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Rabbit in the Headlights
Published on Tuesday, 03 November 2009

Opinion on "new act" nights is completely divided.  Some swear by them, enjoying engaging with new material and talent and hoping to see the NBT (Next Big Thing). Others can't stand the idea - rather going with established acts who will definitely be worth their money. I used to be the latter camp, but have found myself sliding into the former… and with Rabbit in the Headlights being the best-established new talent night in Brighton, I thought I’d give it a shot.

And as a punt in the dark, I'm very pleased with the results. The acts were average, as you’d expect from those starting out on a career, and occasional jokes and moments stood out more than any one performer. But the night was fun, well-attended and well-organised, and the compere kept the energy going nicely through all seven new performances.

Indeed, before taking a look at each performer, here’s a big thumbs-up for the compere.  Robin Buckland has found a great comedy persona; the "lovable misanthrope" both suits him and enhances his jokes. This So You Think You're Funny runner-up is definitely going places, and was a big part of the pleasant atmosphere the night exuded. His own material is nicely poignant and very funny, and his audience interaction is simple and spot-on.

The first performer, Tim Watts (all spellings by ear, apologies for any misprints), was a nice opener.  His simple and quick jokes gently eased us into the night and - while his material wasn't rip-roaring hilarious and his delivery was a little too quick and too softly spoken - he has a good look and a natural flair for stand-up. I’d suggest a little more grit to round out his act. Allison Leach, the second act, also had a good comedy style - and her material was a little more interesting, although it often seemed to be missing a punchline.

The third, Stephen Nelson, has found a style that fits him beautifully, although it’s a bit risky: jokes are short and sweet, often a little hammy, and the pauses in between are long and contemplative. This isn’t quite working yet - and whether the jokes should be faster, the pauses shorter or the material fresher is anyone's guess. Nonetheless, it’s close to being brilliant.

The same could be said for the fourth act, Angela Barnes. She was easily the most comfortable on stage, with the best jokes and delivery; but what her act made up for in professionalism it sadly lost in originality. Some sort of unique selling point would greatly enhance her set. In contrast, the next act, Ben Pritchard, definitely had his own schtick: he played off his look and likes and dislikes very well, but only got to the really good material towards the end of his set. A little more focus on his hard man exterior, softie interior would have delivered more.

The next act, Molly Malone, again managed to catch a great comedy look and style: small, perky and cute, although this got a bit much when the nerves got the better of her and the set descended into gabbling. Her delivery needs work, but her material is developing nicely. Finally, Paul Beckett's slightly more risqué act and short, snappy delivery was very watchable and nicely performed, although I found him to be sitting on the fence a little. He needs to decide whether to be grittier and gruffer, or lighter and dafter: currently it's uncomfortably lodged between the two.

If my run-down contains a surprising number of acts, it’s even more surprising how much I enjoyed myself. The sets were better than I’d hoped for, and the whole night was more polished than I’d expected. Each act had its own charm, and although none of them were really slick yet, they all managed well. Each and every one of them could, with a little tweaking, be on their way into a career.

There was no single stand-out act, but the compere kept my spirits up well and kept the night rolling along. I might find myself swinging by Rabbit in the Headlights again – even if I didn't see the NBT, I was unexpectedly entertained. And what more can you ask for?

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