. Its Picnic at the Castle series has the building as an imposing backdrop to events, the stage reached by a wooden bridge across the River Avon.

The Covid-secure audience are arranged in twos, fours and sixes around a table within its own little wooden pergola, decorated with ivy (plastic, but who cares) and fairylights, adding to a rather magical Midsummer Night's Dream feel. Even the hog roast available seems fitting. The pergolas' transparent roofs protect against any inclement weather but fortunately on the first comedy night I attended it behaved itself, even if there was an autumnal nip in the air. But MC Thanyia Moore was an energetic presence from the off, bringing real warmth to proceedings.

Part of an MC's job – apart from warming up the audience – is to scope them out, to find personal titbits that the acts following often develop. And Moore found a couple at the front willing to engage but, when their story of why this was a celebratory occasion for them took a wholly unexpected turn, she thought on her feet to produce some comedy gold from what could have been an unfortunate misstep.

First on was Carl Donnelly, who talked about his lockdown experience, being caught offguard by the weekly appreciation for the NHS as “one and done thing”, and being unwilling to sacrifice his new Le Creuset pans in the following weeks.

He talked about his lockdown – Joe Wicks and sourdough bread were in the mix – but the big event was becoming a dad for the first time, and Donnelly had some fun telling us both about his daughter's conception and his thought process about naming her.

Alison Spittle, describing the setting brilliantly as “It feels like I'm in a posh B&Q”, got good value talking about her Irish childhood, her teenage friends' sex lives and her mother's obsession with death.

Jacob Hawley was gloriously rude about the vegan burgers available, and he too talked about how he spent his lockdown – much of it spent buying stuff he didn't want or need from the internet. He told us he normally riffs about ketamine, but “You're more of an ibuprofen crowd” so talked about his failed attempt at making champagne instead.

Musical duo Flo & Joan brought things to a rousing close with a few of their clever, biting and ferociously complicated songs, including a spirited “I Drank Too Much”, interspersed with some subtle throwaways gags.

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