JASON Manford strode out on to the stage at St Helens Theatre Royal and told the audience to expect a night like if you were catching up with old friends.

And he was true to his word, delivering a brilliant show that will have reconnected many in the crowd – who had not been to a theatre for more than two years – to the joys of stand-up comedy and the delights of laughter.

The world has not been a fun place over the last few years and there has been a lot of pain, meaning there are those who are not too keen to reflect on 2020 and 2021.

But within all the craziness, stresses and strains that we have encountered in the pandemic, there are moments we can look back on and smile about.

Manford’s observations, anecdotes and storytelling – ably and superbly supported by support act Susie McCabe – were sublime.

He had the audience in the palm of his hand as he reflected on home schooling, relationships, the ever-changing lockdowns, rules and the government.

The thunderous laughter rolling around the theatre was also a reminder of how the theatre on Corporation Street is a perfect venue for this kind of intimate gig – the atmosphere simply cannot be replicated in the grand arenas of the big cities.

It’s a big plus for St Helens that it continues to attract acts of this calibre. Indeed, the theatre will welcome other big names, Russell Brand and Jimmy Carr this summer.

Whether they can scale the heights of Manford remains to be seen. In one reference, he talked of how different workers were bracketed as ‘key workers’ or ‘non-essential’ and joked of how it cut deep being labelled in the latter category.

But as he had sides splitting with laughter on Saturday night, he showed us why comedy is essential. As promised, it felt like that good catch-up with pals that does us all a world of good.

Andrew Kilmurray