The QT

Monday 17 June 2024

Laurels prepares to provide comic relief

A month of comedy at the coast is in store this summer as a new festival makes its debut. Sam Wonfor takes a look and prepares for belly laughs aplenty
Laurels Theatre in Whitley Bay has launched a new comedy festival for the town

After six weeks of election mud/milkshake-slinging and fear-mongering — and the odd policy of course — I think everyone can all agree that when July arrives, we’ll be more than ready for some laughs.

Step forward Laurels Theatre, which has announced a month-long ‘celebration of comedy’ in the form of the Whitley Bay Comedy Festival.

Running from one end of July to the other, the ambitious fringe theatre, which is enjoying a growing reputation (among both audiences and acts) as a great place for comedy, the Festival will present a mixture of Edinburgh Fringe previews, solo shows and work-in-progress outings from an eclectic crowd of comics.

“It’s something that we started talking about last year after we did a Fringe preview week leading up to August,” says Laurels’ co-founder and comedy writer, Steve Robertson.

Laurels founders Jamie Eastlake and Steve Robertson

“We thought that was quite a canny week everyone enjoyed, so thought it would be a good idea to do something on a bigger scale this year.”

They’ve certainly done that with 25+ shows booked in — bookended by two of the shortlisted candidates for the Theatre’s playwriting prize, the Richard Jenkinson Commission, which will see Sarah Bond’s winning entry, Seagulls and Sad Sad Stories get its premiere in August.

Scrapper Reed, who are developing their shortlisted play, Round the Houses for a run at Laurels in November, are taking care of the opening night of the Festival, simply called Dafties.

While the line-up isn’t confirmed yet, the fact that Scrapper Reed is headed up by long-serving (and very funny) standups, Gavin Webster and Si Beckwith should give everyone more than enough confidence to snap up a ticket.

The inaugural Whitley Bay Comedy Festival is set to be packed with laughs

Bookend number two is award-winning comedian Dave Bibby’s Baby Dinosaur, billed as a ‘one man Jurassic Park’.

“Dave was also on the Richard Jenkinson shortlist,” says Steve. “I saw Baby Dinosaur up in Edinburgh last year and am delighted that we’ve been able to book it to close the Festival.”

In between audiences will be treated to a parade of shows including (deep breath if you’re reading out loud):

Two-time Edinburgh Comedy Award nominee and North East lass Lauren Pattison with her new show, Big Girl Pants (July 11); Chris Cantrill’s Easily Swayed — the tale of an overdue reunion gone awry (July 10); a debut solo show from ‘Space Cowboy, Phil Henderson (July 12); acclaimed sketchers, The Halls of Ridiculous (July 20); hit Newcastle duo Silly Billies who bring their brand of surreal comedy to the coast (July 19); and a Comedy Film Club evening featuring some of the region’s ‘funniest short films’ as well as a screening of dark comedy, Tone Death (July 21).

Metroland Live have got the Fringe in their sights

There’s also a duo of performances from Metroland Live, the North East’s burgeoning cult sketch troupe, including Bafta-nominated Jack Robertson, who first took their online comedy to the live stage at Laurels, and who are breaking their Edinburgh Fringe duck in 2024.

“It’s great to have Metroland involved in the Festival just a few days before they will make their Fringe debut,” says Steve. “It has been terrific to see their live show going from strength to strength — those are going to be very busy nights.”

Steve says he is hoping that the ever-increasing enthusiasm for Laurels’ monthly Comedy Club (which has a Festival night booked in on July 13) carries through to the Festival gigs — and is also hoping that Whitley Bay’s businesses get behind the inaugural event.

“We’re looking to get some sponsorship so we can get some proper billboards and banners up around the town and really make it feel like an event for everyone.

“The programme has come together really well and we’re looking forward to a really busy and very funny month.”

The Whitley Bay Comedy Festival is at Laurels Theatre on Whitley Road, throughout July. For full programme details and bookings, visit the Laurels website.


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