Magnus Betnér Live: Fringe Review

magnus-betner-live_24430Could Have Been Betnér


Magnus Betnér is not for the faint hearted. The two-time winner of Swedish comedian of the year is back in Edinburgh to present another hour of no-holds-barred comedy. As he announces that he did not promise an hour of laughs but instead an hour of interesting topics, his frankness and ability to analyse tabooed subjects in a different light provides justification for his steadily increasing popularity.

One could be quick to denounce Betnér due to the way he explores the ins and outs of a number of sensitive issues, however, much of what he says strikes a chord. He does not expound the problems of what he refers to as black AIDS in order to make a cheap joke, but instead to point out how ridiculous the West is for not doing more than it could to help. This method of taking delicate subjects and turning your preconceptions of them on their head is continued throughout.

However, the show definitely lacks structure and is presented as a collection of ideas rather than something with a clear beginning, middle and end. This is emphasised by the fact that he overran considerably and yet still didn’t finish on a clear ending. Perhaps it is due to his passion for social commentary that his style is presented as a succession of opinions rather than a choreographed production, yet it cannot be denied that with a bit more direction Betnér could be onto something special in the world of contentious comedy.

Taken from Broadway Baby, published Aug 2012.

Doctor Brown – Befrdfgth: Fringe Review

doctor-brown-befrdfgth_25151Laughter is the Best Medicine


Following last year’s acclaimed Edinburgh show Becaves, Doctor Brown returns for another hour of sublimely surreal alternative comedy. Part mime act, part clown, Doctor Brown – real name Philip Burgers – delivers a unique brand of physical comedy that guarantees to stretch the imagination, as well as the abdominal muscles.

Having trained at the renowned clown-theatre school École Philippe Gaulier, Burgers has developed an act that defies convention, forcing his audience to reconsider what constitutes a comedy show. In a twisted take on observational comedy, he enacts everyday mundane scenes, yet it is his timing and positioning of these scenes that mark his brilliance. To the audience they appear to be an assortment of bizarre episodes presented as physical non-sequiturs but is clear that behind the seeming chaos there is remarkable structure. Dubious early actions appear clear when later alluded to, heightening their comic effect.

Undoubtedly and unashamedly silly, Doctor Brown speaks to the inner child within his audience. He breaks down the adult inhibition that usually acts as a defense mechanism, allowing you to give yourself wholeheartedly into the show and the character.

With an uncanny ability to have you in involuntary fits of laughter, Doctor Brown isn’t just highly recommended, he’s an absolute must.

Taken from Broadway Baby, published Aug 2012.

Chortle Student Comedy Award Final: Fringe Review

CHORTLEStand-Up and be Counted


At a time when making a name in the world of stand-up comedy is at its most difficult, 8 young hopefuls, whittled down from hundreds, came together to compete for the distinguished Chortle Student Comedy Award once again. Compered by the affable Mark Watson, who did an excellent job of warming up the audience and helping to create a supportive atmosphere for the contestants, what followed was an impressive evening of comedy from some of the top young acts in Britain. First up was South African born, Isle of Man based Pierre Novellie. Despite taking the undesirable opening spot, Novellie sufficiently charmed the audience with his observational comedy which focused largely on his deconstruction of TV ads. American-Egyptian Dalia Malek followed and despite never having performed a gig before the Chortle competition she did well considering her lack of experience. Her material, which consisted of controversial imagery and puns concerning Muslim culture, was risque, but just about acceptable, as she used her own arabic background to justify her acerbic words.

Johnny Pelham was undoubtedly the most endearing of the evening’s acts and only just missed out on the top spot. With much of his material concerning his physical appearance, which the NHS deemed so unfortunate they felt it necessary he have an operation, his greatest compliment came when Mark Watson referred to him as Daniel Kitson born again. Although his stories were slow and difficult to hear as a result Pelham’s speech impediment, it would be fair to say that his final pay-off brought the house down.

This year’s winner, Kwame Asante, presented a well-polished set that combined self-deprecation with an ineffable charm. From the abuse he receives from his supposed ‘friends’, to the casually racist comments he has been subject to but which he points out make no sense, Asante clearly has a natural grasp of what’s funny and thus holds much potential were he to pursue a career in stand-up.

