Robin & Josie’s Shambles

Robin Ince and Josie Long – Robin & Josie’s Shampbles – South Street Arts Centre, Reading – Saturday September 7, 2013

In keeping with the Shambles theme, there doesn't appear to be a proper poster for the tour dates, just this for a related venture

In keeping with the Shambles theme, there doesn’t appear to be a proper poster for the tour dates, just this for a related venture

It’s slightly unfair reviewing this show, seeing as how it’s a late addition to the schedule and is intended to be a bit of a shambles (hence the name) rather than a structured and coherent piece. But then I paid £12.50 per ticket to go, so what the hey. I’ll keep it brief though.

What structuring there is of the show is that Robin and Josie will take it in turns to do their own bits, be on stage together some of the time, and at the end of each half singer/songwriter Grace Petrie gives us a few numbers.

Having seen Robin Ince a fair few times before, he is his usual shambolic self here, in as much as he normally comes on stage with 10 stories to tell the audience and will manage to complete five of them, which five will differ from night to night. Having a fair few years of experience now, Ince has a wealth of material and can easily fill the his time on stage with a variety of stories old and new while still failing to do everything he set out to. It’s all very funny and in keeping with what you’d expect from the man.

Josie Long as someone I’d not seen live before, though TV, radio and podcasts had filled me in on the kind of thing to expect. Unfortunately, the material she’d prepared for her solo section feels a little slapdash and half-hearted. I don’t know if it was because she wanted to prepare something new, where Ince was essentially using elements of other shows and anecdotes to fill his time, but there was a sense that she knew it wasn’t her grade A material, or that it was a work in progress, to be worked into shape later.

Long’s banter with Ince was much better, with the couple (not in that way) having a great rapport and not afraid to annoy the other, much to our collective amusement.

Finally there was Grace Petrie, a protest (and occasional comedy) songwriter, who’s two stints on the stage came as a surprise to me (and perhaps some other members of the audience). I had heard Petrie perform on Radio 4’s The Now Show with a number she reprised in this show. I don’t want to review Petrie on the basis that her music isn’t the kind of thing I gravitate towards and so my views aren’t really going to be relevant. She’s clearly a more-than-competent songwriter, with a good, strong voice and some pleasant tunes, and she was very well received by the other members of the audience. I wish her every success…


There’s no suitable clip available of Robin and Josie, so here’s a TED talk by Robin Ince instead, and below that is a clip of Josie on One Night Stand…

Festival of the Spoken Nerd: Are You Sci-Curious?

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The Festival of the Spoken Nerd guys, getting ready to blow up a ukelele

The Festival of the Spoken Nerd guys, getting ready to blow up a ukelele

Live Comedy: Festival of the Spoken Nerd @ Forest Arts Centre, New Milton, February 1, 2013

[Sorry I’m late with this]

Festival of the Spoken Nerd (FOTSN) are made up of physics graduate and songstress Helen Arney, physics graduate and BBC presenter Steve Mould, and Australian mathematician (not mutually exclusive terms – who knew?) Matt Parker. They have slowly been gaining a larger audience through exposure on Robin Ince and Brian Cox’s Infinite Monkey Cage and the Guardian Science Podcast and this (postponed from November) show is the last stop on their first (I think) nationwide tour, and very successful it has been, by all accounts.

It’s not difficult to see why their show has been so successful either, the three performers all have a relaxed (if well-rehersed) ease with each other and the tone is of inclusion and wonder. It is clear that all three love science and want everyone else to see what it is they find so fascinating. The evening starts with a query as to how many nerds are in the audience, something which includes the reveal of the nerdiness scale (I place myself just short of the “Has memorised every XKCD comic” point), and a reassurance to those who don’t consider themselves to be a nerd that that’s OK, they’ll still enjoy the evening. In fact, I’d say that it is these who will enjoy the evening the most. Much of the incredible science being demonstrated is actually composed of things that those of us already on the way to nerdiness will always be familiar with, meaning the feelings of surprise and awe are missing. What’s left to enjoy is the banter and sparring between the three performers, but as this never feels spontaneous the fun to be had is a little muted.

What would probably have helped lift the show beyond the ‘pleasant evening out’ level would have been a sense of commonality and cohesion between the sections, but there is no over-arching theme. The shows bounces along from a demonstration of the heating properties of a parabolic dish to a song life as the sun with no more of a link than the previous performer introducing the next one. There’s a lot of science out there, and there’s a lot which is fun and fascinating (without being hugely difficult to explain) – it would be nice if FOTSN could have found a few bits and pieces that actually linked together. But hey, it’s early days for this show and, over time, I am sure they will pull together bigger and better shows. In the meantime, “Are You Sci-Curious?” is a diverting and, indeed, promising start to what is hopefully a trend of smart and science-y comedy.

6/10 (4 stars)