Sunday Night at the Hippodrome

comedy-AndyFordANDY Ford is one of Bristol’s local heroes: so he is the obvious choice to host an evening of entertainment at the Hippodrome, echoing those other famous Sunday Nights in London’s West End, which helped launch ITV in the mid 1950s and have been revived many time right up to the present, always hosted by popular comedians from Tommy Trinder and Bruce Forsyth to Jimmy Carr and Jack Whitehall.

Ford has been in the last seven pantomimes at the Hippodrome, so is no stranger to its huge stage, and he is in complete control. His comedy was well timed and delivered with great competence, his physical gags, based such tests of skill as managing three bounces in a row, picking up a microphone, or stopping, and sometimes demonstrating very simple and obvious things, as might a very young child, for example showing us a walk, or wading into a river, with very little added, are full of understatement and double-bluff, and his impressions have to be seen to be believed, especially the man about to discover he is being followed by a giraffe, which is not as unpredictable as you may think. He is a good mover too, tonight to Uptown Funk as well other musical numbers, and truly owns the space.

Other artists performing certainly help reinforce the message that variety is not dead, with singing, magic, juggling and dance.

Sarah Devonshire is not just a singer, she is a talented actor/impressionist who can mimic other singers with an uncanny accuracy, and tonight she became Jessie J and Cher, with a body to make both of those singers jealous, as well as singing a couple of powerful numbers as herself.

Mark James brings comedy to magic in that special way that we all remember from Sunday Nights on ITV, as part of a legacy that includes Tommy Cooper and more recently John Archer. This is a difficult discipline, as it calls for sleight of hand and dexterity along with good comic timing. His “story”, full of puns and literal meanings, was a great vehicle to show off a simple but baffling card trick, and he can also juggle, something which Michael Jordan has made his own specialism, and although some of his skills may overlap, he brought balancing, and another level (literally, on a huge unicycle) of accurate throwing and catching to tonight’s show.

Paul Burling’s impressions are slick and accurate, adding humour to characters not usually known for it, and stretching our perceptions of famous folk, including his wonderful Harry Hill and some classic cartoon voices and noises, from The Simpsons and Family Guy all the way back to Scooby Doo and Tom and Jerry, all bringing laughs or groans of recognition from the near-capacity audience.

Part of a variety show is the spectacle, and this was maintained by the Hippodrome Dancers, provided this evening by Dancers4U and bringing just the right level of glitz and glamour to proceedings, helping set props and chairs when needed, joining the musical numbers and rounding off the final number, with Ford and Devonshire rocking the joint as Meatloaf and Cher.

If variety was ever dead, or went anywhere, this evening proves that it is back, and very much alive, and if Andy Ford can find a few more similarly-talented friends, surely this can become a regular event. Every one of tonight’s performers gave us a taste of what they can do, and while each would provide great entertainment on their own, bringing them together combines all this talent to delight and amuse all ages, perhaps reminding us that live entertainment can be so much better than whatever our television has to offer.


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