Comedy

Rhys James: Snitch

17/08/19

Pleasance Courtyard (Above), Edinburgh

One thing’s for sure: Rhys James is technically very good. There’s a full house tonight, and he has the audience in the palm of his hand. He’s confident, delivering his act at breakneck pace, never missing a beat. Structurally it’s masterful: the laughs keep coming, the callbacks are well-timed, and every – seemingly unrelated – strand is gathered together in a bravura finale.

And some of it is marvellous. I love the stuff about our peculiar atttitudes to serial killers – and the eerily accurate Tom Allen impression that accompanies it. There are some sharp observations about renting a flat, and the faux-advert-poetry is very droll indeed.

But, when the delivery is this impressive, it’s disappointing that some of the material is so mundane: lots of Peter Kay-style ‘do you remember that?’ material, and a long routine about bathing, which doesn’t really take us anywhere.

Maybe it doesn’t matter: certainly, tonight’s audience is roaring with laughter – and I’m joining in too. He’s funny. It’s just that I prefer my comedy a little more challenging, and James clearly has the ability to create something more memorable.

3.9 stars

Susan Singfield

Advertisements

Wil Greenway: The Ocean After All

17/08/19

Underbelly Bristo Square (Dexter), Edinburgh

There are certain artists you see at the Fringe, who seem to define it so totally that the thought of not seeing them the following year is somehow unthinkable. Wil Greenway is just such an artist. Not only is he arguably the nicest chap you’d ever hope to meet (and a man with a constantly changing beard), he’s also kind of unique. Not exactly a comedian, not quite a storyteller, he inhabits a world somewhere in between these two disciplines.

The Ocean After All is another of his delightful shaggy-dog tales, a simple story about a man who drives off a jetty, lands in a boat and drifts across the ocean until he finally finds himself marooned on a tiny island with nothing but seagulls and bananas for company – except, of course, it’s not about that at all. His stories feel like richly embroidered tapestries, where what’s described in those lyrical, sumptuous lines of his aren’t necessarily what meets the eye. Somehow, he always manages to pull together the various strands of his narrative and tie them up in a gloriously satisfying bow.

This year, he’s without his familiar onstage musician Will Galloway, who always seems to be such an integral part of his act. Kathryn Langshaw is still there with some atmospheric recorded music, but I have to admit, I miss the duo’s live contribution. Nevertheless, this is a delightful and engaging performance, and the two friends we bring along with us to see Wil for the first time are suitably enchanted. I feel almost jealous of them, remembering back to 2016 and The Way the City Ate the Stars, my own introduction to the charms of this Australian dreamweaver.

I write nice things about Greenway every year in the certain knowledge that he’ll remain oblivious to them. He told me, the first time we spoke, that he never reads his reviews. But, if you’re reading this, do yourself a favour. Grab a ticket for one of Wil Greenway’s last few shows before he heads back to Oz.

You won’t regret it.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney 

Richard Herring: RHLSTP

17/08/19

The Stand’s New Town Theatre (Grand Hall), Edinburgh

Let’s face it, it’s a pretty poor Fringe without some Richard Herring in it. His was the first show I saw on my first ever visit to the Fringe (Christ On a Bike; The Second Coming) and I’ve been a firm fan ever since. Okay, so this year, he hasn’t brought a new comedy show to Edinburgh, but he is doing daily recordings for his podcast, RHLSTP – and, as luck would have it, he’s talking to one of B&B’s friends, Malawian comedian, Daliso Chaponda. Win win.

RHLSTP is a regular thing in our lives these days, and it’s fascinating to watch a recording and know that we’ll be listening back to it on our phones in a day or so. The New Town Theatre is rammed today. (The last act we caught here? Er… Jeremy Corbyn.) It’s a Saturday and, come to think of it, we’ve never seen the Fringe quite as busy as it is right now. The streets are so bustling, it’s hard even getting to the venue.

