Deansways and The Vandella: clubbing together

As two new comedy venues spring up across the capital, Ben Williams sends James Wren of The Vandella and Harry Deansway of Deansways to review each other’s spaces

Ship-shape: Harry Deansway and Hollie Ebdon at their Bethnal Green venue, Deansways Ship-shape: Harry Deansway and Hollie Ebdon at their Bethnal Green venue, Deansways - © Rob Greig

It’s not often that a brand new, full-time comedy venue opens up. There are, indeed, only a handful of purpose-built stand-up spaces in London. Compared to setting up a monthly gig above a pub, it’s an enormous risk to kit out a venue and programme gag-slingers six or seven nights a week. But like London buses, two new permanent comedy fixtures have come along at once. One east, one west, at either end of the Central Line.

The Vandella is a swanky new Shepherd’s Bush joint playing host to sketch, character comedy and stand-up as well as cabaret and music. Deansways, in Bethnal Green, is a shabby chic, nautical-styled basement room which hosts avant-garde comedy acts and alternative variety. In order to acquire honest verdicts of the two spaces, we sent James Wren, promoter of The Vandella, and Harry Deansway, co-promoter of Deansways (obviously), to spy on each other’s venues and report back.

Spec saviour: James Wren at his Shepherd's Bush venue, The Vandella Spec saviour: James Wren at his Shepherd's Bush venue, The Vandella - © Rob Greig

James Wren on Deansways

‘One of the things I love about a really good venue is the feeling you have as you enter the building. It’s a mixture of excitement and anticipation that something special is about to take place. I had that feeling in spades as I descended the stairs at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club and entered Deansways, which, on the night I was there for the excellent “Forgery Club”, was rammed to the rafters. The place is brilliant. It’s as if it hasn’t been touched since the ’70s. On the walls are pictures of performers from the music hall era, and memorabilia from the years when this was a functioning working men’s club. Some people would have stripped all this away in favour of a modern, more practical space. The Deansways team haven’t done this and thank God they haven’t. In fact, the venue uses the atmosphere and charm of the room itself as a feature.

‘But a good space alone does not make a good comedy venue, and there is a lot more to running a good club than just booking comedians and opening the doors. It’s as, if not more, important who is holding the reins. You need to make performers feel creative. The brains behind this project, Harry Deansway and Hollie Ebdon, have done just that.  Harry is a comedy dynamo who always has a ton of projects on the go. He set up comedy magazine The Fix, has made countless funny videos and is now co-writing a musical set in the comedy industry (I’ve already asked to stage this at The Vandella). Hollie is fast building herself a reputation as a first-class promoter and creator of exciting and innovative comedy nights. The good people of east London are in safe hands. Deansways is a fantastic club.’

Harry Deansway and Hollie Ebdon at Deansways Harry Deansway and Hollie Ebdon at Deansways - © Rob Greig

Harry Deansway on The Vandella

‘When Time Out asked if I would compose a piece about a brand new comedy club, I said I’d love to write about Deansways, which I launched with my partner Hollie Ebdon but a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, the venue they had in mind was not my own but another one across town in Shepherd’s Bush, The Vandella. Once I’d got over the shock that a rival venue was opening up, my only hope was that it would have a terrible transport infrastructure, be decked out like a whore’s bedroom and be run by someone with no taste in comedy. Alas, none of these things are true at The Vandella. It’s right next to a tube station, filled with tasteful furniture and artwork, and is run by James Wren, the man who booked The Mighty Boosh when no one else had heard of them. He also runs the Hen and Chickens Theatre in Islington, where virtually any comedian you’ve ever heard of started out.

‘The Vandella programmes a good deal of sketch and character comedy, and, as a full-time venue, is hugely supportive of that circuit. This can only be a good thing for the London comedy scene (the best in the world). Acts are so often left feeling totally unwelcome in the back room of a pub, where the manager’s main concern is to sell booze rather than give an act time to grow an audience and develop their style.

‘If I didn’t have my own venue to run I’d probably be at The Vandella most nights of the week – I’m already pissed off about some of their line-ups that I’ll miss. In the hands of James and his team I’m sure that in no time at all this venue will become another comedy institution like his previous ventures, and once the comics have served their apprenticeship, developed their acts and built an audience at The Vandella, that’s when I’ll be nicking them to put on at Deansways. But I won’t be paying them as well as James.’

Deansways, 44 Pollard Row, E2 6NB.

The Vandella, 15 Goldhawk Rd, W12 8QQ.