Sebastian Bloomfield’s character act Johnny F. Monotone presented the most unusual set of the evening. Cautiously entering the stage adorned with a long coat, beard and hat, as well as a large wheelie bin, Monotone spent a noticeable amount of his allotted time simply on taking his position on the floor. When he did get round to his material – dry humour delivered in a completely deadpan fashion – he unfortunately did not provide the audience with enough time for them to truly grasp his character.

Hari Sriskantha provided a geekish outlet for the evening’s entertainment. In an attempt to impress the judges by the greatest means possible, the physicist presented as many of the most popular joke conventions he could muster in seven minutes. The result was a quick-fire succession of laughs that was accentuated by his ringing of a bell to signify a new joke type.

Penultimate act Adam Mitchell graced the stage at a point when the audience were noticeably beginning to lag. After getting the audience to sing him Happy Birthday, he presented a number of offbeat gags that unfortunately didn’t quite gel with the audience. A performance that didn’t really know where it was going, it is only a shame that it came at a competition where conviction and direction are essential.

Final act David Elms brought a flurry of energy to the otherwise weary audience. His gentle delivery and musical accompaniment in the form of an acoustic guitar, was subtle, yet brought with it a high level of laughs. Perhaps the closest contestant of the sought after award that didn’t achieve any recognition, he is bound to go on to great things.

Given the high level of competition this year, the contestants did well to even get to the final at all. A highly enjoyable evening featuring the potential big names of tomorrow, it is not an understatement to suggest that the judges will have had a hard time making their decision.

Taken from Broadway Baby, published Aug 2012.

Alan Davies – Life is Pain: Fringe Review

alandaviesA Stand-Up Guy


The star of Jonathan Creek and QI returns to the stage in his first foray into the world of stand-up since 2001. Despite the lengthy absence, Alan Davies seemed at home in front of the packed EICC audience. Most people know Davies for his TV work, yet it was in the world of stand-up that he made his name.

After initially taking a while to settle into the rhythm of the show, it is not long before Davies delighted the audience with a selection of anecdotes largely focused on his married life. The boyish charm and endearing honesty that make him such a popular TV personality is here continued in a show that, whilst not always hilarious, is perfectly pleasant.

Finally at an age where he feels he can justify being on stage, the 46-year-old has honed the necessary life experiences to legitimise being a comedian. Comparisons between the past and the present offered many avenues for laughter, including a lengthy spiel concerning the advent of social media and a hilarious, if somewhat brash, impression of modern porn.

The show’s title, taken from the Buddhist teaching that life is suffering, is made understandable when he touched on the topic of his mother’s death when he was very young. The obvious trauma that this caused and the subsequent difficulty he found living with his father added a serious tone to the otherwise silly performance.

A show that establishes its footing only towards its closing moments, the lack of consistently funny material begs the question as to whether it is worth the steep ticket price. However, for established fans of Davies, it is arguably worth seeing just to distinguish the real man from the TV personality.

Taken from Broadway Baby, published Aug 2012.

Claudia O’Doherty – The Telescope: Fringe Review

claudia-o-doherty-the-telescope_25150Good Scope but Lacking Focus


Claudia O’Doherty isn’t your average comedian. Following last year’s obscure outing What is Soil Erosion?, O’Doherty continues in the same vein, delivering absurd comedy that is certainly original.

Acting under the pretence that she is signed to an outlandish agency in Australia named the Nut House, she announces that part of her contractual agreement is to put on a show at the Edinburgh festival. However, as she points out, it was never implied that the show had to be comedy.

O’Doherty uses this ploy as a means to present her play The Telescope, which she labels under the guise of ‘difficult theatre’. A surreal and arty venture, she combines audio, video and rudimentary costumes to produce one of the most unconventional love tales you are ever likely to see. A feigned hiccup in the production sees O’Doherty have to stop the play despite all the technical elements being supposedly pre-programmed. The result is a clever blend of out of context media that she fills in with various amusing comments.

Undeniably weird, O’Doherty’s interesting mix of characters and playful whimsy makes for an entertaining – if not often laugh out loud – hour of comedy. However, it is clear that the new comic is still finding her footing. She certainly possesses bags of potential, but as of yet has not quite found her voice.

Taken from Broadway Baby, published Aug 2012.

