The Chorley Little Theatre was predictably sold out for Mark Steel’s In Town tour when it, er, hit town.
Steel is a stalwart on the comedy circuit with a left wing credibility that would make Ken Livingstone blush. However on this tour he played down the socialism to highlight some of Britain’s lesser known towns with accompanying slideshow and following his successful Radio 4 series on this theme.
The audience was treated to tales about the Get Carter car park in Gateshead and a drunken Education Minister on the Isle of Man through to Walsall’s hippo (don’t rush). Steel mused on the perils of delivering a tailor made show to a local audience: ‘As I was leaving Winchester, a chap said to me “Good job you were playing Winchester, seeing as how you have such a lot of Winchester material in your set”.’
Steel had not been to Chorley before. Prior to arriving on stage he spent the day getting to know the town, learning about Vimto and the history of unrest in the town from two centuries before. He had also done some exploring. ‘I like how all the shops are closed. Stops people getting in your way.’ A highlight was wondering why the Mormons chose to build their UK church in Chorley. When the audience volunteered that the founder of the Pilgrim Fathers was a local he went off on a riff about Chorley as the focal point of all religions. ‘I suppose Jesus was from round here?’
He also spent part of his afternoon watching Chorley FC: ‘I was late. The gates were locked, to prevent a huge queue of people from getting in’ and hoped that the Magpies might get promotion to a more attractively named division than the Evostik Premier, ‘like the Superglue League.’
It was an instructive evening for Steel, who learnt that what differentiates Chorley cakes from Eccles cakes is that they’re made from short crust pastry. Aside from the local jokes, he also reflected on hitting 50, having a grumpy teenage son and the perils of cycling. With a show weighing in at over two and a half hours, he might have kept going had a woman on the front row not pointed out that she had missed the last bus home to Astley Village. ‘Where Cromwell lost his shoe,’ said Steel. He had done his homework, and his audience went home entertained and educated.