Comedy review: Happy-Ness Festival, Inverness

Fred Macauley, one of the acts appearing. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Fred Macauley, one of the acts appearing. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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BLESSED, or perhaps cursed, with sunny weather over its four days, Inverness’ boutique comedy festival made a decent fist of its second year.

Happy-Ness Festival

Various venues, Inverness

* * *

In picturesque surroundings, with plentiful bars and restaurants, a handy airport to fly comics in and out, and all the venues within 15 minutes stroll of each other, it’s a tremendous setting for such an event. Moreover, with the 1,000-seater Eden Court Theatre, it’s equipped to host solo shows from big name comics such as Dylan Moran and Alan Davies.

Yet despite an expanded, eclectic programme that included some lovely free shows for kids, a Gaelic stand-up showcase and Arthur Smith’s alternative city tour, attendance appeared only marginally up on last year.

For every Moran selling out, comics of the standing of Russell Kane and Fred MacAulay had a surprising number of empty seats. A really strong bill featuring Smith, Hal Cruttenden, Janey Godley and Daniel Simonsen, ably hosted by Ben Norris, played to perhaps 40 people in a venue designed for 270. The sunshine and Champions League final doubtless played a part.

But comperes’ enquiries seemed to suggest that the festival isn’t attracting enough punters from outside Inverness. That’s a pity because this summer venture from Gilded Balloon boss Karen Koren is competitively priced, with an attractive balance of Scots and London-based performers.

One failing was booking late-night bills that seemed too similar to cheaper shows on the same night, with only a smattering of people witnessing inexplicable Cornish “Casio rappers” Hedluv and Passman on Friday night at The Festival Club. With little in the way of intentionally funny lines and an air of defeatism regarding their place at a comedy gathering, this enigmatic, high-energy duo ultimately got a small, jaded crowd up and mimicking their demented, semi-naked dancing.

This was all the more impressive given compere Norris’s scarcely concealed irritation with the otherwise listless gig. Regrettable that, as his wry self-deprecation about his triplet kids and crudely effective swipes at paedophile priests were generally one of the weekend’s bigger hits.

Elsewhere, Bec Hill proved herself adept at entertaining adults and children alike with her blend of song, dubious puns and rudimentary flip-chart animation.

The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre were less successful with the kids, performing outside a busy shopping centre, yet puppeteer Kev F Sutherland and his creations stormed their adult show, suggesting that as with Hedluv and Passman, variety in a programme largely geared towards straight stand-up is appreciated. Indeed, one act could easily have been dropped from virtually every show, if only to give storytelling acts like Smith and Godley more time to build up momentum.

Simonsen’s off-kilter, observational style continues to make him one of the most distinctive acts on the circuit; Glaswegian, relative newcomer Stuart Mitchell impressed with a tight ten minutes; and the ever-ebullient Patrick Monahan proved the ideal MC for livening up some of the more undersold gigs, even if his grandstanding sometimes puts undue pressure on the other acts.

Special mention here for Cruttenden, whose patented combination of high camp and barked impressions of his Northern Irish wife demonstrated a trouper’s endeavour to turn round a gig that was beginning to go south.