Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The Brian Conley Show, Congress Theatre, Eastbourne Review

The Brian Conley Show
Congress Theatre
17th November 2010

Brian Conley
with dancers and
special guests
Stephen Carlile
Gareth Oliver

Congress Theatre Eastbourne The Brian Conley Show
Probably one of the UKs most versatile entertainers Brian Conley's shows are always popular with the Eastbourne theatre goers.

In fact it was only 18 months ago that he was here last. I didn't get to see that show but I do know it was a large audience. Tonight's show was no exception. No it wasn't a full house but compared to many shows it was a very large attendance.

Brian has not really been seen on TV for a couple of years. Instead most of his time has been spent in theatres both in this, his own production, and at London's Shaftesbury Theatre as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray.

The Brian Conley show is basically "The Best Of Brian Conley". It's a look back at the whole of his career with everything from "It's a puppet" Larry The Loafer and his madcap Dangerous Brian character to his Laurence Olivier award  nominated Al Jolson portrayal and his brilliant stand up comedy.

The Brian Conley Show Congress Theatre EastbourneTo be fair this particular production has had very mixed reviews. It seems to be that most of the adverse comments are because reviewers may appreciate his music and comedy but not the slapstick stuff.

Now as those mixed reviews still seem to keep coming and yet Brian can still attract a good size audience it appears the theatre goer's opinion differs from that of the critic.

Me? Well I thoroughly enjoyed it but then I am a theatre goer who just happens to write up his thoughts on shows.

I'm not going expecting every single show to have West End production standards I'm more concerned as to whether when the curtain falls I've actually enjoyed the thing.

Each to their own I say. Just because I like black pudding I don't expect all readers to agree with me and go to the butchers.

Brian has approached this show as more of a traditional variety show. Yes he is the star but younger talent (sorry Brian) is given the chance to shine too.

So alongside the star of the show we have ventriloquist Gareth Oliver who was a losing semi-finalist on Britain's Got Talent in 2009.

Now I feel a bit sorry for Gareth because in many reviews he is quoted time and time again as being "some unknown ventriloquist". Well no there was no programme to explain who he was but he was introduced clearly and even if you didn't listen on the evening it takes a few seconds to find his website and many others with details of his career.
Brian Conley Hot Stuff?
However, many of the audience clearly remembered his BGT appearance and shouted their appreciation. In fact an elderly lady next to us (Jean I believe) hadn't gone to see Brian only Gareth. Even at the stage door once she had seen Gareth, she left, not waiting to see Brian.

Now this year I've had several months of Steve Hewlett brainwashing and as a result no I don't think he is quite up to Mr Hewletts standard of ventriloquism . I'd say an 8/10 rather than a 10/10 for Steve. But and it's a big BUT Gareth has a super ability to warm the audience to him. No his puppets aren't up to Steve Hewletts amazing quality but its not down to your equipment its what you do with it. This still results in an entertaining performance and he's a great addition to this production. I thought the green monster with the pink nose routine was rather sweet.... but perhaps I just need more sleep?

Also he is one of the most amicable artists I have ever seen at the stage door. Yes Jean had braved the cold and pouring rain to go and find him and he didn't let her down. He even broke into a mini routine talking to one of his dummies inside his bag. He seemed to stay an eternity chatting to everybody in the pouring rain.... still joking as he drove off.

Perhaps I should rate stage door experiences? Boy there would be a few revelations there. Perhaps not then. But Gareth if I did you just scored a resounding 10. There's many a well established artist who could learn that being nice to those who have had the decency to wait to say hello in the cold doesn't take more than a few minutes of cheerfulness.

Stephen Carlile is Brian's second accompanying act. A West End star who played the Phantom in Phantom Of The Opera he gets the chance to demonstrate his impressive vocal ability with several numbers.

But Mr Carlile shows there is more to him than a magnificent singer. He acts as interviewer in a one to one interview with Brian looking back at his career. Now I don't know if Brian changes the script every time he does this but Stephen has that constant look on his face that says "What the hell is he going to do next?". I thought this part was hilarious.Stephen even threw an impression of Frank Spencer into the mix. Conley's madness seemed to be rubbing off on him.

Congress Theatre Eastbourne The Brian Conley ShowThen there's Brian Conley himself. Superb singer, an extremely funny comedian and a master of Joe Pasquale like madness.

With Brian Conley's career having been so varied I think even his most loyal followers may not be so keen on part of this show. Being honest for me it was his character Dangerous Brian, I was never keen on it when it was on TV and tonight was no exception.

However bizarrely I always liked his "It's a puppet!" Larry The Loafer bashing and there is a great scene for fellow loafer lovers.

As a comedian Brian's somewhat risque humour was certainly enjoyed by myself and it appears the rest of the audience.

If anybody wasn't impressed as he belted out Mammy and other musical hits then I really don't know why they went in the first place.

The large screen which displays clips from Brian's career could easily have dominated the show (ever seen a Britain's Got Talent tour show which does just that?) but it does not. More than anything it is used as a link between scenes.

Brian when asked why he is not on TV gives the honest answer. He doesn't want to dance, do dancing on ice, go in the Big Brother house, eat bugs in the jungle or do any of the other reality TV series that dominates the TV schedules.

A variety show like this is what we used to be able to see on TV and tonight I left feeling very entertained.

One other thing this show including the 20 minute interval is 2 hours 40 minutes in length and even the interval has entertainment. Yes those who don't leave the auditorium are rewarded with an audio of all those old TV adverts from your youth together with ancient music tracks such as Rolf Harris's Two Little Boys and Benny Hill's Ernie. As you sit there singing along it brings it home just how old you actually are.

So personally no I didn't enjoy the Dangerous Brian bit but it is a variety show and this scene is a small part of a very long show the rest of which I enjoyed.
Brian Conley can't use a lighter like every other smoker
Going against the grain of those who have had the odd whine about this show I'm giving it full marks.

Incidentally wondering about the strange picture with the playing cards below?

Well Brian joined many other lovely artists I have asked recently and supported Great Ormond Street Hospital by signing a specially printed charity playing card (in Brian's case the Joker of course).
Please keep an eye on and to see the mounted end product which will be auctioned on eBay to raise funds for the famous childrens' hospital .

I have to say a massive thank you to Brian because there was not time to prearrange this particular signing and he allowed us to get out of the pouring rain to ensure the end product remained dry.

So if you are a lifelong Brian Conley fan bookmark the above websites and keep watching as a very unique product will soon be available which will also be raising money for a most worthy cause.
5 out of 5 for the Brian Conley Show

Brian Conley supporting Great Ormond Street Hospital Congress Theatre Eastbourne

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