Maurice’s Jubilee: Fringe Review

maurice-s-jubilee_26397Royal Ambition


Olivier award-winning actor Julian Glover delivers a poignant performance in this new tragicomedy by Nichola McAuliffe. The play revolves around 89-year-old retired jeweller Maurice (played by Glover) who has recently been diagnosed with severe brain cancer. His wife Helena (played by Sheila Reid) refuses to accept the terminal nature of his condition, despite the fact that he has had to enlist the help of a personal carer (Nichola McAuliffe).

When he is told that he only has a few weeks to live at most, Maurice is determined to last out until his 90th birthday, as he is expecting the Queen to come for tea before the Diamond Jubilee. It transpires that 60 years earlier, on the eve of her majesty’s coronation, Maurice was charged with the responsibility of looking after the crown jewels. A brief encounter with the queen led to a lifelong obsession with an existence he could never have. Though their time together was short lived, an instant attraction formed between the two; an offhand promise made by the queen to come for tea on his 90th birthday gave him the enduring motivation to live until that day.

An inherently sad tale, it is alleviated by moments of light relief found predominantly in the comments made between Maurice and his carer. Acted with great conviction and remarkable attention to detail, it comes across both as captivating and moving. The jealous rift between Helena and Maurice – caused by Helena’s realisation that she is second to the Queen and Maurice’s inability to comprehend her problem – is well realised, and the sensitive subject matter is dealt with in just the right manner.

However, it is let down by its struggle to hold the audience’s attention in the digressions that involve Maurice’s back story. Whilst these are imperative to the plot, their long, drawn out nature makes them difficult to remain engaging. This, combined with the odd stumbled line, detracts from the otherwise stellar overall performance.

A heavy piece of theatre, Nichola McAuliffe’s new play is stark and depressing, yet lifted by well-placed moments of light comedy.

Taken from Broadway Baby, published Aug 2012.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaarghh! It’s the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show with Miss Behave – and It’s Free!: Fringe Review


A Menagerie of Misbehaviour


Given the perpetual debate concerning the over-commercialisation of the Fringe that has been prominent this year, it is with a great sigh of relief that events such as the Malcolm Hardee Awards are still taking place. A commemoration of the stalwart institution of alternative comedy that was Malcolm Hardee, the increasingly prestigious awards act as the antithesis to the Fosters Comedy Awards.

Presented by Mistress of Ceremonies Miss Behave, the weirdest and strangest acts of the festival came together in a bizarre evening. Featuring a number of notable guests including Charlie Chuck, Lewis Schaffer and Richard Herring, the two-hour variety show shocked as much as it entertained. With a Russian Egg Roulette contest supervised by the World Egg Throwing Federation, a brilliant burlesque performance of Collette’s Ring my Bell by Jess Guile and a full frontal rendition of the Balloon Dance from Martin Soan’s Greatest Show on Legs, it was undoubtedly an evening to remember.

Stern comedy critic Kate Copstick helped present the awards, which saw Irish YouTube sensation Rubberbandits receive the gong for Comic Originality. South African comedian Trevor Noah walked away with the ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ award, whilst Stuart Goldsmith took home the Cunning Stunt prize. His publicity stunt, which involved him promising to donate £1,000 of his own money to the Waverley Care HIV charity, but deducting £100 every time a critic used a pun on the word ‘prick’ in their review (his show title was censored in the Fringe programme to read Pr!ck), not only provided him with a notable amount of free PR, but also showed he was willing to help a worthwhile cause.

With free beer being handed out whenever the energy in the room lulled and all proceeds going to Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity, this deserves to be a staple of the Fringe.

Taken from Broadway Baby, published Aug 2012.

Nick Helm – This Means War: Fringe Review


Somebody Take the Helm


Nick Helm returns to Edinburgh once again following last year’s highly successful Dare to Dream. Containing much of the same rock singing, abuse shouting mania, Helm delivers an hour of comedy that hints at brilliance but still needs time to form.

Beginning with bellowing smoke, blaring Iron Maiden and toy helicopters simulating a war scene, a military clad Helm arrived on stage before breaking into his opening rock ballad. Forcing the audience to shout Helm and punch their fists in their hair, he hurled abuse at those that refused to take part before forcing the entire front row to get on stage and march to his orders.

