Reviewed on Wednesday October 16

Felicity Ward’s tight five to open tonight’s Just For Laughs show turns into a not-so-tight 20, but that’s cool; Ward is affable as ever as she embarks on something of a confessional. She suffers anxiety, she tells a strong Opera House Studio crowd, which makes it hard to add any body mass to her small frame. Or to make fat jokes.

Mark Watson is an anxious character too, but evidently has no qualms about heights: he starts out not onstage, but leaning over the railing on the balcony from where he watched Ward’s set (she was almost too funny for a support act, he says; you want the audience to think, ‘That was fun, but I bet the headliner will be funnier.’) It’s delightfully rock’n’roll, at least until his sprint downstairs and ungainly climb up to the stage.

Watson is ten minutes into his set by now, and he’s downright on fire for the ten minutes that follow. The Bristol comic and television host is a quick thinker and an even quicker talker, but despite his frenetic mutterings and instantaneous one-liners his material moves at a pace gentle enough for everyone to keep up.

Not that this audience needs any favours. Watson comments repeatedly on our intelligence; he appreciates that everyone’s laughing in different spots. It’s not like this in America, he says. And here, he can get away with a sly cricket jibe, too. In friendly surrounds, Watson tests out some fresh material, and most of it comes off well. The ambitious finale is perhaps the exception – it’s a recreation of one of Watson’s darkest moments from his days on the drink, featuring exploding balloons and a trio of audience members co-opted into singing the Thomas The Tank Engine theme, and it can only improve from its first public outing here.

Still, Watson spends most of the evening being utterly hilarious. There’s an undercurrent of concern for the performers throughout the night as they confess their flaws – from Ward’s anxiety to Watson’s past drinking issues – but the mood is bright overall.

At least, until final ovations and Watson’s closing (and completely spontaneous) line: “This is the sort of thing that might rebuild my ability to do stand-up,” he says. Yes, it’s gone that well, and the revelation is as cathartic as it is conclusive.

4/5 stars

BY CHRIS MARTIN

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