Review Mata Hari’s Laughter Harem by Lois Arcari

Hosting a monthly comedy act with niche and alternative themes – dipping into the historical with Mata Hari’s harem and Franco’s dictatorship – Hoodenanny is a small club that’s sure to leave a big impression.

Sticking loosely to the theme with Flora Wheeler’s performance as Mata Hari and Emily Smith’s Marlene Deitrich, we were ushered in from the cosy but characteristically costly pub (with event tickets themselves a bargain £3, or £6 for VIP gifts shown below) we were then ushered into a cutting and chaotic night of burlesque and comedy.

The VIP goodies, inside and out

Aaron Hood, founder and MC, was impeccable at compering the night, managing to both steer and steal the show without taking away from any of his performers. Using the clown horn he was so besotted with, Hood ushered us in to the themes of debauchery, mental illness and dark humor that weaved through most of the performers on the night.

As much as his cynical wit landed with razor sharp precision, Hood deserves to be commended for his organisation and dedication. Not only is he a well established member of UEA’s own Headlights comedy club, but he’s fully comitted to his vision of alternative comedy.

“A safe and friendly space for edgeiness.”

At the time of reviewing, he’s also creating a Fringe showcase in Bury St Edmunds. This is a man with too much frantic talent to waste.

First up on the roster was Sussana T Jones, well known throughout Norwich as the singing comedian who’s appeared as up and coming talent on BBC Radio and Director of UEA’S side-splittingly Silly “Game of Thrones: The Pantomime.”

She started with her staple routine, singing a parody of teenage youtube musicians called “My eyeliner.”

Then she brought out a new song especially for the night – about dating as a nerd. Filled with zany puns and enough references to stuff a TARDIS, this was a great start to the night. It provided an odd proto-breather for the heavier – but slightly sharper material – to follow.

Helen of Norwich and Aaron Hood

Second up was Helen of Norwich, who opened her set with some deadpan comments about her age.

Despite her self deprecation, she brought the audience immediately on board. She deployed her experience with the NHS and CBT – though not quite the type we were expecting, and thrived on a comedic style that was personally honest but full of comedic midirection.

Her nervousness was at times palpable – fitting for a set based on anxiety – but her minor struggle with confidence in no way undermined her as a performer. Her understated brand of subtle but sparkling dark humor held its own amongst much louder and more acerbic comedians. This proves she’s a comedian to watch out for.

Ciara Jack also based her set around mental illness, but expanded politically to joke about immigration on class. A lovably brash performer, she shone when using characters and impressions.

Pope Lonergan was a stand out of the night. A booming comedian with riotous jokes, he sealed and intensified the theme of dark humor. Again drawing on incredible personal anecdotes – how did he get to them, let alone survive the tale? – His anarchic sincerity was a real delight. He also posed a question that will now stay on Norwich’s lips forever.

“What would YOU do if you broke a woodlouse’s pregnancy sack?”

A night of big questions Indeed.

The evening ended on a high note with a burlesque performance by Zinnia Rose, who captivated the audience with sultry dance moves to Beyonce and Shakira’s beautiful night. Despite being referenced consistently, I felt this act might have felt more cohesive if the Mata Hari theme was expanded throughout the night.

However, the sacrifice of theme did nothing to hinder such a brilliant night – and the upcoming theme, “Austistic Anarchy” seems much more likely to be woven throughout the night. (With many of the club’s performers having autism themselves and referencing it in their sets.)

Overall this was a truly dynamic night and has established Hoodenanny as an almost unrivaled gem in Norwich’s comedy crown. With an inclusive and energetic vibe, performers with great careers ahead and all for less than a pint at the bar, I’d encourage everyone to make the trip down and have a hoot at Hoodenanny.

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