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.

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.

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.

Sheeps – Dancing with Lisa: Fringe Review


A Livestock of Ideas


One of the most original and refreshing sketch acts to emerge in years, Sheeps have helped to reinvent sketch comedy. Following their highly successful debut show last year, the recent Footlights graduates combine expertly crafted writing with captivating performances to produce something very different.

This year’s show contains more of an overarching narrative that focuses on the trio attempting to solve a riddle that came to Daran Johnson in a dream, the existence of which is their justification for putting on a show in Edinburgh in the first place. Interspersed with various skits and sketches, their imaginative plots and unconventional ideas are truly impressive.

Although not every sketch is hilarious, their originality is held throughout. Preconceived notions of the structure of a sketch are completely thrown out the window, as moments of the show do away with any form of linear plot. A scene involving Liam Williams being mistaken for a member of the audience by the other two is well realised, as is a sketch involving Johnson performing the second half of a sketch first, which only makes sense when he repeats the lines when they get to the second half and they match up with Liam and Alastair’s retorts that doing the second half of a sketch first makes no sense.

Sheeps are definitely onto a winner with their carefully thought out writing. Though many of the sketches induce a smile rather than a laugh, their originality is sufficient to place them amongst the best of sketch comedy.

Taken from Broadway Baby, published Aug 2012.

Ian D. Montfort – Unbelievable: Fringe Review


Mind-Reading, Not Mind-Bending


Ian D. Montfort is the well-established character from comedian Tom Binns. Taking character comedy to a higher level, Montfort is a self-described spirit medium who can speak to people who are beyond the veil. In a performance that parodies the elusive profession, Binns is not only funny but surprisingly impressive.

His current show focuses on Montfort relaying messages from dead celebrities to members of the audience. Whilst it would be easier for him to create comedy through the poor quality of his mind-reading skills, it is instead brought on through the interaction with his audience, picking on individuals and sharing their secrets to cause great embarrassment.

Given the random nature of the show, Binns’ ability to ad-lib and remain in character is admirable and illustrates a keen mental agility. However, the softly spoken Sunderland accent that he dons for the performance struggled to keep the performance engaging. Binns has clearly spent a lot of time developing his mind-reading skills, but this has cost him comically. Where previous character Hospital DJ Ivan Brackenbury was fast-paced and incredibly funny, Ian D. Montfort lacks that same punch. Many of the responses he used against the audience appeared Pavlovian and unoriginal, while his overemphasis on audience interaction became slightly repetitive towards the end of the show.

Taken from Broadway Baby, published Aug 2012.

Chortle Presents – Fast Fringe: Fringe Review


The Fast Show


Chortle has long been a staple for any keen comedy fan. It is the go-to place to learn about acts old and new. Whilst a few people visit the Fringe with a rigorously planned agenda, the vast majority are at a loss as to what to see. Fast Fringe helps solve this problem by offering the audience with a taster of many different acts, all fitted into the space of an hour.

Featuring 12 comedians each given three minutes to perform, the quick fire nature of the show means that even if there is someone who really isn’t to your taste you only have to endure them for a very short while. A brilliant concept, it is perfect if you want to learn about comedians who you may want to see at a later date, or simply to enjoy an evening of variety.

With new comedians each night, picked with Chortle’s stamp of approval, there is no way that this can’t be enjoyed. The only negative that can be found in this concept is that you never get to settle in to a comedian’s style and while this is fine for many acts, others will fail to amuse when taken out of the context of their show as a whole.

For variety and value for money, Chortle Presents: Fast Fringe is a no-brainer.

Taken from Broadway Baby, published Aug 2012.

The Joy of Sketch: Fringe Review


Sketched Into the Memory


Multiple acts collide in a variety show that combines some of the top names in sketch comedy. Playing for two nights only, for fans of the comedy sub-genre it presents a diverse range of styles that is sure to excite.

As with any variety show, The Joy of Sketch has its highs and lows. Whilst some of the acts were very good, others didn’t suit the short amount of time afforded them. Introducing the show were comedy duo McNeil and Pamphilon. An ideal choice for opening act, they aptly warmed up the audience even if a couple of their sketches were only moderately funny. With good engagement with the crowd and a compere feel, they successfully set up the evening’s festivities.

They were followed by Ed Eales White, whose sketches involving a paranoid husband and a gym trainer stole the audience. Well acted and tremendously funny, his brief time on stage left a noticeable imprint.

Female double act Ford and Akram decided to focus on a single section of their show, Bamp. Creating a date show scenario between a member of the audience and Ford – who unlike the voluptuous Akram seems to struggle to find men – the pair asked a number of bizarre questions in an attempt to see if the man picked on was a suitable match. Unfortunately, it didn’t really work as the intended comedic element of the sketch fell flat. A nice idea, but one which ultimately didn’t work.

Youthful sketch group the Pin picked up the pace with a selection of very funny material. Despite considerable corpsing, the sketches were clever and packed impressive punchlines. Sheeps closed the evening with a mix of skits and sketches that really tested the imagination. Not ones to stick to the ordinary, they told fabricated tales of Sheeps member Daran Johnson’s brief career in Hollywood and how other member Liam Williams gave up being a brilliant sportsman to pursue a career in sketch comedy. Remarkably fresh, they proved to be an ideal close to the evening.

For sketch fans, Joy of Sketch presents a taste of a variety of acts. However, given that some of the performers worked better than others, for an hour of consistently good material you’d be best to stick to one of the stronger shows.

Taken from Broadway Baby, published Aug 2012.