Having heard that I'd have to answer a riddle to get into The Mad Hatter, I was preparing to hand in a blank page for this review, but fortunately the doors were open and we were welcomed warmly to the quirky venue by our host for the evening, Jonathan Elston. The little round tables were already filling up around the small stage area towards the back of the room as we browsed the complicated drinks menu (within an Alice In Wonderland Ladybird Book, of course) and agreed to stick to red wine even though fancy cocktails in jars and sensuous looking tall glasses seemed to be the order of the day.
Mr Elston gave his own intro as he leapt onto the stage and welcomed us to the show, chatting to the audience and trying to tell us what to expect from our evening... I don't think even he could have predicted the outcome despite having booked the talent.
I'm always nervous about attending comedy gigs, especially when I know they are basically practice runs for bigger gigs like, in this instance, Edinburgh. But as soon as Zoe Lyons had made her way onto the stage I was put at ease. She's just that kind of person - if she was nervous about sharing her new material, she didn't show it. Within seconds she had me, and the rest of the intimate audience, laughing along with her and following where she led. It was a real treat, and I genuinely could have listened to her all night, despite her occasional interjections that she has no segue or ending.
Alas, we could not listen to her all night because that's not how this works. So off she went to thunderous applause (well, as thunderous as the visitors to the small venue could muster between us, which was pretty good!) and our host skipped back up to the stage to welcome the next act, Geoff Norcott.
Almost immediately upon Mr Norcott taking the stage he had managed to alienate the previously jovial crowd. And not, as he stated, because he announced that he voted Tory in the last two elections. I can't speak for everyone there, but the reason I spent his entire, lengthy, set on edge was because of the assumptions he seemed to make as soon as he opened his mouth. He was almost aggressive with some audience members, and unnecessarily so. In his favour I did find some of his material funny, and he was very interesting to listen to, clearly a very clever man, but for a lot of the time I was clenched, laughing nervously more than anything. If we could have left, we would have – I could feel my partner's usually relaxed demeanour tense more and more as the night went on – but we were kind of trapped due to the size of the venue, and I didn't want to get on the wrong side of this guy on this night.
He did chill out a bit towards the end and when our host, a friend of his, came back at the end, even he was surprised at how the evening had turned out.
I wouldn't hesitate to see Zoe Lyons again, or to visit the venue again, preferably when I'm not driving as the different cocktails sound amazing. However, I would be nervous about seeing Geoff Norcott again, which is a shame, because aside from the assumptions he made right at the beginning he also seemed like someone I'd want to shoot the breeze with, if he were ready to listen to a middle-class lefty…