May 13 2010
With its fast-food joints and cinemas showing Hollywood blockbusters, there’s precious little that’s uniquely British, let alone enticing, in London’s Leicester Square. But the Just the Tonic comedy nights at the Leicester Square Theatre every Friday and Saturday are as sharp as English mustard.
Darrell Martin, who has been running the original Just the Tonic nights in Nottingham for more than a decade, established the London venue a year ago. Unlike similar comedy clubs, this isn’t just where new acts present their shows: it’s where some of our greatest comedians regularly perform. My favourite was Stewart Lee (pictured), who I saw in March. I have tickets for Rich Hall and a mixed bill including Richard Herring in June. Noel Fielding, Alan Carr, Lee Mack and Sean Lock have also performed here. Sometimes the biggest acts are not advertised in advance, as big-name comedians use the venue to try out new material.
Situated on Leicester Place, just off Leicester Square’s northern side, the theatre has a small frontage, but inside there are two auditoriums and three bars. Perhaps the unexpectedly high level of comfort is why audiences – at least in my experience – tend to be well behaved compared with the unruly mob that some comedy venues can attract. When the evening starts flowing there is really nothing more satisfying than having a big belly laugh with a couple of hundred people. And it costs just £10-£15 (sometimes a fraction more depending upon the performer), which is something of a bargain bearing in mind that admission to cinemas a stone’s throw away costs £15.
Martin, who is himself a comedian, generally keeps the big names trying out new material fairly close to his chest but will hint heavily in his email mailing lists. Of those that are publicly announced, tickets are still available for Stewart Lee on July 17. And as laughter generally works up a good appetite, Chinatown is on the doorstep for post-show dining.