What do you call your bingo balls?

The enigmatic 'Mr Tea' reviews an evening of comedy, poetry and squeaky toys at Express Excess, The Enterprise, Chalk Farm, London.


Express Excess @ The Enterprise, Chalk Farm

Wednesday 28 June 2006
Featuring: Andrew Bailey, Sean Hughes, Asher Hoyles, Paul Lyalls (host)

by Mr. Tea

Bingo balls called Frank, Jerry and Martin, dinosaur glove puppets that discuss the National Theatre, and songs in Russian about alien abduction are all part of the chaotic and mesmerising world of alternative comedy veteran Andrew Bailey (pictured, bottom, right).

His set featured a kaleidoscopic range of beguiling toyshop props - from squeaky mice to miniature double-decker buses. Each of his short pieces is chanted through an echo system that allows him to build up percussive layers of rhythmical voices. The result compelling and very funny.

Many would dismiss Bailey as a bizarre novelty act. In fact, he is presenting an alternative universe in which the daft and disturbing take precedence over the dull drudgery of the nine-to-five. Bailey is a Pied Piper trying to lead us into a weird place that we are either too scared to enter or too unimaginative to contemplate. Only, instead of a pipe, he is tootling on a fried haddock.

Preceding Andrew, and first on the bill, was the powerful and confident Asher Hoyles, performing poems, spirituals and a capella reggae songs that address black history and culture ('The brain is the bling'): realism seen from a positive perspective.

Top of the bill was the stand-up comic, novelist and poet Sean Hughes, made famous by his 1992 TV series Sean's Show - but recently seen as a regular on BBC2's Never Mind the Buzzcocks.

Now 40 (so he said), Hughes' cheeky boyish looks remain, but are slightly obscured behind red puffy eyes. His set largely consisted of improv that targeted those audience members brave enough to sit up front. Plus, there were some nifty one-liners and a selection of alternately comic or lovelorn poems, most of them read directly from 1993's 'Sean's Book' ('Still available - mostly in charity shops!').

It was tempting to ponder the extent to which Sean's star has fallen. Fame is not ultimately important, but it is coveted by those who want to earn a decent living as performers. So I found myself wondering why a man I once saw performing to huge audiences in the mid-90s was appearing to a small room of only 50 people.

What's happened to Sean? Was he always so acerbic? Is he a man teetering on the brink? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, there is a sense of tightly-coiled anger and angst that is deeply appealing.

Express Excess offered all of this, plus genial host Paul Lyalls, who founded the club ten years ago. Paul's gags, observations and poems are edgy and life-affirming and make him a top draw at these spoken word evenings.


Mr. Tea is the pen name of a London writer.