Stewart Francis at Leeds City Varieties Music Hall

On 17th October the wonderful Leeds City Varieties staged a leg of the Stewart Francis’ “Into The Punset” Farewell Tour.

It seems to be modelled on that of Sir Elton John whose goodbye gigs run until 2021, in that Mr Francis’ dates go up to June 2019 with a final final one on 7th December. The publicity handout also announces that more shows are still being added so, with any luck, his pension pot should be boosted handsomely by next Christmas.   

The show began with the very talented Allyson June Smith who, like the headliner, is Canadian and very funny. Unfortunately, she only did about twenty-five minutes as I could have laughed at her for much longer. She did a couple of riffs on exotic dancers of both genders, putting the microphone stand to good use, and how people of the same name share similar personality traits. Fortunately, she didn’t get round to covering Stan in either of the threads but, should any of my male readers encounter a Victoria, make your excuses and leave pretty sharpish.

After the interval we were treated to an hour by Stewart Francis who, it has to be said, must have a memory like an IBM. For those of you who, like me, have not seen him perform before, he specialises in one-liners, taking a subject and making a number of puns on it. I think that the title of the show more or less gives the game away there. Lots of them, and there were lots of them, are very clever, with the majority coming at you from unexpected directions, but I have to say that after about three-quarters of the set I was beginning to find the format a bit wearing. I say format for want of a better word as there didn’t seem to be any theme or direction to the act, as subjects on which to make puns were seemingly plucked from the air at random, making the evening feel like the audio book version of a student rag magazine.

I will commend Mr Francis on his lack of political correctness, which is a refreshing change nowadays from the comedians who dare not offend anyone lest they cause outrage – unless they are offending Donald Trump, of course, which both artists did. Not a very nice way to treat your next-door neighbour, although both artists have relocated to the UK.

It is difficult to review a comedian whose act is a constant string of one line puns, other than by listing some of them, and I have no intention of doing that.  He is getting paid to deliver them. I think that my boredom threshold must be lower than most as the rest of the audience were laughing until the very end even though, of necessity, the show was a bit of a curate’s egg.

On the subject of audiences, I don’t know what theatre-goers are thinking about nowadays, but at my last three one-night stands some of them seem to think that people have paid to listen to them rather than the artist on stage. The first two times it was by carrying on conversations as though they were watching the show as background on television in their own homes, but here there was a chap who thought it amusing to shout out ’Nailed it’ every five or ten minutes. It wasn’t funny when he did it the first time when it was supposed to be an added pun on carpenters, but which Stewart Francis had already done, and it became extremely irritating when he kept shouting it out for no apparent reason, much to the annoyance of the star and the audience, both of whom eventually turned on him, which did the trick.

Should you wish to catch the show before he finally hangs up his double-entendres, hopefully sans heckler, Stewart Francis is at York Barbican on 20th October, back at the City Varieties on 7th November, Bradford St Georges Hall on 13th April, 2019 and Leeds Town Hall on 24th May.

Although on balance I enjoyed the show, I don’t think that I will be going to see it again as I feel that I have taken enough pun-ishment.

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