Hannah Giraudeau reviews A Review of “Harry’s Birthday Party” by the Leeds Tealights: With Support Acts Evie Cowen and Beau’n’Slick
Whilst many people would have most likely spent their Wednesday evening last week drinking themselves silly for what would most likely shape up to be another terrible night in Mischief, I (rather smugly) took myself down to the Library Pub for the Leeds Tealights’ first headline show of the year. As a self-proclaimed comedy buff and a long-term fan of the Tealights that predates my time at university (shoutout to Archie Osmond, former president of the Tealights and definitely a strong contender for the title of my “funniest friend”), I had some pretty high expectations for the group, especially as the cast has had some major additions at the beginning of the semester. As it turns out, this was not an original idea at all. Whilst the show I attended did not officially sell out online, it may as well have done; the Tealights had drawn such a crowd that the Lending Room was absolutely packed by the time I’d arrived - I couldn’t even find a seat! As the audience settled into their seats (or at least those with seats) sipping on pints, Evie Cowen was announced as the first warm-up act for the evening by former Tealight and emergency stand-in techie for the evening, Emma Dodd, a pleasant moment of nostalgia for certain fans.
Starting with Evie Cowen, I want to emphasise that regardless of performance, I will always have such profound respect for warm-up comedians, as the pressure can be so immense when you’re trying to entertain an unfamiliar crowd. Fortunately, Cowen was poised and cool-headed from the moment she stepped onto the stage, putting the audience immediately at ease. Quick on her feet, Cowen was able to confidently interact and banter with the crowd, a skill which even some of the most practised comedians can struggle with, giving her performance a sense of freshness and spontaneity. Whilst the cohesion of the show felt clunky at times and the odd joke landing on the riskier side of ‘edgy’, Cowen kept the crowd engaged with impressive physical comedy and hilarious accents, none of which felt too over-the-top or overly slapstick. Although brief, Cowen’s performance was certainly impactful and entertaining, receiving a warm response from the crowd.
BEAU DISCO & SIX-FINGER SLICK
Next up after Cowen was the country-singing comedy duo known as Beau’n’Slick (full names Beau Disco and Six-Finger Slick. Love). The audience was taken by surprise as the pair energetically bounded onto stage donning campy, Redneck/deep-country inspired costumes, impeccably styled hair and makeup and thick Southern accents. As to not dampen the effect of their initial entrance, Beau’n’Slick immediately jumped into the first song of their setlist, seizing the attention of the audience and encouraging everyone to clap along, which resulted in a great atmosphere among the crowd. In a Flight of the Concords-esque approach, the duo established a sense of narrative and character as they performed, with Beau Disco engaging the audience in between singing some of the most ridiculous country songs I’d ever heard. The highlight of the setlist for me was “Texas Annie”, a genuine, pre-existing song about a woman who smuggled dildos across the US border (I’m not lying, look it up). All jokes aside, the pair were incredibly musically gifted, with a special mention going to Six-Finger Slick’s impressive guitar skills. Had there not been a time constraint, I would have loved to have seen a bit more development in the characters of Beau’n’Slick during the interims between songs, as I believe there was some unrealised humorous potential there. Ultimately, the duo put on a bold and totally original comedic concert, and it really paid off, leaving the audience buzzed and geared up for the Tealights.
And last, but by no means least, onto the main event: the Leeds Tealights, and their debut performance of “Harry’s Birthday Party.” Harry Roberts sits on stage alone, as he laments another birthday forgotten (I hope it wasn’t his birthday?), when the rest of Tealights appear on stage, promising Roberts a playful re-enactment of key moments of his “life” as an improvised birthday present, establishing the metatheatrical basis of the sketch show.
Easing us in with a hilarious sketch about a biscuit addiction intervention, the show was well and truly underway, captivating the audience immediately. With every member of the group entirely committed to the performance, the level of acting was exceptionally high across the board, which allowed for the Tealights to really have fun with their playful sketches. Throughout the show, they struck an excellent balance between silly, one-off skits and utilising recurring jokes that they knew would receive consistent laughs from the audience, such as Pheobe Graham’s periodic appearances as Nanny McPhee who kept on abandoning the people who “wanted but no longer needed her” as they approached their demise. From the polyamorous penguin throuple attempting to break Noah’s rule of two and board the Ark, to witnessing a gathering of the Leeds “Sound Effects Society”, I am left amazed by the pure creativity that goes into every single original sketch and the cast’s dynamic performances which bring these crazy ideas to life.
Although Roberts’ tragic and self-deprecating humour is amusing in the interlude moments between the sketches, he truly comes into himself when playing a character; taking on a diverse range of roles, he clearly was not afraid of a challenge. It seemed the more ridiculous the character, the better his performance was, as I recall myself and the crowd belly-laughing during his strangely accurate depiction of a Eurovision host. And in spite of generally playing some of the more understated roles, Mallachy O’Callaghan and Callum Robertson both shone respectively. O’Callaghan perfected a sullen silence that could command a room, before shocking and delighting the audience with hilarious outbursts that felt out-of-character for him. On the other hand, Robertson brought a certain Aussie coolness to many of the sketches, an effective comedic device when used specifically to provide contrast, such as in the World Cup football hooligan scene, or when he provided the voice for a fed up, Australian Noah of Noah’s Ark offstage.
All of the girls in the group were absolute forces of nature, and a real delight to watch from an audience perspective. From the offset, Alice Waller and Pheobe Graham both stood out as fantastic actresses with impeccable comic timing. Graham was stand-out as Nanny McPhee and read the audience particularly well, often pausing to allow time for the audience to finish laughing before moving on so that each sketch was fully appreciated, whilst Waller particularly thrived when interpreting stereotypes, flawlessly capturing the essence of middle-class Mum, or American Valley girl with great payoff.
I was absolutely blown away by long-serving Tealight and President Ellen Hardy, whose maturity as an entertainer and skills as a devoted physical performer were exploited throughout the show, beginning the show as a confusingly sexy barista (dominatrix?) brewing a ‘dirty’ chai latte, and culminating in her hysterical performance as a member of the “Physical Theatre Society”, rivals to the “Sound-Effects Society”.
All-round, this was one of the most entertaining nights I’d had in Leeds for a really long time. Not one joke or sketch was a flop with the crowd, which is an impressive feat. It’s unsurprising to me that the show sold out the day after, having seen such success on their opening night. Having been a fan for so long, I am amazed that the cast of the Tealights can change so drastically year by year, and yet the essence of Tealight humour is always so present in their performance. An added bonus to the evening - and the benefit of hosting the show at the Library Pub - was being invited by the cast to hang around and have a drink and a chat with them after the show, which felt so personable and rounded off the evening in a really enjoyable way.
I am so excited to watch what the Tealights (and Evie Cowen and Beau’n’Slick) will do in the New Year, and am hoping that the comedy troupe will be able to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors and take their show to the Edinburgh Fringe festival.
If you didn’t get a chance to see their show this time around, then I would wholeheartedly recommend keeping an eye out for their next performance!
Words: Hannah Giraudeau
Photo credit: The Leeds Tealights Facebook