Gee Witchalls hangs out at Cornwall’s hot new venue – The Old Bakery, Truro
Right on the river in the centre of Truro is a big old industrial space – atmospheric in its unpolished glory, cavernous and yet somehow intimate. For years it was mostly empty, one of those interesting buildings you’d walk past and wonder what it was like inside, until Cath King took it on and decided to bring it back to life.
Inside it’s a bit of a warren – upstairs there are now some sixty studio spaces, freshly renovated, light and airy but with that raw industrial charm, whilst downstairs is home to some of Truro’s most innovative creative ventures (more on those later).
Most of the ground floor, however, is a fairly grand function space, with the impression of being both large and cosy at the same time. It’s an impressive trick, and one that makes for a unique setting.
Recently, the venue has introduced a variety of new and exciting events, and I was curious to see how it could be transformed to suit such a range. It’s clear that Truro has been crying out for a place like this and one can only hope that it continues to flourish. Just this week’s it’s been host to an awesome underground party, top rate stand up, and the new phenomenon of pop up gigs, Sofar Sounds.
Attending a silent disco (my first) was a brilliant introduction – it reminded me of the kind of places raves were held in the old days* with that wonderful underground ambience, dark corners and exposed lighting rigs – and it just seemed to sit in the space perfectly.
If you’ve never been to a silent disco, by the way, I thoroughly recommend it. You have a set of wireless headphones and can switch between different DJ channels (three on this occasion) when a song comes on you’re not feeling…and if you take them off, people watching takes on a whole new dimension, with ‘guess what song s/he’s dancing to’ a marvellous game to try. Here’s a little taster:
The next night I was back at the Bakery for the Comedy Cupboard, a brilliant new comedy night (this was the second instalment) which Truro has been crying out for.
The room was draped and lit in a nice old style club manner, with bistro tables and chairs, and the ‘selfie booth’ from the night before replaced with a little catering cubby.
This was inhabited by Punk Thai, who are based in the building, and their Thai Green Curry and Pork & Basil pasties (yes, pasties) were really, REALLY good. Check them out on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/Punkthai.co.uk/
The line-up for the comedy night was pretty impressive, with local-maid-done-good Harriet Dyer headlining with an Edinburgh preview, comic poet Rob Barratt doing his first comedy club set (he usually plays the folk clubs!) and Plymouth based ‘Comedy Avengers’ host Richard James, plus local MC Claire Rowley.
The show was a roaring success, with the crowd on their feet, dancing, for Harriet, and getting stuck in with audience participation throughout. Here’s a taste of what you missed: (WARNING: CONTAINS SWEARING AND ADULT THEMES)
I caught up with Harriet Dyer and some of the acts to get some reactions…
CS: How did you get into comedy?
HD: “I always wanted to be an actress and got into drama school, but couldn’t afford it. My friend was going to Wolverhampton Uni so I just decided to go there to do drama. Turned out there was a comedy module on that degree – the only one in the country – which was a complete fluke! I was an absolute disaster though – I was drunk all the time and nobody would work with me because I was a complete shambles… then one day I turned up to be told it was the comedy assessment. I hadn’t prepared, but this guy said to me ‘just tell the story you told in the pub’, it was about how I died twice when I was 17… it’s funnier than it sounds! So I did that and the head of drama said to me, “you’re an absolute mess but there’s something really special there”. So she got me extenuating circumstances to pass the first year, and I sorted myself out and that was it really. If it hadn’t been for her – you know, people give up on you so easily, and I could have fallen by the wayside, so I was just really lucky that she was so lovely.
I lived in Birmingham for a while, but didn’t do comedy there. I knew I wanted to do it, but I just hadn’t pursued it and so one day I googled for people organising comedy and found Mirth Control. They asked me for a bio, and I sent him my life story! Which obviously wasn’t what he meant but he said it was the maddest thing he’d ever read so he gave me a gig. I went to do this thing…I was drunk again, and I had this little backpack on, leaping around, and this Jack Daniels bottle with a candle in it has fallen down and set fire to the tablecloth, absolute catastrophe! So that was it, I only really did comedy the once, and then I just stopped. I’ve only been gigging regularly since 2010.”
CS: What would you say is the state of the Cornish comedy scene?
CR: “There’s just no budget for live comedy, so there’s nowhere really for people to go and try stuff out and that’s what they need… because at a gig like this, these people have paid to come in so you need to have slick acts, acts that have had a chance to prepare. There can be more stuff like this but you want to be able to just go out on a circuit and do 3 or 4 slots a night just trying stuff out so you’ve got an act.”
HD: “When I lived in Birmingham I got an agent that was based in Manchester, and I wanted to make the most of the opportunity so I moved up there – they have lots of flagship comedy nights like at the Frog and Bucket which are great. I used to come back to Cornwall more often but then my mum died so it just got a bit sad… It’ been really nice looking at it through my boyfriend’s eyes because he’d never been, and I am starting to love it again. I’d definitely come down more often if there was more of this sort of thing happening!”
RJ: “It’s definitely happening now, there’s a few comedy nights around and we do a lot round Plymouth and up in Devon and Somerset – there’s not a lot of it still but hopefully it is getting better… Nights like this are brilliant so hopefully it continues!”
CS: What is your reaction to the venue here? It’s quite different to most bars or comedy clubs.
HD: “Oh it’s just brilliant, this is absolutely perfect – great for previews and ideal for alternative comedy. It was a nice gig, the crowd were patient and lovely! I really like it here it’s got lots of charm.
RJ: “Do you know, it’s really nice to find a good square room in the West Country. I know that sounds strange but you just don’t get them! It’s a really cool place, ideal for this kind of thing.”