George Square



The Box, George Square

Comedy sketch duo (trio, if you include their invisible horse, Midnight), Brian McElhaney and Nick Kocher, hail from Atlanta, Georgia, and call themselves BriTANick (it rhymes with Titanic). They are currently appearing in an adapted shipping container on George Square, much to Nick’s evident disgust, but the place is sold out tonight and the punters are lapping it up.

“Brian” is the more driven of the two, intent on pursuing his art and attaining his goals, while “Nick” has clearly been created for the sole purpose of putting his partner’s dreams through the shredder, mostly by whingeing about stuff: the flight attendant who gave him inferior seats on the flight to Edinburgh; the fact that he and his wife had agreed to have no sexual contact until their wedding – which has already been postponed for two years because of the pandemic; he’s not a happy bunny.

Sketch comedy is notoriously difficult to get right but McElhaney and Kocher do an excellent job of it – they are confident performers, adept at incorporating whatever happens into their show. A couple of late arrivals find themselves featured at one point to much hilarity. They also have a flair for the surreal – Midnight is the first invisible horse we haven’t seen at this year’s Fringe. The sketches are wide ranging, skipping effortlessly from Pythonesque whimsy to clever character studies, and their post-modernist approach to taboo subjects allows them to get away with material that, in less skilled hands, might make audiences uncomfortable.

Of course, the acid test is does it make you laugh? And the answer is a resounding ‘yes!’ I spend the hour giggling, chortling, sniggering and yes, even laughing out loud at some of their more absurd antics. I particularly enjoy an extended thread about dreams. Is Brian really going out with Salma Hayek? Is that an invisible knife I don’t see before me? Only one sketch (a piece abut man-snogging) feels a little over-extended, but most sequences are short and punchy and I do admire the way they keep drawing a line through to earlier sketches to ensure that everything, no matter how disparate, hangs together as a whole.

Audiences hungry for laughter – and let’s face it, after recent world events, that’s most of us – will find it waiting for them in a metal box on George Square. Grab your tickets, form an orderly queue and head inside… but mind you don’t step on Midnight’s tail.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Sarah Kendall – One Seventeen


Assembly George Square, Edinburgh

Reviewing at the Fringe, as we do every year, we make a point of trying to see as many new acts as possible – but there are some we just cannot allow ourselves to miss and Sarah Kendall definitely belongs in that category. This skilled storyteller from Newcastle Australia really is a spellbinding performer, who never fails to create a fascinating and highly original show. One Seventeen is no exception, even if I’m left a little confused by the relevance of the title.

She wanders out onto the stage and launches straight into a seemingly unconnected series of events, with recollections from her childhood cleverly intercut with more recent observations of her life in London. The subject matter is so disparate – from an attempt to see Halley’s Comet to a friend’s cancer diagnosis – that, at first, you really can’t see how she’s going to tie it all together. But then she does – effortlessly, satisfyingly – utilising incredible skill and just the right amount of pathos, holding the audience in the palm of her hand all the way through.

Kendall isn’t exactly a comedian, though you will laugh out loud at much of what she says. She’s a talented writer who crafts her material with incredible precision. Little wonder she gets nominated for so many awards.

If you’re at the festival this year, don’t miss her. She’s really rather wonderful.

5 stars

Philip Caveney


Francesco de Carlo: Comfort Zone


Underbelly, George Square

Francesco de Carlo is Italian. Of course, his name on the poster means this doesn’t exactly come as a surprise, but – in case you were in any doubt – his accent confirms it. ‘This isn’t a character,’ he tells us. ‘This is my real voice.’ And that’s pretty much what this show is about: being a visible immigrant in Brexit-era Britain (although he’s at pains to point out that he’s not suffering, that he’s not comparing himself to a refugee).

De Carlo came to the UK just as we decided to leave the EU. He’s sad about the decision. His viewpoint is interesting: the show positions him as an outsider, but he has an insider’s knowledge of the European Parliament because he used to work in its press office.His opinions are interesting and informed. He praises Britain too: reminds us of the reasons we should be proud of what we have. We don’t need to be racist or xenophobic; it’s demeaning and unnecessary. Get out, travel, see as many places as you can – that seems to be the underlying message here. If you can learn about the world, you can better understand your own place in it.

His observations are funny too; he has a disarming sincerity, which is very charming indeed. The crowd inside the Wee Coo warms to him immediately, and clearly enjoys his musings on the Italian comedy scene. It’s a lovely, enjoyable way to spend an hour, being gently coaxed to leave our comfort zones. Well worth a look.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

Sarah Kendall: A Day In October



Assembly, George Square, Edinburgh

You’ll find plenty of stand-ups at the Fringe, good, bad and indifferent but Sarah Kendall works differently to most other comedians. In ‘A Day in October’ she gives us what is essentially a protracted exercise in skilful storytelling, something that’s clearly based around real life experiences she had in her youth, in Newcastle, Australia. From her vivid descriptions of the inhabitants, it wasn’t on the tourist routes. This is the story of George Peach, a boy at her school who was constantly bullied and it’s about the awful accident that turned his life around.

Kendall really excels here, building the story piece-by-piece, layer-by-layer, dropping a whole bunch of clues that really should warn us about what she’s going to do, but at the same time, expertly misdirecting us so that the final twist, when it comes, is absolutely shattering. I don’t want to give the impression that this is not brilliant comedy: it is, and those in search of a good laugh will not be disappointed. But there’s also a deeper intelligence at work here, something which elevates this show above much of the competition.

The term ‘comedy gold’ is often used but rarely as thoroughly deserved as it is here.

5 stars

Philip Caveney