Famous Spiegeltent, St Andrew Square, Edinburgh
The massive queue outside the Famous Spiegeltent speaks volumes about this show. American performer Miles Allen has really hit the zeitgeist with One Man Breaking Bad. There’s also an irresistible story behind the production that sounds like a PR man’s wet dream. (Perhaps it is). Allen was homeless on the streets of LA, when somebody filmed him imitating characters from the iconic TV series. The film promptly got a million hits on Youtube and overnight, Allen had a career. He went on to be the runaway hit of the Melbourne comedy festival and… ah, you can guess the rest.
As massive Breaking Bad fans we were bound to want to see this. But in the cavernous surroundings of the Spiegeltent, it all felt rather so-so. Allen is undoubtedly a talented impressionist (he nails the character voices with ease) and his attempt to encapsulate the entire series in 60 minutes seems an intriguing proposition. But sadly, the rather flat script, peppered with ‘topical’ references (Braveheart anybody? Only Fools and Horses?) failed to connect with an audience that had arrived seeking a good time and were met with exactly what it said on the can. A synopsis of the series. A malfunctioning microphone for a large section of the proceedings didn’t help matters and the only parts that took off were the bits where Allen deviated from the core story to add another dimension. (A sequence with a singing glove puppet was by far the best bit). This would have worked better in a smaller venue where Allen could have really connected with his audience, but this was a major disappointment. Shame.
Stand Comedy Club, Edinburgh
Lucy Porter supplied a chirpy, exuberant start to Ed Fest 2014. Porter is what used to be called a ‘pocket dynamo’ – tiny and full of energy, she launched headfirst into her routine and rarely stopped for breath along the way. There’s nothing remotely ‘new’ or indeed challenging about her approach to comedy, but she’s so charming and charismatic that this hardly seems to matter. Her stories are essentially anecdotal (I loved the remark that when she and her very tall husband, Justin, have sex, he looks like he’s wearing a novelty glove puppet), and she has an easy rapport with the audience, making this a delightful experience. This was a lunchtime preview show, so some of the timings and the musical links hadn’t quite been worked out, but this will surely only get better as the festival progresses. We could have chosen a lot worse to kick things off.
Stand Comedy Club, Edinburgh
Bridget Christie arrives at Ed Fest 2014 with a huge weight of expectation balanced on her shoulders. Last year, her show was voted the overall ‘Best Comedy’ and as she herself wryly acknowledges, few critics thought that a series of routines based around the subject of feminism would be able to fuel a SECOND hour! Well, the naysayers can take an early both because Christie’s nervy, effervescent performance demonstrates that she is total control of her material. Expertly walking a tightrope between laugh-out-loud funny and genuinely thought-provoking, she brings a whole series of topics to the party – FGM, rape, the exploitation of women in advertising – and knows exactly how to bring her audience back from the edge of disaster with a perfectly timed quip. An extended routine about a Mueller Yoghurt commercial is just one of many highlights in this triumphant performance. As with any preview show, there were a few small issues with timing and continuity but make no mistake, if you are at the festival this year, here is one show you simply mustn’t miss.
Gilded Balloon, Teviot, Edinburgh
One of the great delights of the Edinburgh Fringe is the chance of discovering new talent. Cal Wilson is well-established in her native New Zealand and in Australia, but apart from a solitary appearance on QI, she’s fairly unknown on these shores. We took a punt on her largely because the act we wanted to see was sold out and partly because she was handing out her own fliers and seemed charming. How glad I am that we did, because her show was a revelation. Unlike many stand-ups, Wilson adopts four distinct personas during the performance – an over zealous children’s party entertainer, a mega successful (male) sic-fi writer, a stern feminist in a neck brace and (my particular favourite) a drunken woman delivering the eulogy at the funeral of her love rat husband. Wilson delivered each character perfectly, undeterred by the presence of Phill Jupitus in the second row (laughing heartily, I might add). To say I laughed would be an understatement. I nearly cried at several points. Wittily written, brilliantly paced and with a conclusion that utilised a series of seemingly innocuous props, this was a triumph in every respect. Clearly we need to see more of Wilson’s undoubted talents and I sincerely hope we shall.
Assembly, George Square Theatre, Edinburgh
There surely isn’t a harder working comedian than Richard Herring – and no trip to the fringe would be complete without a set from him. This year we also have the opportunity to see a play he’s written, I Killed Rasputin (more of that in due course). His stand up event, Lord of the Dance Settee, is perhaps less tied to a concept than previous outings; he himself describes it as a collection of ‘bits and pieces’ – but that hardly does it justice. A visibly slimmed down version of Herring bounds enthusiastically onto the stage and launches into some recollections from childhood – though of course, these are much more edgy than they would be in the hands of a lesser comic – and you find yourself laughing (sometimes uncontrollably). Just when you think the event is going to be allowed to peter out, he ties everything together, quite brilliantly, with an ending he’s asked reviewers not to reveal… So I’ll simply say that it is joyful, heart warming and totally unexpected. It’s been said before (mainly by him) but Herring really is the King of the Fringe. Long may he reign.