The title of Luke Benson and David Hardcastle’s show can easily give rise to the fear that it will be a rather patronising pastiche of working class culture for the benefit of a middle class audience. The idea that there is something inherently funny about a Meat Raffle could only come from people who have never been out of work, never had to live on a diet in which good meat was a rarity. That aside, my fears were soon allayed.
An audience of fifteen is hardly ideal for recreating the warm, rowdy atmosphere of a Northern working men’s club, but Benson and Hardcastle worked extremely hard to get us participating in bingo, the raffle, darts, singing along. It helps that Benson is a Geordie and covers the territory well. Hardcastle is a very capable comic in his own right, with a gifted turn of phrase, describing his own face during sex as being like a dog who’s just been given a toffee.
Within this framework there are guest acts, in which three or four stand-ups performing in other shows do five-minute spots. Nelly White, Tim Shishodia and Mike Shepherd had a hard job getting much response but the outstanding act of this session was Ben Target. Using a large number of props (starting with a fire extinguished), he is accomplished, surreal and has a slightly sinister, dangerous edge. He is a master of the measured delivery and could teach many other comics a thing or two about the importance of the pause. ‘Hilarious’ must be one of the most overworked words on the Fringe, but his card trick fully justifies the epithet.
The show’s strength is in its framework; its guest acts, which vary from show to show, are in the context of the Fringe generally more run-of-the-mill. The show could therefore improve if Benson and Hardcastle cut one of the visiting acts and put in more of the games. More meat!