Review: Latitude

eddie izzard

Normally when I go to Latitude I plan my assault on the Festival with the precision of Montgomery planning El Alamein. Spreadsheets and marker pens have been involved. Frankly though this is easier than it sounds as it usually involves simply stocking up on provisions and plonking myself down in the comedy tent for the day and then catching a few bands in the evening and dipping into the Cabaret/Literature and Poetry tents. This year, however, I looked at the comedy line-up, realised I'd either seen a lot of the acts or was going to see them in a few weeks in Edinburgh so tried an approach that, as Russell Kane would have said, was more random. In other words I just wandered around. It helped, of course that the sun was shining. I'm sure in past years some two-bit acts have only landed big crowds because people were sheltering from the rain.

Strolling around Henham Park there is always something going on behind every tree and bush, even if it is only a pile of dead Barbies, which I assumed was some kind of art installation. At the far end of the field I stumbled upon a mini-Festival within a festival, with a tiny campsite offering plays and stories in either a caravan or a bell tent. I sat in a tent and enjoyed actor Ruth Mitchell's short story of finding a connection with her possible Jewish past. This smallness seemed to be a theme of the weekend. I also came across a garden shed which claimed to be the smallest comedy venue in the world. An audience of four was royally entertained by James Dowdeswell, Sarah Bennetto and musical comedian David Elms, whose guitar nearly touched the wall on each side. Not the ideal venue if you are claustrophobic, but great fun.

There was a considerably bigger audience in the Comedy Tent for my highlight of Saturday, Adam Buxton's Bug. His take-down of pop videos and YouTube is simultaneously utterly puerile and utterly inspired. Sometime you feel you could dismiss Buxton as simply reading the crass, abusive comments put on YouTube but the hard, creative work is selecting the right abusive comments. There was also a running gag about David Bowie's comeback – again, simple gags, Buxton reworking Bowie's songs and inserting himself into his videos – but brilliantly done.

Russell Kane also delivered a set which was full of laughs in the Comedy Tent on Saturday, finishing with a flourish about drinking buckets of vodka in a Thai bar and narrowly avoiding a major punch-up.  Like that other Russell, Kane has an exquisitely refined way with words and imagery, describing Geordie thugs dancing as doing the "heterosexual fist pump" – the nearest dancing gets to a punch-up – and the shimmy hooligans do before having a ruck as the "football yob fight salsa." I liked Kane a lot.

The good news since my last visit is that the Comedy Tent is further away from the music stages so there was less chance of being drowned out by bands. If anything it was the poetry and literature tents that suffered from noise pollution as they continued into the night when the bands seemed to get louder and louder. I didn't see a lot of music myself this year. I enjoyed Kraftwerk for about thirty minutes which seemed to be the going rate. The next day a lot of comedians enjoyed laying into the cold, clinical Teutonics and their daft tight lycra suits and slightly pointless 3D light show.

Daniel Kitson inevitably loomed large over the weekend, doing his current show (much funnier than I'd heard), a work-in-progress and a 45-minute poem with Gavin Osborn (shades of Dr Zeuss here). Kitson was where my Dice Man tactic fell down. i completely missed his morning work-in-progress, but he would probably be relieved. He doesn't like critics reviewing his finished work so I doubt if he would want anything said about something in such an embryonic state.

There seemed to be more comedy in other tents this year. I was enjoying Jamie Kilstein's political rage about sexual harassment in the comedy tent but i'd heard it before so I wandered over the the cabaret tent which was absolutely rammed for a Tim Key gig. I could not see Key but I could hear him asking members of the audience if they had ever held an owl and later on he closed with a recipe for raspberry flan, which is different for a stand-up gig.

Over in the book area Stuart Maconie had a glorious anecdote about maverick sixties record producer Joe Meek, who shot his landlady and then shot himself. Maconie recounted the tale of someone who found rare some Meek acetates and tried to sell them in Record & Tape Exchange, only for the assistant to show an unusual amount of disinterest in what were surely valuable collectors' items. "Don't you like Joe Meek?" asked the customer. "Not really, he killed my mother." The assistant turned out to be the son of the late landlady.

The Literature Tent also had its fair share of comedy. In fact one of the best shows I saw was The Establishment Club, Keith Allen's attempt to rekindle the satirical spirit of Peter Cook's 1960s venue. I saw this on its opening night at Ronnie Scott's last year and one would have thought that would have been a more appropriate venue, yet it really worked well at Latitude. Compere Scott Capurro was cattily offensive about religion, sex and race and didn't give a hoot about the group of children in the front, who certainly got an education they would not have got at school.

Jane Bussman's skewering of Bob Geldof and Bono was not particularly funny but it did capture the subversive Establishment spirit. As did Mark Steel, whose delivery got angrier and angrier and louder and louder to compete with the music stage. A lot of Steel's material was pretty knee-jerk anti-Thatcher, getting old, isn't-Latitude-full-of-people-who-own-second-homes-in-Suffolk, but somehow Steel's rage made it all work. Even John Cooper Clarke singing The Ramones' Blitzkrieg Bop was wonderful. I use the verb "singing" loosely here. If he knew the lyrics nobody heard them, but then, in typically chaotic Cooper Clarke fashion after he left the stage he realised he had been using the wrong microphone.

One tip for ambitious comedians. The best slot is probably just before the headline act in the Comedy Tent. Seasoned Latitude-goers have learnt that they have to arrive about 30 minutes before the star attraction to have a chance of getting under the canvas. Marcel Lucont was definitely a beneficiary of scheduling, delivering his grouchy Gallic send-up just before Eddie Izzard. The cheers he was getting suggest that he won a lot of new fans.

Izzard closed the Comedy Tent in style on Sunday night with a truncated version of his current Force Majeure show. Whereas Lucont benefited from a larger audience than usual Izzard seemed to benefit from a more intimate audience than the one that saw him at the O2 earlier this year. His fired-up set, taking in human sacrifice, Charles 1 and the naming of spoons among there things, was tight and focussed. There was less time for the usual umming and aaahing here, this was Izzard delivering pure, concentrated comedy.

Could Latitude get any better? Well, the weather was perfect, the acts were almost perfect. I'd have liked them to have broadcast the last round of The British Open but that's probably just me. I guess it's a victim of its own success in that it was bigger this year than ever before. There was a strange kind of camping Berlin Wall apartheid with tents on one side of a fence and fancy bespoke Yurts on the other. I heard that one could even hire Yurts with a concierge on tap if you had over a grand to spend on accommodation. I thought this as a typical Latte-tude joke but apparently it was true. With so many great shows overlapping maybe some families paid their concierge to go to the gigs for them.




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