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Archive for the category “2014 Edinburgh Fringe Reviews”

A Class Act

InderGlad to say I had a bumper last day on the Fringe with one particular jewel in the crown. I hope Inder Manocha will forgive me for using the colonial reference but as his show White Man’s Burden doesn’t as much play with political correctness as give it a good smack around its sanctimonious chops I think he’ll be OK with it.

Inder is Anglo-Indian, he’s also middle-aged (46), middle-class, loves the theatre and Shakespeare but being brought up in 70s England – as well as having experienced direct, casual racism – he has an inner Bernard Manning giving him a running commentary on everything he does. As such he’s a bit crap at being politically correct. He gets a hard time from a young girl at a diversity training workshop for joking about the absurdly lengthy list of ethnic categories on offer and using the ‘P’ word. He feels alienation when his grandfather speaks of the corner shop family business or the traditions of the old country. He challenges a burka’d woman for making him feel uncomfortable and feels ashamed at his own feelings of prejudice against Americans. So nothing is clear cut, he’s a sum of many different parts and can’t be squeezed into a diversity-training tick-box.

The small and intimate space of The White Horse back-room suits Inder and his semi-confessional tone perfectly. As you would expect from such an accomplished actor the show is expertly performed; but as a gifted comedian – for every moving passage there is a satisfactory pay-off with some quality punch-lines. I’m still laughing at the concept of having ‘gay teeth’!

Another lovely aspect of the show is Inder’s actorly eye for detail – like a simple two-move hand gesture, borrowed from his granddad, that expresses a world of hope turning to despair. You’ll recognise it in an instant along with so many other things to do with life, love, family, identity…

That’s certainly the ‘message’ I took – no matter what your ethnicity is, you are still held hostage to a myriad of fears, paranoia and expectations from others. But the marvellous thing about Inder is that he never appears like a ‘messenger’. Enthralling, moving and very, very funny.

Kelly’s a Hero or a Zero?

Kelly KHe’s a sly one, that Kelly Kingham. His promo piece and his appearance – cheap suit, no tie, shirt buttoned to the neck – suggest middle-aged geezer giving the comedy game a go. I picked him for that very reason as I’d had my fill on the Fringe of blokes reaching that ‘difficult’ age of 30 or thereabouts. Try reaching 50 and see how you like it – Kelly’s promo seemed to say. Ten minutes in and we seem to be on the predicted ground. The generally slightly-older audience are lapping up the slightly old-school, slightly un-PC banter. Jokes about the wife’s ‘plumbing’ and fending off a pitbull with the family dog – along with a liberal sprinkling of the F-word – is the kind of fare that a family-friendly comic from 70s telly may have served up, post-watershed. But when Kelly seems to momentarily lose his thread and do a Tourettes-like bark, whenever he mentions his dog, just a bit too often, you realise something is up. Then as the one-liners about nicking stuff from the office (‘it was only a photo-copier, well… maybe more than one’) start to become uneasy bedfellows with asides on death, fractured relationships and wasted lives, you reassess the tieless-suit ensemble and realise he’s wearing the uniform of a broken man.
A few comedians on the Fringe this year have been doing the old ‘Is he? Isn’t he?’ (a comedian, that is), morphing into a ‘tears of a clown’ denouement. And even if they don’t go all the way down that route, the whole idea of getting serious has been cynically summed up in some of the other shows I’ve seen (’45 minutes in, inject some pathos and end on an uplifting note’). The great skill with Kelly Kingham is the pathos is woven into the material but if it wasn’t there his act would still be laugh-out-loud funny, so it works on two levels. Another bold move is that the funny stuff is a perfect fit for his working-man’s-club-graduate persona, he never appears arch or ironic so when we’re laughing uproariously at things we might not have considered laughing at before it’s very real and strangely liberating. Don’t worry though – there’s nothing majorly offensive in Kelly’s material and after seeing him you won’t suddenly be brainwashed into reassessing Roy Chubby Brown’s back catalogue!

