BARBARA NICE’S RAFFLE
Patrick Centre, Birmingham Hippodrome, Saturday 14th October, 2018
Appearing as part of the Birmingham Comedy Festival, ‘housewife, mother of five, and avid reader of Take A Break’, Mrs Barbara Nice brings with her a microphone, a manually-operated tombola and a bag-for-life full of prizes. “We’ll do the raffle in the second half; the first half’s all admin.”
By admin, she means audience participation – two words guaranteed to send a chill down the spine of any British theatregoer. But on this occasion, we need have no fear. Such is Mrs Nice’s approach, we join in without worrying about it. Her questions might call for a show of hands, a grunt, a nudge of our neighbour, and so on, as response. At any moment, she might drop in the chorus of a popular song and we all engage in some impromptu community singing, whether it’s A Windmill in Old Amsterdam, or the jingles for Cadbury’s chocolate. En masse, we mime that we are taking part in the Winter Olympics, going for gold in the curling.
It sounds daft. It is daft. But we don’t feel daft. We’re having the time of our lives.
Mrs Nice has a way of bonding us all. Her daftness democratises us. Between self-deprecating remarks (the ravages of childbirth on her body, for example) she champions ‘ordinary’ and ‘working class’ people – and it’s about time somebody did, and thanks us repeatedly for coming out to see a live show, for breaking our routines. We are all in it together – and this time, those words actually mean something.
The raffle fills the second half, a surprisingly thrilling ritual in which we are deeply invested – we’ve been issued a free ticket on admission to the show. Mrs Nice parades half a dozen prizes that arouse our acquisitiveness instantly. I have my heart set on a tin of marrowfat peas, and am gutted when someone else claims the bottle of Dettol… Each winner comes down, Price is Right style, while music blares, and dances with our hostess. There is no embarrassment here, and we’re all celebrating the good fortune of the chosen ones. I come away empty-handed, alas, but my heart is full of joy.
This is what John McGrath, long ago, would call ‘A Good Night Out’, hearkening back to working-men’s clubs and variety shows. It’s character comedy – Mrs Nice is the creation of actor Janice Connolly – a worthy successor to the likes of Caroline Aherne’s Mrs Merton.
The evening is rounded off with the entire audience coming onto the stage for a frankly terrifying game of What’s The Time Mister Wolf? It’s a delicious moment and Mrs Nice has proved her point: it is better to get out and get involved with people. This hilarious show does more for the audience’s mental health and well-being than any worthy self-help book.
Furthermore, it reminds us of the fun and power of a live show, something we can lose sight of as we crook our necks over our phones, barely interacting with the world around us.
A wonderful, wonderful night.