Kirkham's young comedian Laura Mugridge is on the road home

PUBLISHED: 01:16 20 September 2011 | UPDATED: 20:01 20 February 2013

Kirkham's young comedian Laura Mugridge is on the road home

Kirkham's young comedian Laura Mugridge is on the road home

A young comedian from Kirkham has been attracting tiny audiences – and she's delighted. Now, Laura Mugridge is heading home. Mike Glover reports Photography by Joe Martin

Small is beautiful

Laura was asked to extend her tour into this county by Spot On, Lancashire, the Blackburn based organisation providing the Rural Touring Network.

The network comprises volunteers in rural areas who take professional arts to the doorsteps of people in rural communities. It is bringing Lauras show to tiny spaces for 16 shows, over four days between September 15 and 18. She will be in the Ribble Valley, Preston, Wyre and West Lancashire areas.

It is essential to book in advance. You can register via the website or call 01254 660360.

No one could accuse Lancashire lass Laura Mugridge of being a conventional comedian.

She doesnt really do jokes. And in an age when arena comedy gigs are all the rage, she has gone to the other extreme. Since April she has toured in a 1970s vintage VW camper van, named Joni, performing for up to five people at a time.

And in September she brings her surreal and unique act to her home county. Lancashire Life caught up with her on top of the Kirkstone Pass, where she was pioneering a new concept in entertainment, Free-range comedy.

It is obvious that Laura and her husband, actor Tom Frankland, work very hard on the show, setting up all sorts of surprises for the audience. Some of the electronic tricks come as a particular shock. Her audience was yours truly, a sound engineer and a passing couple, Gary and Katy Cook.

We are introduced and squeeze into the van in allocated places. Katy is asked to play Lauras husband. The sound engineer has the front passenger seat to act as DJ and Gary and I are in the back. Outside the wind is blowing but inside the van it is intimate, not to say claustrophobic.

We all soon warm to homeLauras act. This consists of taking us on a journey of life, love and the struggle to make her name as a stand-up.
She starts by giving Katy a little recorder which plays one half of a conversation with Tom, full of affection and the sort of phrases which indicate a reluctance to say goodbye. Lauras side of the conversation is live, and it is played to perfection.

This sets the scene for the ensuing hour, as Laura constantly defers to Katy who is enticed into the part of a loving partner, and the rest of us contribute to stories, illustrations and songs.

Very enjoyable it is, too.

For the Lake District, this is the latest attempt to attach another string to the tourist bow. Art, Literature, cycling, wild swimming, food and drink, outdoor adventure, extreme sports and many other activities have been used to entice holiday makers.

On the back of Kendal Mountain Film Festival which is based at Brewery Arts Theatre in November, there is a new event: Kendal Comedy Festival, including Free-range comedy.

Mike Jones, head of performing arts at Brewery Arts, said: Rather than spending the whole weekend in darkened rooms, we wanted our audience to experience the amazing landscapes. Where else could you enjoy a comedy show in a camper van on a mountain pass? Back in Kendal the likes of Al Murray hold sell out concerts but for Laura this is just another stop on her career. Running on Air won her plaudits and awards at the Edinburgh Fringe and she has been on the road ever since.

Laura, 30, who was brought up in Kirkham and Clifton, explains: I got really interested in comedy in tiny spaces and the dynamics it creates between a performer and the audience.

Then we got this van and it seemed the ideal venue. It has this magical quality and is very nostalgic. For the audience it takes them back to their childhood and memories of camping.

The show is very interactive, since the audience are an integral part of the show. They dont know what to expect and I like to keep it that way.
In the show, Laura talks about three journeys: one from Edinburgh to Preston, one to Cornwall, and appropriately for this particular gig, one she gave to the elements just along the road at Keswick.

It was to an even smaller audience, just a couple of kestrels overhead.
Laura was trying out the whole concept of performing outdoors and trying to connect with what she really wanted to do with her career. Husband Tom persuaded her to try it out on Walla Crag, a 1,243 foot high fell overlooking Derwent Water.

It was a pivotal moment, convincing her she could go her own way, all she needed was to gather material and find an audience. It was that simple.
She had been on the thespian path from a very early age, joining dancing classes when at Newton Blue Coat Church of England Primary School at Newton with Scales, near Preston, and also getting involved in school plays at Carr Hill Secondary at Kirkham.

She also joined the Nogal Pear Tree Players, giving shows at Lowther Pavillion, Lytham. She studied French and drama at Hull, where she met Tom and after a year in France, show business took them to their current home in London.

But lets return to the camper van, called Joni, after Joni Mitchell, of Big Yellow Taxi fame. At the end of the performance, each member of the audience gets a badge displaying a simple white W.

People assume it is the W is from VW. But it really stands for Wahugoy, a message Lauras mum sent her when she was learning to text. Neither of them knows what she was trying to say but it still makes Laura laugh.
A lot more W badges are due to be given out in her home county. Wahugoy!

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