Having successfully roused his audience, Helm proceeded to appoint a second in command, an unfortunate member of the audience who was forced to spend most of the show on stage, partaking in Helms’ outlandish activities. A show packed with songs, audience interaction and hilarious film references, Helm is almost onto a winner.

Whilst many of the ideas are original and entertaining, it is clear that the new show is still in its preliminary stages. Many of the scenes lack conviction and it is apparent that he is still trying to figure out how the show should run. A number of the songs are smile inducing but not belly-laughing material and it is instead the awkwardly tender moments between Helm and his lieutenant that offer the best comedy value.

Once it establishes itself This Means War is sure to be a hit, just make sure you see it a bit later on in the month.

Taken from Broadway Baby, published Aug 2012.

Michael Workman – Mercy: Fringe Review

michael-workman-mercy_26319Piece of Work


Less a comedy show and more an inventive piece of storytelling, Michael Workman presents an immersive tale of love and freedom of speech.

Set in 1960s Cuba, Augustus is exiled by Fidel Castro for voicing controversial opinions in an obscure newspaper. Leaving a wife and newborn daughter, he is sent out to sea in a boat called Mercy and left to face the dangers of the ocean alone. What follows is a poetic story about introspection, determination and holding on to principles.

Rather tentatively labelled a comedy show, this is not a performance that should be watched by someone in search of quick gags and easy laughs. Rather, it is a poignant and thought provoking exploration of the imagination, presented in a similar vein to Daniel Kitson.

Incorporating beautifully played keyboards with projections of hand drawn illustrations on a homemade 60s style TV, the audience quickly become immersed in the magical story that features talking sharks, a star-creating sage and an angel named Keith. Delivered by a highly expressive Workman, it is not a performance of many laughs but more a heartwarming fable that will leave you deeply touched.

Though not for everyone, it is well worth taking a look at if you are in search of something different as you will undoubtedly find yourself at the mercy of Workman’s storytelling ability.

Taken from Broadway Baby, published Aug 2012.

Amused Moose Comedy Awards Final: Fringe Review


Prepare to be Amoosed


Amused Moose has the unusual ability of being able to boast a harbouring ground not only for breaking talent, but also well established acts. The much loved comedy club comes to the Edinburgh Fringe for its Laugh Off Awards and Laughter Awards. The former recognises new comedians who have the potential to go on and make a name for themselves, whilst the latter focuses on emerging acts who are performing a full run at the Fringe, but have yet to receive any form of DVD deal or other highbrow recognition.

The Laugh Off final saw seven acts battling it out, having gone through an arduous selection process that took place in the form of competitions throughout the country. Performing seven minute glimpses of their material, all the acts did well given the level of pressure they were put under. Richard Todd – who also took the unfavourable opening spot – walked away with the industry judges prize, impressing through his blend of surreal humour and high energy delivery. Hackney based Funmbi was crowned joint winner, taking home the people’s choice award. Presenting a selection of relatable observational comedy, he clearly managed to charm the audience.

The Laughter Awards Final saw Laurence Clark, Alistair Barrie and Marcel Lucont all vying for the top spot. Each performing 20 minutes of material from their respective Fringe shows, the longer period of time afforded them meant that they were able to convey a greater impression of their acts. Laurence Clark was first to take to the stage, delivering his stand-up with the aid of PowerPoint and video. Suffering from cerebral palsy, his material centred around the frustration he feels at being often called ‘inspirational’. Through a succession of well observed points and self-referential quips he successfully managed to win over the audience.

The dapperly dressed Alistair Barrie followed, offering a well organised routine that focused largely on current affairs. Whilst his delivery was good, his material lacked any form of depth or punch and so failed to bring anything special to the table. Alexis Dubus’ French character Marcel Lucont closed the afternoon’s festivities, his arrogance and playful toying with the ‘ok’ audience working in his favour. Offering an ingenious presentation of various sex positions through numbers on diagrams of beds and a hilarious closing video, it was unsurprising that he took away the top award.

At close to three hours, the Amused Moose Comedy Awards were perhaps a little long for the average festival goer, but given the amount of industry in attendance and the high level of relatively unknown talent, it was not worth missing for any true comedy fan.

Taken from Broadway Baby, published Aug 2012.