It’s strange, but for a show I thought was going to be a bit of light entertainment – it’s the one I’ve been thinking about the longest. I’m not sure if all Kelly’s shows are like this but either way, if it’s straight-up funny or multi-layered you’re after, you should definitely check him out if you get the chance.

Eins, zwei – give them a try!

Last year The Fringe was awash with German comedians. This year it’s more of a trickle. There’s always Henning Wehn who was die erste but maybe not die beste. Challenging him for the USP (which is not so unique these days) of being German and a comedian is Paco Erhard; whose image – to all those living in Edinburgh over the few weeks – must be more familiar than that of close family members by now. I’m not lying – Paco’s professionally produced hoardings, proclaiming five star reviews, are everywhere. So it’s no surprise there was a capacity crowd in a no-too-small venue pretty early on in the run. Of course, that is going to put the more cynical and critical among us on guard… but happily I thought Paco equipped himself pretty well. The tick-box subject matter (war/football/Europe) was dealt with swiftly at the start and in a way that assumed the audience had heard all that stuff before. But had they? And even if they had – could he be sure they didn’t want to hear it again?

Paco’s thing is that he’s a rubbish German. Inspired by On The Road, he has free-wheeled around the world, lived a counter-culture life and has been a UK resident for some time. In these respects he can claim to be more chilled than his fellow (original) countrymen. So when he barks like a control-freak at latecomers to his show – it’s a joke, right? I’m not so sure, as there’s an extended piece when he recalls getting tetchy with an elderly female neighbour and her imagined fear of local crime. At this point he gets quite animated and agitated – in fact, he’s like that most of the time and while that isn’t typically German behaviour there’s a steely core that makes him appear more of the stereotype and less Jack Kerouac. Maybe that’s the point though – that he’s rubbish at being a rubbish German. Cowgatehead, 20.45 until 25th Aug

Quite different is Comedy from the Middle and the East (Capital Bar, 17.20 until 24th Aug) which showcases young comedians based in Berlin. The host and main man is Stefan Danziger who has a confident and assured manner – oh, and his material is very good as well. It’s always going to be difficult during the whole Fringe circus to come up with fresh and funny, and Stefan has the added burden of having to deliver the expected to those who have chosen to see a German comedian. But before anyone gets the chance to mention the war Stefan has already set out his stall and racked up a fair few laughs. His brief biog is: born in East Germany and moved as a child with his parents to Russia and he’s now based in Berlin. Those brief facts give Stefan a stack of comedy material that is interesting, original and – teamed with his excellent timing and well-judged slapstick – very, very funny. From being beaten up by his Russian classmates for supposedly being a fascist to targeting Berlin hipsters – it’s all good, intelligent stuff.

The other resident star of the show is Carmen Chraim who is originally from Lebanon. Animated, with a kind of indefatigable energy, she expertly controlled the crowd which included a ‘Fife posse’ of older guys who looked as though they had wandered in. I’m sure they never expected to be laughing and singing along with a young Lebanese feminist on a wet Saturday afternoon far less eating out of her hand by the end! I’ve seen a few male comedians with Middle East connections so far this year but none have had the balls to address ‘the troubles’ so head-on. It’s been left to the women to do it – and get the laughs. The brilliant Daphna Baram was one and I think Carmen is on the road to being just as good. Highly recommended.

Punny Guys

How to follow Wil Hodgson’s – mainly serious – spoken word piece on capital punishment? How about one hour of seriously groan-worthy puns and one-liners courtesy of Atella the Pun? Delightfully old-school cheese with the audience gleefully feeding the pun-tastic human juke/joke-box which takes the form(s) of Darren Walsh (nice boy with a cheeky twinkle) and Leo Kearse (rude boy who not so much went near the knuckle but had a good old dirty and frequent fumble with it). It was well attended on the day I went with a wide-age-range crowd and – such is the family-friendly atmosphere of The Three Sisters at this time of year – one woman attempted to come in with a baby in a pram. Just as well she couldn’t find a space as that kid could grow up with some pretty skewed ideas on how to approach the English language! Happily though – the ruder aspects would have gone over its head – pretty much like the experience of the hard-of-hearing older members sat in front of us. All in all highly recommended if you’re in the market for some undemanding, old-style humour that’s so corny The Jolly Green Giant must surely be looking for royalties! The Free Sisters, 13.15 until 24th Aug

Capitalising on the Zeitgeist

They say timing is everything in comedy. I don’t mean timing in the traditional comedic sense but more in the sense of being in the right place at the right time.

Almost as important has to be categorisation. And funnily enough get that wrong and it can work to your advantage. Describe a comedy as a drama and it’ll be hailed as bold and challenging. Take a serious piece and list it as stand-up comedy and… it’ll be hailed as bold and challenging. Not always of course, there will always be people – who didn’t get the pre-meeting memo – who will be sitting mystified in the audience. I must say I felt a bit like that when I went to see Liam Williams – Capitalism. Luckily I was sitting at the back and I know by now to go with the flow. Shame for the slightly older guy sat very visibly at the front who didn’t know at what points he should laugh – that wasn’t really a concern as he didn’t laugh at all. Liam did weave this into the show by referring to him as a disapproving uncle who didn’t know what he (Liam) was getting at. That was probably the only time when everyone in the audience laughed in unison– apart from the older guy, that is.

The show opens – and continues – with Liam making shambolic attempts at doing his stand-up routine. But is he a serious performer pretending to be a crap comedian, or is he a crap comedian trying desperately to hold it together in front of an audience full of disapproving uncles? By the end he could have been an emperor dreaming he was a butterfly (or maybe his new clothes… ?) I was past caring.

The piece (it is probably more of a ‘piece’ than a show) is full of existential angst and societal impotency as experienced by young, white, university-educated males which is probably why I didn’t relate to it much. There are also extended references to Fight Club which seemed a bit bizarre for a show with such zeitgeistian credentials. For myself – I prefer to quote from Zoolander – ‘that (Liam Williams) he’s so hot right now!!’ So if you want to say you’ve seen him before he got on telly – get yourself along. The Cellar Monkey, 13.15 until 25th Aug

Lovable, but not a loser!

Quite early on in Disasterpiece, Sy Thomas produces a flip-chart displaying feedback he’s received over the years from casting directors: ‘loveable loser’, or just ‘loser’, ‘losing his hair and his mind’… Now, self deprecation is something that many comedians attempt to do but few get just right – a lot of times it seems like a convenient artifice or else it can descend into maudlin self-pity. The same goes for likeability – which is a bit like being genuine – fake that and you’ll go far. The beauty of Sy though is that he’s genuinely likeable and genuinely funny.

Disasterpiece – as the title suggests – doesn’t set out to be super-slick but neither is it a shambling mess. From the very start, with Sy inviting the audience into the room like we’re old friends, seeing to ‘the housekeeping’ and making sure our thermal comfort is OK, we knew we were in safe – and very professional – hands. As well as the flip-chart set-piece (which has a neat, uplifting resolution at the end) there are jokes aplenty about Sy’s slender frame, his disappointing career and love-life to date and borderline paranoia about certain things (his routines about having to view nauseating public displays of affection or thinking that a cat lured him into the long grass in order to ruin his trainers are some examples of the many good things on offer).

Sy Thomas is one of those performers with a solid background of working in kids TV and generally as a jobbing actor. He does mention that stand-up is a bit of a branch-out for him but from this demonstration it’s something he should definitely keep doing. Sy+ (Pravda, Espionage 14.30 until 24th Aug) and Disasterpiece (The Counting House @ 18.45 until 24 Aug)

A Suitable Case for Comedy?

DangerA lot of Fringe shows talk a good game when it comes to controversy. Who can forget the rash of show-promo posters plastering Jimmy Savile‘s image all over the city a few years ago? How many times the blond-botherer-of-the-vulnerable was actually featured in these shows probably had the Trades Description Act being cited more than once. But you can’t blame a trier, eh? It’s a great way of grabbing attention.

