I wonder how many people can remember TV comedy in the early 80′s ? Spitting Image, The Young Ones, 3 of A Kind, Black Adder ?; very funny shows written by teams of comedic experts and delivered by some of the country’s finest TV show comedians.
But for some of us, the early to mid 80′s TV laughs were best delivered by stand up and one of my favourites was Phil Cool – billed as the Man of a Thousand Faces, Mr Rubber Face and the Master of Mimicry, Phil brought a competely unique take on the one man comedy routine. Not content with being a very good voice impressionist, Mr Cool was also the only man in the world who would also morph his face into a perfect resemblance of the public figure he was portraying.
Not seen before or by anyone else since, Phil Cool brought us the amazing skill of Faceology which just had to be seen to be believed, so when I found out the he was playing in the North East I had to watch again this one man cast of thousands.
The Empire Theatre in Consett was to play host to the evening’s show. I hadn’t been for over 20 years and since then it has been completely renovated into a fabulous theatre in every way. It’s not a huge venue and this immediately adds to its charm; the entrance, box office and lounge bar are all friendly & intimate – non of the stuffiness that can be found in many older and larger establishments – with the staff all making you feel very welcome.
The auditorium is a brilliant layout – it is wider than it is deep which keeps more of the audience closer to the stage. The sightlines are all perfect and the seats are very comfy with bags of leg room. I have been a bit spoilt recently with trips to both the Gala in Durham and then this theatre putting paid to the thoughts of being cramped up in tiny seats like a tourist on the night train to Dehli.
So, the stage was set with a table of props, guitar and a few glasses of water. As the start time rapidly approached I eagerly glanced around, keen to see how many more of my comedy brethern were making the same timetrip – oh dear, at best there was 80 people in their seats. Such a shame that more people didn’t have the chance to enjoy an amazing night in a wonderful theatre.
Phil came onto stage to the loudest applause we could must with such small numbers and he very quickly recognised that this wasn’t the Hollywood Bowl or the O2 – but from the first gag to the last impression he played as though he was Live at the Apollo (a gig in which he would surely show up all our current heavily scripted gag deliverers)
Taking us through tales of his childhood, past gigs, his TV series and a few songs & ditties we were all enthralled to the point of almost being too quiet for a comedy audience. Keeping it very informal, Phil even insisted that he may try some brand new material and if we didn’t find it funny we were most certainly NOT to laugh !! The first half rattled by – always a great sign of an entertaining act and during the interval my Dad got chatting to one of the volunteer usherettes only to find that her son in law had bought my dad’s car from him 30 years ago.
The second half was a return by Phil to his visual excellence – he explained that he spends hours practising in front of the mirror working on controlling his facial muscles into changing into his targets of mirth – he then took us on a history tour of Rolf Harris, Bill Clinton, GW Bush (which was so uncannily accurate that I felt myself staring, trying to see Phil’s real face and being completly unable to), a mute Tony Blair (if only, if only), his sparring partner Gordon Brown and then Wallace from W & Grommit. An amazing re-write of Churchills famous ‘Fight them on the Beaches’ speach complete with a flawless Sir Winston (and a quick cameo by the Insurance Dog) followed and then a few more songs (including Johnny Cash) to end the show.
If you DO remember Phil, then do yourself a favour and check out his latest show – if you DON’T know Phil, then check out his videos on YouTube and then go and book your tickets – I guarantee you will love it.
A word on the venue – the Empire in Consett is an amazing theatre, perfect for any show but most certainly for stand up as the ambience is almost like a comedy club – the audience is so close to the stage and as I mentioned before, the stalls are wider than they are deep which gives fantastic sightlines as well as a feeling of wrap-around audio from even the slightest whisper.
The staff are wonderfully happy to be there with a genine warmth and open embrace that you don’t feel like a visitor at all. After the show, while I was waiting to meet Phil Cool, we got talking to Ann & Gill who were serving on the bar and ticket office. Ann & Gill are delightful – they are Consett ladies with a twinkle in their eyes and a laugh to share. I was actually born in Consett and spent my first year & half living on Medomsley Road while Mum & Dad were police officers in the town & surrounding area. We spent about 20 minutes chatting about the area, sharing memories (well, Dad shared memories, I only remember a bottle & a pram) and we left as though we had just met long lost friends.
I always look out for the listings to see which shows I fancy seeing, but now I shall make a direct line to the Consett Empire website to see how quick I can go back. Hopefully I will see you there too….