A somewhat slimmer Richard Herring resides on an ornate wooden throne, fitting for the self-styled ‘King of the Fringe.’ First up is comedian Sunil Patel, a charming and laid back chap, whose show, White Knight (he says he regrets that title), is showing daily at 2.30pm at the Pleasance Courtyard (Bunker). He looks somewhat nonplussed by his Emergency Question. What would it take to persuade him to fellate the actor Keith Allen? Hmm. Answer: A trip to Japan. Okay.

But its Daliso we’re really here to see, particularly after catching his fascinating and challenging show Blah Blah Blacklist at The Teviot Wine Bar (6.30pm daily). Here’s a link to our earlier review:  https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2019/08/14/daliso-chaponda-blah-blah-blacklist/

As RHLSTP is a podcast featuring interviews with (mostly) comedians, there are different interviewees every day, so be sure to check the schedule carefully before booking. Daliso makes a perfect match for Richard’s easygoing interviewing technique, delving into his influences and, I’m sure, winning over a lot of new fans in the process. His best Emergency Question? What artefact from any museum would he like to keep? Daliso chooses the Liverpool Museum of Slavery and opts for…  a Ku Klux Klan uniform. Unexpected, to say the very least. To find out why, you’ll have to listen when the podcast…

So, go catch RHLSTP. You’ll have a whale of a time. And it’s funnier than Mr Corbyn.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

Sugar

15/08/19

Sweet Novotel (Novotel 2), Edinburgh

Sugar tells the tale of flatmates Steph (Kate Wilson) and Rhona (Ellie Squires), fed up with their dead-end jobs and dead-end lives. They’d just like to be able to pay the bills without borrowing from Rhona’s boyfriend, Mark (Matthew Ogden), again. When they realise – via Steph’s listless trawling of Tinder – that there are men who will pay quite handsomely for a pair of… used tights… they set aside their qualms, nylon up and set up a small business. Surely nothing can go wrong?

The script, wittily penned by Catrin Evans, is Sugar‘s greatest strength. It’s a quirky, original idea, and the writing is sprightly and lively. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud funny lines, but also some serious points being made – about poorly paid jobs, for example, and the fact that even full-time workers can’t pay their modest bills. I would like a bit more detail about their workplace, though: they are dressed as if they work in retail, but their talk of HR, etc. makes it sound more like they are based in an office. It’s a small thing, but I find myself wondering about it, which is somewhat distracting.

The direction by Evans and Robbie Crow is generally good, allowing dynamic movement in a tiny space, although I do find myself a little irritated by the pointless exits and entrances, where characters leave the stage, only to return five seconds later to exactly the same position. A simple lighting change would be far more effective here, and would look less clumsy.

Although funny and engaging throughout, the acting is a little uneven, with some of the cast playing up the humour to the detriment of credible characterisation. Squires stands out, convincing even when Rhona’s behaviour is utterly ridiculous.

This, though, is partly what the Fringe is for: giving creatives the space to try out new ideas. And this one, I think, has (nylon covered) legs.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

Will Duggan: Class Two

14/08/19

Pleasance Courtyard (Bunker), Edinburgh

In the great gamble of the Edinburgh Fringe, location is all important. Comedian Will Duggan has somehow wound up in the unprepossessing Bunker, a grim sweatbox a short stroll from the Grand. Even in the current showery weather conditions, it feels disagreeably sticky, despite the presence of an air conditioning unit chugging gamely along on the sidelines. It doesn’t help that the guy on the door instructs us not to occupy the front row, which leaves Duggan with the discouraging prospect of a line of empty seats right in front of him. He gives it his best shot though, pitching himself as a perennial loser and getting the audience firmly on his side.

This is mostly about the poor decisions he’s made throughout his career. He always believed he was destined for greatness but now finds himself positioned in the middle ranks of the comedy circuit and wondering how he might take the next big step up. He tells us about the four (imaginary) childhood friends who guided him through the hard times and whom he hasn’t spoken to for twenty-five years. Perhaps they can help him make sense of it all.