But – cross my heart – I wasn’t being a cheap-thrill-seeker as I stood in Niddry Street the other night trying to decide between Jim Davidson’s Funeral or Sex With Children. The latter – as performed by Chris Dangerfield – was recommended by Andy Zapp the night before, but – while I respect his opinion – stand-up comedy about child abuse – really?

Believing Jim Davidson’s Funeral to be the slightly more appealing option I was ready to choose this as my shock-de-jour. However as I observed one of the flyering performers turn pale and visibly tremble as Rev Mulvey asked him about the show’s content – he could have been intimidated by the working-class Scottish accent – but I took it to mean the show was going to be pretty much JD-lite. On the other side of the street – and this particular audience-bartering session – stood Chris Dangerfield. Sharp-suited, good-toothed, fez-wearing, whippet-thin – coming on like a snake-oil salesman or East End barrow-boy made good. There was no competition.

Ushering in the smallish audience, he didn’t seem to mind – as he informed us without a hint of embarrassment that he’d played to four people the other night. Well, Chris doesn’t really do embarrassment as he presents for our entertainment tales of being abused as a child. These include being interfered with – at different stages in his young life – by a local conjurer, a husband and wife entrusted with babysitting him and – to prove that depravity wasn’t confined to Chris’ particular corner of the Garden of England – a French paedophile with whom he swapped sexual favours for dirty postcards whilst on a day-trip to Boulogne.

Entertainment? Actually, yes – in the strangest, deepest, darkest way imaginable. Pieces like this are often described as Ortonesque but I don’t recall Joe Orton writing humour this black. There is the added edge of it being personal testimony as well. And of course when you go down that route it’s inevitable that the original story becomes blurred through substance-enhanced time. But it certainly isn’t my place to question the authenticity of Chris’ tales of of trying exhume the body of his first tormentor or – more recently – having sex with a ‘goth lobster woman’ (go see the show if you want to know more!).

Much of Chris Dangerfield is bluff and bluster but I do believe that at the centre – of both him and the show – there is that confused little boy screaming for help. A damaged soul who’s tried all the therapies – psychological, emotional and chemical – and finds the only thing left is to find humour in that potential pit of despair. If you have the stomach for it you should definitely go along and help him exorcise those demons. But you should also see him for less altruistic reasons: as there are two things that can happen to Chris Dangerfield – he will either become huge like Russell Brand (a pre-abstinence, pre-Hollywood version he resembles a lot of the time) or simply self-destruct. Let’s hope this particular therapy works and he won’t have to suffer either fate.

Heroes @ The Hives, The Bunka, Niddry Street, 21.00 until 24 Aug

More Depp than Dodd!

NygelNygel G Harrot’s Uninterrupted Jollification (Banshee Labyrinth, 16.20 until 24 August) is described as ‘old school comedy in the style of Ken Dodd, Morecambe & Wise, Les Dawson, Frankie Howerd, Peter Sellers and The Goons‘. Couldn’t be any clearer you would think but there were still members of the audience who looked a bit mystified. Happily though – those who like their humour not so much retro but positively prehistoric were laughing like drains. I have to confess I am partial to the genre and I’m glad to say I was suitably jollified. But if I can offer the teeniest, tiniest suggestion – I would have loved Nygel to have been more of a cheeky chappie and a bit more animated, winning the naysayers over by sheer force of will. You know – like the old adages: ‘keep moving so they can’t hit you’ and ‘if you don’t like that joke there will be another along in a minute’. Nygel must be familiar with those ones!

The major influence is definitely Ken Dodd (I’ve since learned Nigel writes for him) and visually that is very apparent, with maybe a touch of Edward Scissorhands. The thing is – and I’m sure Nygel knows it – this kind of comedy was born out of grinding poverty, the horrors of two world wars and having to face audiences who had experienced those things themselves. The humour may have appeared jolly but the gritty influences gave many of the classic performers a manic, sardonic – even dangerous – edge. They wouldn’t have stood for any puzzled passivity in their audience.

