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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Bruce Dessau

No Direction Home at Soho Theatre review: Suella's sacking added zing to this memorable comedy night

The perk of compering a comedy gig is that being first onstage you get to land the opening comic blows when a big story breaks. And there was certainly a big story yesterday. "Think of Suella at this difficult time," said genial MC Michael Akadiri. His straight face quickly gave way to a grin. 

Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman's shadow loomed in Soho last night for good reason. No Direction Home is a project for new comics from refugee and migrant backgrounds.

Aspiring performers are tutored by professionals including Tom Parry from sketch group Pappy's and then perform. This impressive showcase underlined how vital comedy is: "There's nothing more human than laughing with someone," Parry has said. 

First act Anastasia Chokuwamba, based in the Midlands, is originally from Zimbabwe. Despite being a novice playing to a packed room she quickly grew in confidence, boosted by a crowdpleasing starter. When people ask how she got here she gives an honest answer: "I took a train from Coventry". 

Her routines found striking humour in cultural differences. It is not easy to get a laugh asking if anyone else comes from a village where the nearest water is 10km away, but she did it. There were louder laughs though when she talked about linguistic quirks of English. When someone enquired, "How do you take your tea?" she wondered where she was supposed to take it. 

The second newcomer was Loraine Mponela from Malawi. After joking that she was a Malawian child Madonna did not want, Mponela addressed the refugee issue directly. When she was an asylum seeker life was easier – she wasn't allowed to work and was given free sandwiches. Now, she added with a smile, she has to pay rent and buy her own food. But naturally she is happier. And empowered by comedy. 

After Chokuwamba and Mponela there was a household name headliner. Rob Delaney has written touchingly about the death of his son Henry, but here he was strictly in comedy mode, talking about the joys of moving house and making his wife jealous filming a love scene with another man. 

By a neat synchronicity, the London-based American became a British citizen three weeks ago. The process culminated with him being presented with a picture of Suella Braverman. He is going to look after it, he explained. Maybe even frame it. After the events earlier in the day it might now become a collector's item. 

The aim of No Direction Home is that by mixing comedians from refugee backgrounds with established stand-ups, the project, run by charity Counterpoints Arts, will both change people's perceptions of what being a refugee means and make people laugh. Two goals undoubtedly achieved on a memorable night. 

Soho Theatre, December 11;

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