Ian McMillan and Luke Carver Goss: Flipchart and Squeezebox Musical Comedy Show, Wednesday 4th July, 6-7:30pm Royal Northern College of Music
Words and photographs by Caroline Greenwood.
Having only a passing familiarity with Ian McMillan’s work, I am more than a little intrigued as to what awaits me at his mysteriously named; ‘Flipchart and Squeezebox Musical Show.’ How on earth could large pieces of paper and an accordion make a ‘hilarious’ night out? In the quest to find out, I pulled on my boots and braved the typically seasonal Manchester weather, as I headed towards the Royal Northern College of Music, for an evening of entertainment…
Entering the RNCM Theatre, there is an excited hum of chatter coming from the gathering crowd, as groups of children and parents all scramble to their seats, ready for the show to begin. Alongside them, in equally high spirits, is also a good selection of people from the non-parent-child demographic, who – presumably familiar with McMillan’s Radio 3 show, The Verb – have also braved the elements to watch the star in action.
Equipped with only the bare essentials (two chairs, a table, an accordion and a flip chart), McMillan keeps his set simple, with a clear focus on the two objects featured in the show’s title (An Accordion and a Flipchart). However, this simplicity proves to be all that is required, as McMillan’s performance and stage presence is more than enough to brighten up the theatre.
“You don’t get this with Carol Ann Duffy”
McMillan’s style is one which fuses together both music and poetry, whilst actively encouraging audience participation through a selection of musical refrains and choreographed movements, designed to accompany his words. When watching him perform, his craftsmanship is apparent, offering something for everyone in his crowd-pleasing, double-edged-pantomime style jokes and slapstick comedy. Also typically northern in its roots, Ian’s comedy frequently makes use of the northern ‘lingo‘, as he gently probes the classes, softly mocking southern sensibilities and northern ways to great effect. Particular highlights of the show include his poems about Dinner Ladies, Derek the train spotter and Postman Pat’s three brothers, which all have the audience in hysterics.
The main thematic focus of the show however, is placed upon schools and teaching. McMillan explores the classroom, entertaining us with poems about his own school experiences (Hole in the Hall – A poem about…well… a hole in the Hall!) and ‘Creaking Head Teacher Mr. Moore!’ These references prove to be particularly relevant for the younger members of the audience (and especially a boisterous scout group) who take great pleasure in acting out the poems, cheekily challenging McMillan at any given opportunity.
The evening’s music (on the Accordion) is provided by Luke Carver Goss, who like McMillan, has an exceptional ability for improvisation, which he demonstrates throughout the show by making up tunes to compliment the poets work. Both men are clearly comfortable with each other’s style and work well together to achieve an effective collaboration.
The show’s big finale comes in the form of a poem constructed entirely from audience suggestions on the ’Lyreco Flipchart’, accompanied by Goss on Accordion – An exercise which proves very interesting, with the end result being as follows;
Midnight at the RNCM
Midnight at the RNCM (x3)
There’s an owl
With a scowl
He’s called Powell
In a cowl
And he’s carrying a piece of cake
And he’s carrying a quite long snake
It’s not a real one it’s a fake
Coz it’s a slug
It’s a what?
It’s a slug
What did you say then?
It’s a slug.
He’s here with the fake snake
Looks like a tie to me from M&S
Where is your hat?
Where did you buy it?
The invisible tie maker
Is sneaking up behind him
With a cravat (x3)
The children in particular, enjoy this part of the show, singing along with great gusto to Goss’ accordion. MCBF’s own James Draper is then coaxed up on stage to perform the role of the snake carrying bird (Kudos go to James, who made a truly exceptional Owl!)
After all the excitement, the show ends somewhat abruptly, with McMillan and Goss vacating the stage at the end of this performance, denying the audience a revival of ’Adios Mama, Adios Papa’, promised earlier in the show. However, McMillan does compensate with a book signing in the foyer, which I’m sure, for his fans, more than made up for the lack of an encore!
As I got back in the car and reflected on the evening’s experience, I again asked myself the question. Was what I had just witnessed a ’hilarious’ night not to be missed?
– You bet!
Caroline Greenwood is a recent English graduate from MMU. After enjoying her first degree at the university, she hopes to begin a Master’s in Gothic Literature this coming September. A keen writer, she currently runs two blogs; carolinecupcakes and theafternoonteaclub (co-run with fellow MCBF blogger Laura Griffiths)
You can find Caroline on twitter at @FromCaroline