Nygel seems a really sweet and gentle man – and he’s undeniably talented, spookily channeling some of the comic greats – but I think he has to show the audience who’s boss. Perhaps borrow his mentor’s tickling-stick and beat his audience into submission with it? That would be the way to do it!

But, seriously…

Review for 12 August

I’ve enjoyed most – and absolutely loved some – of the comedy I’ve seen on the Free Fringe. However it’s nice to get a bit of variety so I decided to seek out that very rare animal on the FF – theatre. So glad I did. Started out with Lovecraft’s Monsters as performed by David Crawford. The venue (The Wee Pub) is seriously tiny and while that added to the intimate ‘gather round, people, and I’ll tell you a tale… ‘ atmosphere it’s a shame that it precludes David from getting a bigger audience. And here is a man who deserves a good audience as he’s a quality act who oozes professionalism; from his Bostonian gentleman appearance to his gentle, but commanding, voice you feel he was born to be a teller of ghostly tales.The shortish show starts with a description of H P Lovecraft’s formative years and moves onto the telling of one of his stories. It struck me at this point that I had actually never read anything by the author but that was immaterial as I was soon swept along with eerie accounts of slithery mutant fish-like people inhabiting a creepy New England town. If you are a Lovecraft virgin yourself imagine Edgar Allan Poe or even David Lynch and you’ll get the picture. If you’re a fan – like the young guy sat beside me who whooped with delight when a one of H P’s stories was merely mentioned – you will be in seventh heaven… or some other otherworldly place. (13.15 every day until 24th Aug)

My next theatrical experience of the day was another one-man-show but with completely different subject matter. Who Did I Think I Was? I say one man, but Peter Henderson plays two characters: firstly the father who is in his eighties, ex-RAF, stiff-upper-lip type moving into the winter of his life. Secondly, the son, fifty-odd, ex-punk, ex-alcoholic, still clinging onto the idea of being a bit of a geezer. The premise is the son, running out of options, is on the verge of moving back in with dad. We get to know the two characters through dad reminiscing into a dictaphone for the Imperial War Museum and son addressing the audience directly. The theatrical devices are simple – Peter puts on a dressing-gown and a pair of specs to become dad, but it’s his brilliant acting skills that make you believe you are in the company of two men. I would say ‘different men’ but the whole crux of the play is that the son becomes the father and vice versa. It’s a beautifully judged and affecting piece, brilliantly written and acted. As with Lovecraft’s Monsters – highly recommended. (The Counting House, 14.30 every day until 24th Aug)

Not Quite Eurotrash…

Review for 14 August

There was a general buzz of excitement as the near capacity audience took their seats for The EU Explained (17.05, Cabaret Voltaire until 23rd Aug, not 20th ) the other day. Looking back I wonder just what they were expecting – not what they got, presumably, judging by the slow and steady vacating of seats as the show progressed. First to go was a bonkers gibberish-singing Italian guy sat at the back, who I felt sure was going to climb over the audience – Roberto Benigni style – and become part of the show. Unfortunately he shut up and left before it even started. Next deserter was a young Chinese girl who had never seen a Fringe show and had asked to tag along with us; she lasted until the end of the opening piece: a sing-a-long version of Ode to Joy which no-one sang-a-long to. It was hard to fathom who was being made fun of here – people who can’t speak German, people who can’t speak a second language or anyone – Germans included – who don’t know the words to Ode to Joy. But that seemed to be the problem with the show – unsure of its targets or even its target audience. Not to mention a serious issue regarding the actual quality of the material itself – it’s all quite niche and the kind of thing that probably seemed hilarious sketched out in the European Commission canteen. The promo material does mention pie-charts and graphs and – no kidding – that’s pretty much what we got, along with some ‘humorous’ songs which laboured the old ignorant-Brits-abroad bit and some hideously complicated multilingual sing-a-longs which only served to further alienate the audience.

It’s a shame because there is a germ of a good idea there and the initial audience numbers prove there is an interest in the subject matter, but this is a show in definite need of a makeover– make it a bit more unhinged and Eurotrash-y, perhaps? Or get the bonkers Italian guy back in and make him part of the show – that might do it!

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