10 August 2022

My Theatre Tour reaches Stowmarket – The John Peel Centre

By Rachel Sloane
The John Peel Centre, Stowmarket

This was a double first. My first visit to the arts centre named after famous Stowmarket resident, the late John Peel, the radio presenter who did so much for undiscovered performers and unusual music … and my first visit to stand-up comedy. 

The John Peel Centre for Creative Arts, to give it its full name, is hidden behind the main street, near the library and St Peter’s and St Mary’s Church. Although it has no parking (there are two disabled road spaces by the front door) it is only a short walk from several car parks, all free after 6pm. It is a five minute walk from the railway station. 

The Centre offers original music, poetry, film, theatre, and comedy performances, but is most known for its music nights, as is only correct with such a well-loved and famous name over the door. 

The website says,

 “The Stowmarket Corn Hall was built in the Market Place in 1835 at a cost of £3,000 raised in £25 shares. It was officially opened on the 13th of July 1836. It housed the town’s Assembly Rooms and, as well as agricultural trading on market days, the building was also used for public meetings, concerts and travelling theatrical performances.”

The current hall dates to approximately 1860and has been used as a corn hall, wartime canteen, market, exhibition hall, cinema, and pool hall. Bought and repaired by the Town Council in 1995, and then was unused for some time.   

“Our project started as a Community Safety initiative by Mid Suffolk District Council in 2009. Early consultation showed enthusiasm for the community to play a bigger role and identified the potential for the project to develop as a tribute to John Peel, who lived locally.”

Between 2010 and 2013 the planned work was carried out in three stages and now the Centre is a thriving not-for-profit community venue, supported by a team of volunteers. 

With a licensed bar, quality lighting and sound equipment, the John Peel centre holds 200 people standing , but fewer when seated. It was cabaret style seating around nine tables, on the night I visited. 

With original tiles and red painted ironwork, the hall has a warm and friendly vibe, with helpful staff. One warning. The website said my chosen show would be 7.30-11pm so I arrived just after 7pm to find the bar was open from 7.30 but the performance began at 8pm… and it ended at 10pm. Not a problem for regular audiences but useful to know if you are driving any distance. I didn’t need to rush… but it wasn’t the late night out that I thought it would be, luckily!  


Inside the John Peel Centre

John Peel Comedy featuring Matt Richardson Sunday 7th August 2022

I am trying, in this series of theatre visits, to go to different genres or styles of production. I also wanted to try stand-up comedy foe the first time and knew it needed a broad-minded attitude. I was ready for anything!

If you go to a stand-up comedy night assume, compared to comedy on the television, it’s going to be ‘near the knuckle’ as they say. The jokes will be ruder, with lots about sex, and the language riper with lots of swearing.  The comics will fully involve the audience, so don’t sit on the front row…. Or the second row, if you are not prepared for that. 

On the bill was Josh Weller, compere Meryl O’Rouke, and Matt Richardson who has been co-presenter of The Xtra FactorCelebrity Haunted Hotel Live,  Big Brother’s Bit on the Side, The Hangover Games, and competed in Dancing on Ice last year. 

It was a very funny night – but you needed to be pretty well unshockable. I went alone to see the show, sitting at a round table with strangers (who were very friendly – a shoutout and thanks to my neighbours, Hayley and James), on the very end of the front row. I thought I was out of the firing line, but the lighting meant I was on full view to the performers. 

Incredibly funny in her own right, compere Meryl O’Rouke, spotted I was on my own, drew attention to it, but added I was probably wise as, if you went with a partner, especially if it was a new relationship, you would spend all evening wondering if you dared laugh at some of the stories! 

(Matt Richardson, after telling a story about a sex aid, looked at me and said, ‘it’s OK. She’s laughing, so I think I got away with that!’)

This was not an evening of traditional ‘jokes’, but of funny anecdotes and stories….and lots of interaction with the audience. 

Josh Weller’s stories were of our innocence in the past…  some of the music of the 90’s, Top of the Pops, the boy bands, the Thriller video and how the plot of Annie (ie, orphaned twelve year old girl handed over to rich man) were actually really weird! 

Some of the biggest laughs of the night were those that teased the Stowmarket audience. Matt Richardson said he arrived three hours early to look at the sights of the town but was reading his book in the car in 20 minutes! After joking about the number of John Deere vehicles on the road, he said that was one joke that would only work at a gig in Stowmarket! He also laughed at himself performing to ’59 people on a Sunday night in Stowmarket’ when he had appeared on TV. 

I thought I was the oldest in the audience by a mile but, as I was leaving, face aching from laughing, I saw one older man who was saying to his adult children, ‘in my generation you wouldn’t expect a man to make such graphic jokes about his girlfriend’s tampons….Things have certainly changed…..”

The comedy was ‘rude’ but it wasn’t aimed at my age group anyway!

If you want to try a stand-up show, do a bit of research about the performers…. And be prepared to leave any inhibitions outside the door. 

Comedy nights are held regularly in Stowmarket, and I will be back to the John Peel Centre. I may go to hear a band next time!