JJ Whitehead

JJ Whitehead: Fool Disclosure

2016FOOLDIS_AJG

16/08/16

Liquid Room Annexe, Edinburgh

We’ve already seen JJ as an actor in the brilliant Blind Date Project, so we thought we should catch him in his more regular role as a stand-up. He’s on the free fringe this year so when we take our seats, he’s busily moving furniture around and assuring us that ‘the show hasn’t started yet,’ something that seems to be a recurring motif this year – though in this case, it’s actually true.

He launches confidently into his routine and his lazy, Canadian-inflected drawl immediately draws the crowd into his stories and what he likes to call his ‘Jokey Jokes.’ He’s a likeable presence on the stage with a wide-ranging selection of topics to draw on. I particularly liked a routine in which a stupid friend (now an ex-friend) keeps repeatedly electrocuting him in the shower, while his observations about Edinburgh and the Scottish people benefit from the fresh perspective of the outsider’s eye. Some of the routine is sexual in content (be warned, this is listed as a 16 plus event). JJ makes a remark about ‘knowing your audience,’ but his description of Axl Rose’s comments to a pole dancer at an after-show party are, for my money, one of the few misfires in this set. Other people seemed to love it though, so maybe he does know his audience, after all.

At one point in the proceedings, a young woman in the audience suffers from a sudden bout of coughing, which throws him off his stride a bit. When he inquires if she’s okay, her friend advises him to ‘stop making her laugh!’ Which, when you think about it, is priceless. JJ dubs today as ‘Dry Cough Monday.’

He soon recovers his equilibrium and comes back with an amusing true story about the television in his hotel room. Like all gigs on the free fringe, the audience are invited to throw money into a bucket at the end, but unlike some others comics, JJ is giving something back – a USB card featuring some rarely seen footage.

This is good stuff, well worth checking out. If you want a seat near the front, get there early!

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

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The Blind Date Project

2016BLINDDA_WY

07/08/16

Zoo Southside, Edinburgh

The Blind Date Project is a delicious slice of improv theatre, with a mischievous wit that makes it a delight. Staged in the cabaret bar at Zoo Southside, the realism here is so heightened that you can almost believe you’re actually witnessing a moment in someone’s life.

As we enter the bar, there’s a relaxed atmosphere. A woman (Margaux Susi) is singing karaoke; we buy drinks, sit ourselves down at little tables, look at the ‘karaoke cards’ laid out before us. If we want, we can request a song to perform. We chat, check our phones, moan about how uncomfortable the seats are, check our phones again, sing along to familiar lines. There are two stools by the bar, elevated on a tiny platform. A woman comes in and sits on one of these. We register her presence, but otherwise just carry on.

It’s all so beautifully done. There’s a subtle lighting change; the Karaoke Queen leaves the stage and goes to tend the bar. A man runs in and sits down beside the woman. They introduce themselves to one another. And the show’s begun.

The woman is Bojana Novakovic, the creator of this piece. She’s playing Anna; she plays Anna every night. The man is Max, played by JJ Whitehead. And this is his first (and only) performance; Anna’s date is different every time. There is no script. The actors are sent directions via texts and phone calls, and have to respond in the moment to everything that is thrown at them. And, my word, it works.

I have rarely been so utterly absorbed in a play. JJ Whitehead is just lovely, gamely dealing with Anna’s neuroses in a kind, accepting, non-judgemental way. He’s confident and funny and, if he’s nervous, it’s okay, because they look like first-date nerves. His performance makes us warm to him, and we resolve to try to catch his own fringe show, if we can fit it in (Fool Disclosure, Liquid Room Annexe, 20:45).

Novakovic is enchanting. Her Anna is drunk and needy, serious and sweet. She seems like a real, complex person, one you’d admire as well as want to protect. Susi, behind the bar, brings a welcome cynicism to the date; her deadpan, sardonic responses are very funny indeed.

I loved this piece. I want to see it again, to see how the dynamic changes when there’s someone else in the other seat. Don’t miss this one; it’s a real treat.

5 stars

Susan Singfield