Duggan is an affable chap with an engaging line of patter and a self-deprecating honesty. Today, he seems a little rushed, hurrying through his routine. I’d like to see him take his foot off the accelerator and cruise a little more, giving his one-liners more time to connect. I enjoy his story about learning sign language, but am rather less impressed when he reveals the reasoning behind it – and the sequence where he recreates his end-of-term school concert appearance might have been even funnier (and braver) if it were conducted in total silence.

Still, grim venue and lousy weather notwithstanding, Duggan is a comedian we’ll try to catch again the future – hopefully in a more agreeable setting.

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Daliso Chaponda: Blah Blah Blacklist

13/08/19

Gilded Balloon Teviot (Wine Bar), Edinburgh

A heads-up for readers new to Bouquets & Brickbats: Daliso Chaponda is a friend. We don’t usually review our mates’ work (waaaay too awkward), but we transgressed this unwritten rule a long time ago with Daliso, so it seems silly to stop now. Especially when there’s so much to say about his latest show.

Blah Blah Blacklist is deceptively genial: the tone is light, but there’s a controversial undercurrent. The show is about our reactions to fallen heroes: do we need to ‘cancel’ them or can we continue to enjoy their work whilst despising what they’ve done?

But it’s about more than that too. Daliso is an advocate for nuance: Bill Cosby’s criminal activities are beyond the pale, but maybe Louis CK can be redeemed? It’s a brave show in many ways, challenging woke responses as much as racist ones. Daliso has no time for easy answers: this is an intelligent, thought-provoking hour, the gentle, questioning approach belying the force behind it. Oh, and did I mention? It’s very funny too.

The theme is expanded, as Daliso moves from disgraced celebrities to something more personal: his own father (a much-loved government minister in Malawi) is accused of committing a crime. Another potentially fallen hero, and this one much closer to home. He stands by his dad – ‘80% sure he’s as innocent as he claims’ – and witnesses first-hand the ire of those convinced of his guilt.

Daliso has a wider perspective than most: he’s lived in nine countries on four continents; Britain is, he says – despite the polarising views expressed online – the most accepting place he knows. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to let us off the hook…

An astute, perceptive and laugh-out-loud show – you really shouldn’t miss this one.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

Fishbowl

11/08/19

Pleasance Grand, Edinburgh

This quirky, captivating production from French theatre group Le Fils Du Grand Réseau is a recent winner of the Molière award for Best Comedy, and is playing to packed houses at the Pleasance Grand. It’s easy to see why. With its impeccably timed visual gags and ingenious production design, it contains beautifully devised sequences that are comparable to the work of Mack Sennet at his best. It is, essentially, a silent comedy, one that – again and again – elicits absolute gales of laughter from the auditorium.

This is all about the eccentricities and indignities of city living. We observe the lives of three neighbours, living cheek by jowl in adjoining attic apartments in Paris. There’s a shambolic hoarder, eking out a lonely existence amidst chaotic heaps of detritus; a karaoke-loving guy who inhabits a zen-like, white painted box; and a new arrival, a woman who styles herself as a holistic healer-hairdresser-masseur, but who clearly has none of the necessary training to practise these skills with any degree of success. When both men cast an asquisitive gaze in her direction, the scene is set for a series of rivalries and madcap misadventures.

There’s something deliciously old school about this production. I love the way it tells its unfolding story over an extended period of time, showing how people have the capacity to change – and I particularly like a brief moment where the technicians toiling behind the scenes are ‘accidentally’ put on display. If the story occasionally leans a little too heavily on the toilet gags, it’s nonetheless endlessly inventive, and I can truthfully say it isn’t quite like anything I’ve seen before.

Book your seats for the Grand. You’ll laugh mightily, even when the merde hits the fan.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney