Barnes started the night with a blisteringly vibrant set that started out fairly calm and collected, building its ways from more general observational stuff to the more expected feminist and Brexit related material and a hilarious raging climax.
Through all of this she kept it relatable, not just in a general sense but with references to familial roots in Newfoundland as a comparison to Guernsey while not being afraid to push boundaries quite impressively – I wasn’t expecting Rose West of IRA jokes but we got them and done brilliantly and in such a way not to be gratuitous but genuinely hilarious.
By the end of the set Barnes was going at a frantic pace without ever missing a beat as her set did that great thing of not feeling like ‘an act’ but still coming together as a full set brilliantly.
After a break that didn’t feel quite as protracted as some at these comedy events in the past Mark Steel took to the stage with a kind of skittish, manic energy that was to mark his entire near hour and a half set.
Starting out with the more political stuff he arguably hit his big moments early with his passion about the subject leading to some hilarious ranting about the state of things in the UK at the moment and across the set it was when he reached these peaks of fury, whatever the subject, that he was at his best — as well as a terrific impression of Boris Johnson.
In this, and throughout, he threw in some great asides to Guernsey events with the best being a comment on the on going ‘education debate’.
The rest of the set then became a series of almost stand alone stories seemingly delivered as they came to mind and ranging from frustrations with aspects of modern life from call centres to ‘self-serve’ services on the internet to sex, as well as stories about the quirks of small town (and small island) Britain, with something of a focus on Alderney where he has visited and performed on a couple of occasions.
While there were a few moments when he seemed to go off track somewhat and the energy dipped he always quickly things back quickly and, even in the seemingly unconnected stories, did link things together here and there very nicely.
Meanwhile his criticism of politics on both sides was refreshing from someone generally perceived as a dedicated hardcore ‘lefty’ (something many younger, online, commentators could certainly learn from).
In the end, after an extended encore that certainly made this the longest set I’ve seen at any of these comedy events at St James, he rounded things off with a great little story about a museum in Monmouth closing the night on a rather sweet moment but that didn’t undercut any of the more pointed comments of earlier.
With both acts tonight being so engaging and having such passion in their delivery, while also, crucially, being very funny, I think this was probably the best of the comedy nights I’ve attended so far and it was good to see the performers not shy away from things because of the perceived audience in the way it has felt some of the others have done.