XS Malarkey is still one of Manchester’s greatest treasures. Despite numerous venue changes over the years, it still manages to retain its magical combination of low prices, great acts and great atmosphere, along with a longstanding commitment to giving newer acts a chance to share the stage with established performers.

Compère Toby Hadoke brings his usual blend of middle-class amiability and sci-fi geekery to proceedings. Toby’s friendly delivery and dedication to a friendly, supportive atmosphere for comics is surely one of the major factors in the unique feel of XS’s atmosphere. There is no jeering and heckling here, and the evening is all the better for it.

Harriet Kemsley‘s first slot was a fine introduction to the evening. Her chipper, almost child-like delivery lifting what might otherwise be some fairly average material on well-trodden topics to a much more entertaining level, but an apparent lack of confidence, peppering the performance with ‘um’s, ‘er’s and nervous giggles sometimes spoils the flow.

Next up, Chris Chopping‘s geeky delivery and self-deprecating anecdotes reveal a comic who clearly knows the beats of his material, expertly judging the execution of his jokes and comments throughout his short performance. Second in the middle section here, Alison Spittle‘s friendly enthusiasm and energy makes an audience instantly like her, lending a feeling of familiarity and the feeling that both she and the audience are sharing in their own private joke, at the expense of the outside world.

Finally, Tanyalee Davis‘ sometimes filthy, sometimes ludicrous material can have a wonderful effect on an audience. Using the combination of her dwarfism and overt sexuality to deliberately embarrass young, male audience members with outrageously over the top and explicit flirting can have the crowd howling with laughter. Some perfectly judged stories about life with dwarfism and the ridiculous way she approaches everyday obstacles and public attention makes this headliner an almost slapstick experience.