Sitting proudly in the shadow of The Curve Theatre in the city centre of Leicester is the Queen Victoria Arts Club. A classy venue for a pre-theatre meal or, as the case was on my visit, a night of comedy in the basement.
Housed in a beautiful building directly opposite both The Curve and The Athena venues, Queen Victoria Arts club opened in October 2018. The restaurant at the venue features a Modern British style of cooking with vegan options and pre-theatre menus available also.
Tonight, the restaurant would be put to one side. As comedy in the basement area was the order of the evening. A local Leicestershire business named ‘SomeBrightSpark’, specialising in design and live events, were hosting a corporate function for their staff – including a free bar and food.
Having resisted the urge to drop my CV into the company (I mean, seriously, how well are these guys treated?!) I took my seat next to some familiar faces. The MC for the evening was local Leicester comedian Jay Neale, a friend of the company owner hosting the event.
Jay also had brought along a couple of aspiring comedians from his comedy workshop – a six week course on getting started in stand up. With three acts to learn from – plus Jay himself. These guys are in good hands.
The basement itself was the perfect place to host a comedy performance. The low ceiling, bar within close proximity and comfortable seating made for a relaxed setting. With Prosecco flowing and food being eagerly devoured in small bowls, it was time for the gig to get underway.
Jay kicked off proceedings with good-natured banter with the audience. Having a rapport and a good session of banter with the crowd, Jay got the gig off to a great start – even surviving one audience member calling him ‘a dick’. All in good humour.
Another face amongst the familiar was that of comedian Stevie Gray. We seem to have a habit of bumping into each other within The Midlands comedy circuit and Stevie’s act continues to be a keen subject on these pages.
In the lead up to Stevie’s Edinburgh shows, this was a good opportunity to see the fine tuning of his already consistent act. The high energy that Gray brings to the stage was much needed as the room was still settling into the gig. With full attention on the stage, Stevie had a great night and did well to keep hold of the audience.
Following each performance there was always an interval of 15 minutes to allow those in the audience to return to the bar, go to the toilet or pop outside for a smoke. In my case, it was to get a decent mobile phone signal as sadly the basement didn’t support the EE network.
Next up on the bill was comedian Lovdev Barpaga. A casual looking figure in his Puma jumper and clutching a bottle of beer, Barpaga strongly reflected a man in the corner of a pub reeling off gags.
The set that Lovdev delivered was well thought out, clever and ultimately hilarious. The set comprised of gags focused around the Indian version of ‘Guess Who?’ and various other one liners. It was a superb performance.
By now, the room was lively and feeling the effects of the free bar. Everyone was in good spirits and having a blast. The headline act then made his entrance – a comedian from St Albans named Chris Norton Walker.
A giant of a man with an equally giant task in front of him, Chris set to work trying to control the front row. A hilarious exchange between Norton Walker and a lady slightly the worse for wear had the crowd in stitches.
Chris eventually turned away in order to allow the lady to stagger to the toilet. Next came probably the most unique moment that I have ever experienced while watching stand up comedy….ever.
Norton Walker came up with the idea that the whole room should leave their seats, gather in a little alcove out of sight while the lights were switched off and he would continue to fire off gags into the dark. It was absolutely brilliant.
After a good while, the lady returned and we could come out of hiding. Chris continued with his set, turning a 20 minute slot into the best part of an hour. The one liners, in similar fashion to Lovdev’s, were all brilliant. It was the ideal ending to what had been a top evening.
The experience at Queen Victoria Arts Club comes highly recommended. A classy restaurant and bar is the ideal place for a lunch date or pre-theatre meal. The basement offers the perfect space for a conference, private party or comedy night. It really left the impression on me that this is one of Leicester’s best kept secrets.
One of the more fascinating aspects of the evening was learning from Stevie, Jay and the fellow comics about the industry and tapping into the mindset of a stand up comedian. I have huge respect for anyone who stands in front of a crowd, microphone in hand, attempting to entertain and amuse.
Opening Times: Monday – Saturday 1130-0000, Sunday 1130-1600
Nearest Train Station: Leicester