Ambition Festival event review: a blunder on Bob’s Blundabus

By - Monday 10th August, 2015

A good time was had by few, to Hannah Oliver’s regret

Image by Ambition Festival, used with permission.

A blunderbuss, so the worldwide web affirms, is a muzzle-loading firearm. And now comedian Bob Slayer has appropriated the word for the crimson double decker that he acquired in July this year and in which comedy, it is to be hoped, might go off with a similar bang.

Out came the mangy, turquoise bowels of TfL: out the furry seats, out the manic bleep of the Oyster card machine, out the cash-curbing rule and out the pale, jaundiced lighting reminiscent of those bleak early morning marathons on the only public transport still crawling homeward. He replaced them with booze, lamplight and bench rows. He replaced them with a stage and a bar, an amp and an amphitheatre, and finished the bus a day before its first gig with a wacky array of spray-canned motifs by some street artist friends.

The product is a hop-on pop-up venue, with an entrance fee of five pounds per night for a warmingly bumbling ride (a static one, fear not) through three hours of cosy stand-up comedy.

A blocky, cumbersome mode of transport arrested of its purpose and suddenly revitalised into a theatrical space is difficult to fathom. The intrigue works to Bob Slayer’s advantage, as is doubtless the intention, and played a large part in my going to the gig in the first place. Yet the upper deck where the stand-up takes place holds thirty to forty people, Bob’s demure girlfriend Shirley assures us as she sits poised between blanket and beer can. She is on a break from bartending duty, smiling sheepishly: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, is the message – she helps wherever she can. Although I don’t know if Bob is expecting his demographic to be rather on the slim side, and a cushion wouldn’t go amiss.

Bob’s Blundabus would surely go off with the bang that its muzzle-y namesake suggests

Nevertheless, tour of the decks complete, beer in hand and waiting for the gig to begin, I find myself gleeful and rather flattered that Croydon is the Blundabus’ first pit-stop on a tour that culminates with the comedy mecca that is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Parked between the Cronx’s very own Queen’s Gardens and Fairfield Halls with a line-up of the likes of Tim Renkow, Patrick Monaghan and Dave Thompson, Bob’s Blundabus is here for Croydon’s Ambition Festival. I hope you’ll forgive me for expecting that Bob’s Blundabus would go off with the bang that its muzzle-y namesake connotes.

Alas, not so. By the watershed hour, the evening was more drizzle than explosion; coinciding with that easily-remembered weekend of grey, torrential downpour, there was but a tiny cluster of us congregated in the bus. We remained seated in the bar lounge downstairs as Bob donned a real life conductor’s hat and demoted himself from MC to conversationalist, and suddenly my dad, my brother and I found that we were partakers in what was, for us, a comically intimate chit-chat with Bob Slayer and his guest performers of the evening, Stuart Laws and Dave Thompson. The show must go on.

Acknowledge the elephant in the room and make her dance

The show did go on. Rather well. None of the three comedians tried to bluff their way around the series of unfortunate events that had culminated in a handful of audience members, but in true comedy fashion, both acknowledged the elephant in the room and made her dance – in fact, she was the circensian topic of one of Dave Thompson’s trademark one-liners, to our guffawing applause. Bob Slayer’s own intermediary input was riven with calamity, from neck breakages to an ill-fated stint as a jockey, against which the blunder on the Blundabus paled.

Obviously, each set was no longer an hour a piece; no one-way conversation would last that long in any comfort. In particular, Stuart Laws used this as the buttress of his jokes, and was a delight. First to take the floor (the aisle) at Bob’s MC-esque prompting, leaning on a bus pole perhaps for some mettle (excuse the pun), each omitted stage of his set was splayed open via a verbal fast-forwarding, in an extra plane of comedy I can only think to call ‘what I’m really thinking: the comedian’. “Are you enjoying this, Nathan, sir? I can’t tell…”. Calling my brother by name and doing an uncannily accurate imitation of his gormless expression was brilliant to behold.

A spark in an otherwise grey and wet weekend

The three comedians bounced off each other, too, as if we audience members were flies on the wall of a particularly funny feedback session. I can honestly say it was a pleasure being there, and that is testament to their talent.

So ambition is the right and self-conscious word for this festival. Clearly, in its curation Croydon is anticipating itself as a magnet for these kind of events (hurrah) and we can now be flattered that there is a crowd of talented performers who want to perform here. Bob’s Blundabus, for its part, was far from blunder-some – rather, a muzzle-loading firearm that certainly produced a spark, for me, in an otherwise grey and wet weekend. The trick is not to let this kindling potential burn out before things have even begun here. Maybe it’s been a slow journey, but it’s definitely time for the bus to arrive – and let’s hope that next time, there’ll be a Cronx-dweller queue around the block, ready to hop on.

Hannah Oliver

Hannah Oliver

Hannah Oliver came to Croydon in time to commence those tumultuous teenage years, and now leaves, and returns, intermittently as the most artisan coffee-drinking and free-wheeling of students. Whilst away she dreams of Morley's chicken and chips. She writes for various zines and platforms, and sub-edits the pop culture website Prancing Through LIFE, with a particular focus on minority and community discourses.

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  • Sean Creighton

    Thanks for this. I have received a number of comments on people’s view of the Festival as a whole and the events they attended. It is important to have a discussion on this. If readers have any observations on the Festival please email them to me to help me form the basis of a review on CC in the coming weeks. .

  • Nelsonimaximus

    I also had the pleasure of this unique experience – at Queens Park Croydon featuring the excellent Pete Johansson and a very late running but also excellent Patrick Monaghan. I have been to many comedy gigs in my time, but nothing matched the close quarters intimacy of such a small gig. We all felt like part of the show and it was hilarious. Bob was great, keeping us entertained and chatting while we waited for the second act. I would recommend anyone and everyone to break a leg to watch this show whenever it arrives in town – by the time word gets out people will be fighting for a place on board!