Pleasance Courtyard

John Robins: The Darkness of Robins

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13/08/17

Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh

John Robins’ opinion of ‘small weird websites’ reviewing comedy is well-documented, but here at Bouquets & Brickbats we don’t take such things personally. We were most impressed with his Live from the BBC gig,  and, as loyal retro-one-er PCDs, we’re more than keen to see his Edinburgh show. It doesn’t disappoint.

It’s not an easy hour. The Darkness of Robins is a raw and painful piece, detailing the fallout from the recent break-up of his relationship with fellow comic, Sara Pascoe. It’s heart-rending. To his credit, Robins never comes across as bitter; this is clearly not about revenge. Instead, it’s a searingly honest account of loneliness and desperation, a howl into the void. And yet, somehow, it’s funny too.

Robins has real presence and charisma; he owns the room. Even as he tells us that he doesn’t like people (doesn’t like crowds, doesn’t want more friends), he’s making us warm to him, drawing us in. And the subject matter is one we can all relate to (or most of us, at any rate): heartbreak is a familiar theme. But it’s rare to hear anyone articulate with such naked precision just how fucking awful and debilitating it can be.

I love this show. It makes me sad, but I love it anyway.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

Phil Wang: Kinabalu

 

 

09/08/17

Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh

I’ve previously only been aware of Phil Wang from his (perfectly pleasant) appearances on TV panel shows. Seeing him do standup has made me completely reassess him. From the moment this young comedian walks onto the stage of the Pleasance Beneath and launches into a convoluted introduction, he has me laughing. By the time we’re halfway through the set this has developed into something approaching hysteria, until there are actual tears streaming down my face. It’s something to do with his doomed attempts to ‘be cool,’ the occasional owlish glances over the top of his spectacles, his clever wordplay and playful invention. All these elements combine to create comedy gold. The section where he describes going to the supermarket to buy ‘lube’ is so funny I actually have difficulty breathing.

Mind you, it’s not all mindless laughter. Wang, the son of a Malaysian father and an English mother, has some interesting observations to make on the nature of nationality and about being a true ‘son of the Empire.’ As somebody who spent much of his childhood in Malaya (as it was then known), I found this aspect of his show particularly interesting, but Wang has the good sense to disguise his message as more humour. Laugh and learn, baby, laugh and learn.

Every year at the Fringe I make some personal discoveries. This year, the first of them is that Phil Wang is one of the funniest comics I’ve seen. Either that, or I’ve gone down with some kind of weird hyena virus.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Matt Forde: A Show Hastily Rewritten in Light of Recent Events – Again!

09/08/17

Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh

My, but this is a boozy crowd! No judgement intended (I can be a bit of a boozer myself) but it’s noticeable: almost everyone entering the room is holding on to at least one pint; many punters are gamely carrying two. Well, it wouldn’t do to run out, would it? I’ve never been so aware of the drinking at a festival gig. And there are a fair number of actual drunks here too: people who, though friendly and good-humoured, have clearly already reached the stage where they might just derail a show. I’ve also never seen Matt Forde before. I wonder if his audience tells me something about him.

Not really, it turns out. Maybe it’s just coincidence. There’s a kind of blokey jocularity to Forde’s delivery which complements the room’s beeriness, and there are indeed interruptions from a group of older men (one wants to go to the toilet; a second worries that the first’s been gone too long; a third just wants to have a chat) but Forde handles it well: he’s friendly and polite, but doesn’t let things stray too far.

Because he has a lot he wants to say – and we all want to hear it. His schtick is political impressions interspersed with commentary, and it’s really very good indeed. The impersonations are witty and well-judged, and the observations show he’s knowledgeable: interested and interesting, letting no one off the hook. Okay, so the Nicola Sturgeon section falls a bit flat (I don’t think there are actually many Scottish people in tonight, so there maybe isn’t enough shared understanding for this to really fly), but most of what he says hits the mark successfully. It’s not massively challenging, but it is thought-provoking: it’s Rory Bremner territory. His Donald Trump is a definite stand-out: as sharp and satirical and funny as can be.

A fascinating show, this one – quite different from most of what’s on offer at the Fringe. It’s well worth an hour of anybody’s time.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield

 

Richard Herring: Oh Frig, I’m 50!

 

08/08/17

Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh

You don’t have to spend long looking through Bouquets & Brickbats reviews to realise that we are Richard Herring fans. We’re delighted that he’s returned to the Fringe this year; we felt his absence in 2015 and 2016. And we’re even more delighted to see the huge queue forming around the Pleasance Courtyard and to hear that his show has sold out tonight: if he does well, surely he’s more likely to come back again next time?

