The launch gala of CentrE17, Walthamstow’s first ever designated performance space, was a zany affair showcasing upcoming highlights from next month’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival as well as local talent across theatre, comedy and music.
Run and managed “by the community for the community”, CentrE17 seats over 100 and has the feel of a school assembly hall, complete with hard, plastic chairs. One of its dark walls is decorated with white face masks and the lobby is adorned with wildlife murals by local artist, Wiggy Cheung. It’s clearly a space for creativity and fun – just check out the flower pot urinals in the lavatories – so the eclectic gala roster with a comedy slant was a fitting introduction to East London’s new arts hub.
“All I have to fall back on is filth,” warned our host for the evening, comedian Fin Taylor, before launching into an eye-watering tale of a Spin Class which allegedly left his urine “just a stick of celery away from a Bloody Mary.” There were giggles and grimaces galore, with audience members happy to banter with the quick-witted comic.
Loaded with gags and energy, he kept the pace moving throughout the 90 minute show, sprinting through the introductions to performers. It was difficult to catch all their names – I reverted to Google and social media when I got home – but the line-up was madcap enough to etch every set into memory.
Kat Bond’s “one man show” was a bonkers mash-up of stand-up, characters, tomatoes, toilet roll, and a quest to find the parents who abandoned her as a baby. The award-winning comedian and actress explained: “People ask, ‘why not a one woman show?’ and I tell them, ‘I want people to listen!’” She certainly had me laughing. And staring. I’ve never before gazed at bog paper for so long. Who knew the Andrex puppy could be so easily replaced by a Kat?
Her loo roll lunacy was followed by a calming acoustic set from soulful singer-songwriter, Charlie Boyd – who works in a nearby café – and an excellent guest guitarist (possibly named ‘Trina’), before another serving of humour. A few of Rob Oldham’s off-beat gags were lost on the crowd, largely due to some rushed mumbling over a poor sound system, but a quirky tale of student angst and a crippled frog made up for the imperfections.
Theatre company, Beartuza, based in the borough, emerged to deliver a captivating slice of their show, ‘Night Voices’. A curious and inventive musical about Tom, a hospital patient roped into a strange adventure by an unconventional Aussie searching for a place where “mountains grow”, it was a highlight of the gala and left me itching to see the full play.
Overshadowing everyone was funny-man Dave Bibby. His hilarious routine of crazy stand-up and role play included pop songs performed as different birds. Peter Andre would surely love ‘Mysterious Quail’ and I think Bibby should consider taking his avian X-Factor to Simon Cowell. Birds Got Talent, anyone? It’s a ‘Yes’ from me.
Waltham Forest is competing to become London’s first Borough of Culture and the arrival of CentrE17 should help to further this ambition better than the TV antics of local celebrity, Stephen Bear. Opening speeches from Labour Councillors Simon Miller and Yemi Osho, Mayor of Waltham Forest, emphasised the community’s role in the creation of the venue, and the passion displayed by its Founder and Artistic Director, Max Peters, was indicative of the public spirit which has helped to regenerate the area.
The launch gala was a heart-warming display of unity and partnership, as well as a sparkling showcase of talent from across the borough and beyond. More of the same very soon, please!
Performers: Fin Taylor, Kat Bond, Charlie Boyd, Rob Oldham, Beartuza, David Bibby Theatre: CentrE17, E17 3AB Founder & Artistic Director: Max Peters Producer: Ursula Early Performance Dates: See Kat Bond & Fin Taylor on Friday 28th July. Edinburgh Fringe previews run until the end of July 2017