"Well, that made a change from Downton Abbey". So ran the verdict of one punter on leaving this all-female stand-up extravaganza in aid of the British Heart Foundation. Host Victoria Wood could not have put it better herself, although if anything, it was faint praise for an enjoyable evening that rarely missed a beat.
Wood's return to the stage for the event was the first significant live stand-up performance from the comic for the best part of a decade. Still bob-haired, boyish and buoyant, the 57-year old was charged with morphing the message of the evening into her stand-up and introducing successive generations of female comics, which she did with trademark aplomb. Wood pepped up her role with some pointed remarks about famous faces (to Madonna: "Wearing a flatcap and looking miserable doesn't make you English") and celebrity. "I don't need the money – I've got a lodger," she said, of spurning the advances of Strictly Come Dancing.
Wood stamped her authority on the event acting as the yardstick against which to judge her younger counterparts. By any standards, it was a sizeable all-female bill to be proud of. "Twenty years ago," said Wood adroitly. "It would have been me, Jo Brand and Danny La Rue."
Stepping up to the crease to bat first for the new generation was the character comic Katy Brand. There was some irony that Brand's act was a portrayal of a woman on a bad day. The performer had one herself last week when she launched a Twitter attack on ITV for not entering her for the British Comedy Awards. Her character's response to turmoil, meanwhile, involved at least 19 mini bottles of Baileys and gorging on women's magazines ("572 OMG party looks," she reads from one, adding in a drunken slur: "Would it have killed them to have thought of eight more?").
More glamorous were thirty-something stand-ups Andi Osho and Roisin Conaty. Both accentuate their savvy London girl credentials and both are growing in stature. While Osho is more likely to go for a crowd-pleasing couplet ("Madonna is like malaria, she's all over Africa"), Conaty is quirkier, lamenting "not having someone to be unreasonable to" as one of the things she misses about being in a relationship. Peep Show star Isy Suttie is kookier still and though her short and sweet stint was a little erratic she charmed with songs that she supposedly used to make up at school for her girlfriends, demanding from them two facts about the boys they liked "and a Babybel" for her efforts.
The solo stints tonight were completed by Ria Jones as Mrs Overall performing a tune from Acorn Antiques: the Musical! and Jo Brand who put in a very tidy set peppered with some of her best lines including: "My husband never learnt to drive... in my opinion." Brand had also been present for a sketch with her colleagues from the BBC4 series Getting On that threatened to flat-line but passed off harmlessly enough. Better was to come from Julia Davis and Jessica Hynes who steadied the sketch standard. All told it was an evening that achieved a consistently pleasing rhythm – a rarity on mixed bills such as this.