Oh Frig, I’m 50! is a call-back to his 2007 show, Oh Fuck, I’m 40! Unsurprisingly, it focuses on the differences ten years have wrought: the physical ignominy of aging, and the changes to his personal life that have occurred in the last decade. From footloose to family-man, from hot-head to… slightly less hot-head, this is an honest and sometimes brutal account of what it means to grow older.

As always, Herring is at his best when engaged in pedantic deconstruction: here, he homes in on an email and a children’s game, neither of which sound like ripe topics for comedy, but both are mined for maximum laughs, and the audience is clearly appreciative of this obsession with the minutiae. Maybe there isn’t as strong a theme as there was in Christ on a Bike or Hitler Moustache, but it’s a fine show nevertheless, performed with absolute authority by an assured and confident comedian who knows that what he’s got is good.

Definitely, as always, this is worth trying to see. Although I do hope it’s sold out, and that you have to wait for it to go on tour.

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Darktales

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29/08/16

Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh

I was attracted to this show mostly because I liked the look of the poster, and also because we had a spare slot to fill on the final day of the Fringe. I’m glad we took the opportunity, because it’s really rather good.

The third show we’ve seen this year that uses the device of the portmanteau, it relates the story of former author, turned creative writing tutor, Alex Crowley (Andrew Paul), who, after an interval of twenty one years, is finally readying himself to release a sequel to his debut collection, Darktales. Crowley has invited a former student, Jack Langton (Sean Ward), to interview him about the upcoming release for the online blog he produces. But their conversation is interrupted from time to time by the interjections of Lucy (Carrie Marx), another former pupil – is she real or merely a figment of Jack’s imagination?

The show is beautifully put together, with chilling sound and lighting effects and Tim Arthur’s labyrinthine storyline will keep you guessing right up to the very end. Andrew Paul is particularly good as the repellent Max and, though the story falters a little with the appearance of Jack, it soon recovers and builds towards a delightfully satisfying ‘twist in the tail’ conclusion .

It’s too late now, of course, to trumpet its presence on the Fringe, but should it turn up at a venue near you, take the opportunity to see it. It’s an effective and inventive chiller.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Loyiso Gola: Dude, Where’s My Lion?

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20/08/16

Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh

Loyiso Gola’s show, Dude, Where’s My Lion? manages to be both gentle and uncompromising, challenging the “not at all diverse” audience to think about what racism is, and just how privileged we really are.

He’s friendly and charming, but he doesn’t pull any punches. Two (white) audience members reveal they used to live in South Africa. One says she is from Eastern Transvaal. “We don’t call it that any more,” Gola says with a smile,. “That’s an apartheid name.” The other says he was in the mining industry. Gola shakes his head and replies, ruefully, that miners were expected to live on £300 a month. “It’s not enough to eat.”

It’s a funny, carefully crafted show, making some very important points. The tale of his encounter with a homeless man in London, for example, is particularly sharp, highlighting the false narratives that we are fed, and which colour our impression of ‘Africa.’ Likewise, a bit about Gola’s education in a Muslim school shows that knowledge is vital for understanding. If this all sounds very serious, that’s because the underlying message is serious, but Gola’s comedic skill is what drives the show – and what makes his message accessible.

And it’s an important message. This isn’t a ‘preaching to the converted’ show. I’ll bet that most of us inside this little bunker consider ourselves liberal and anti-racist. But I, for one, leave feeling challenged and humbled, and with a determination to find out more about the countries and cultures that make up our world.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield

Orlando Baxter: Suspensions, Detentions and Summer Vacations

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13/08/16

Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh

Orlando Baxter used to be a teacher, the sort of teacher whose vocation is founded on a desire to ‘give back,’ to provide the same inspiration to troubled teens as a former mentor did for him. Mr Miller, name-checked in the show, clearly did a good job: young Orlando rose from his disadvantaged roots (absent father, drug-addicted mother, poverty, the projects) to be the first in his family to graduate from high school, then college, before making a career for himself as an educator.

It’s clear throughout that he really cared for the kids he taught, even if, ultimately, his ambitions lay elsewhere. Comedy was, he tells us, always where his heart really lay – and his students called him out on his ‘follow your dreams’ inspirational shtick, pointing out he wasn’t following his own advice. And so he did. And education’s loss is comedy’s gain.

Okay, so he doesn’t seem quite like the finished product: a lot of his set is purely anecdotal, sounding a lot like the unvarnished truth without that extra push towards a punch line that would elevate its comedic impact. But he had a strong stage presence and is immensely likeable; he certainly has the potential to be very good indeed. He has an easy manner and interacts effectively with the audience, generously allowing time to explore one particular man’s response to what must surely have been intended as a rhetorical question. He handles this well, making space to find the joke without derailing the show.

Baxter may be critical of the US education system, but ultimately he’s a good ambassador for it. I think this man is one to watch.

3.9 stars

Susan Singfield