Daliso Chaponda: What The African Said (Gilded Balloon at the Museum: 19-26 Aug: 19:30: 60 mins)

“This is must-see standup.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

A hilarious, hilarious show. After rising to prominence on Britain’s Got Talent and touring various parts of the globe, Daliso Chaponda performs eight nights at Gilded Balloon’s Museum auditorium space, and take it from me, this is must-see standup. The comedy is clever and uproariously funny, the persona is both charming and caustic, and the hour is so packed with brilliant setups and payoffs that at only 60 minutes it feels altogether too short. 

Topics range from his road to standup, to his childhood, to his nationality, to newfound success, and other well-trodden ground for standup comedians — especially ones at the Fringe. Yet What The African Said never feels lazy or recycled; though these topics are not new subjects on the comedy stage, here they are spun with Chaponda’s unique charm and dexterity, so even an early-on Brexit joke provokes a much more appreciative giggle than 99% of the bone-tired political material bouncing around microphones all over the city.

Of course, he also ventures into fresh, intriguing territory, such as riveting takes on racism online and in person, European arrogance in education, and the hairpin tendencies of so many to take offence at so much. Some of his most delightful and arresting material takes aim at racial difference and touchiness, yet with exceeding grace and humility — it is telling that even as he acknowledged an upcoming one-liner caused (dubiously sensible) widespread offence and alarm, the audience felt prepared for a clever and commendable jab regardless of more sensitive reactions. Needless to say, the line in question is spectacularly funny and had me smiling hours after the performance; it boggles the mind that certain audiences did not feel the same. This is a man who knows how to write a joke.

Chaponda could be said to walk the fine line between probing race and racism and toying with it, yet he speaks and jokes with such confidence and wit that even his incisive commentaries are accompanied with a genuine laugh alongside them. On that topic, there is no shortage of incisive commentaries in this show; Chaponda’s comedy is matched with an impressive back catalogue of information and knowledge, which embeds his witticisms with a well-earned sense of genuine understanding, rather than flippant mockery. On top of that, the Malawi-born comedian includes some affectingly personal undercurrents to his material — not in the way so many other Fringe comedians work in an ‘emotional side’ to their standup, which has practically become clichéd by now — but again in a commendably honest and somehow quite fun aside to his more ribald suggestions.

Overall, this is a practically perfect hour of comedy, and one of the most enjoyable and rich standup performances I have experienced this year. Go and see it.

 

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller (Seen 22 August)

 

Athena Kugblenu: Follow the Leader (Underbelly Bristo Square: 1-26 Aug: 17:30: 60 mins)

“A standout voice in the Edinburgh comedy lineup.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Nae Bad

In Athena Kugblenu’s new hour, entitled Follow the Leader, the term ‘pregnant pause’ gains new meaning. To explain, not only is the witty and clever comedian currently with child, but her slick and punchy new hour of standup is frequently based on letting extended, exasperated silences serve as the punchlines themselves. This approach loses no hilarity, mind you, and in fact proves quite a clever move for Kugblenu, a standup presence so engaging and poised onstage that you know whatever she says next will either be witty or a genuinely good point, and frequently both. 

Kugblenu loosely bases this show on the notion of trusting and following leaders, and how that does and does not help our ultimate goals. She incorporates funny and knowledgeable examples of leaders we probably should not admire so fervently, and contrasts them well with societal tendencies and cultural expectations that should similarly be reevaluated. Not every punchline is quite risible enough to create a consistently side-splitting hour, but ultimately, Follow the Leader is a good deal of fun and a thoroughly enjoyable walk through Kugblenu’s outlook on life and people. 

Her material ranges from political loyalties and questionable leanings to amusing anecdotes about herself and how she gets by. She touches on some hilarious ideas, such as more evidence-based alternatives to unfair government policies, and the relative pressures of ‘positive racism’ and similarly strange treatment from white to Black people. Her musings on international food and her unborn child also hit high notes, and though perhaps her material on being drunk and having sex could use a bit more workshopping, overall, this is a charming and well-spent hour of standup, and a standout voice in the Edinburgh comedy lineup.

 

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Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller (Seen 22 August)

 

Kate Berlant: CommuniKate (Assembly Studios: 1-26 Aug: 21:15: 60 mins)

“It has been a long time since I experienced a set as effectively hilarious.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

The nicest thing about watching Kate Berlant’s Fringe debut CommuniKate is that you can rest assured you will find something to laugh about for just about every minute of the show. No disrespect to the more serious-minded comedy offerings that speckle a great deal of the Fringe’s stand-up lineups, but judging by pound-for-pound side-splitting material, it has been a long time since I experienced a set as effectively hilarious as Berlant’s. 

The most difficult thing about the show is how remarkably hard it is to explain to the unconverted. Berlant’s entire persona — even onscreen, in brilliant comedies such as Search Party and Sorry To Bother You — is very, very specific, even verging on one-note. She is obnoxious, endlessly, obliviously egocentric, and a perfect manifestation of just about everything older generations seem to disrespect about “millenials,” whatever that means. She claims she is brilliant, gifted, destined for greatness, artistically burdened by her loving upbringing and uncomplicated life, and here to better us with her presence. But somehow, the overwhelming egocentrism is delivered with note-perfect confidence and consistency that it all results in deliriously fun. 

The supposed ‘hook’ of the show, though only introduced halfway through the set, is that Berlant is psychic, and can effortlessly sense facts and details about the audience at will. This leads to some delightfully specific premonitions about the assembled crowd, which are sure to elicit reliably amusing results every night, making this approach a fruitful and clever Fringe offering. 

Outside of the supernatural, Berlant mainly hopscotches around from topic to topic, delivering so many great punchlines and character ticks that it can be hard to keep up with this egomaniac’s self-obsession and sickening self-assuredness, but the whirlwind miscellanea is all part of the act. For those who prefer their comedians humble, perhaps look elsewhere, but for those who appreciate a vicious lambasting of the “I can do anything”-ness of certain members of society, perhaps you might appreciate Berlant’s thorough bollocking of the art of overconfidence. (At times, however, I must admit, as a deep fan of Search Party myself, Berlant’s schtick veers questionably close to comedian John Early’s general vibe, yet at the risk of comparing comedic methods unnecessarily, let’s leave that line of questioning there.)

Even the way Berlant says the word “bread” is funny. Odds are you will leave CommuniKate having laughed at quips, jabs, and ruminations you never thought could be remotely amusing, but as the Fringe is a hub and a home for comedy that finds hilarity in the strangest approaches, Berlant’s show fits right in and excels commendably. It might inflate the onstage ego more than ever, but bravo on this one, it’s a great show. 

 

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller (Seen 7 August)

 

Bowjangles: Excalibow (Gilded Balloon: 1-26 Aug: 14:00: 60 mins)

“I don’t think I’ve ever come across a more multi-talented group”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

Bowjangles are not your average string quartet. Indeed, they extend the well-known triple threat (performers who can sing, dance and act) to a fourth dimension by adding the musical string to their bow. (Sorry). And what’s more: they can do all four at the same time. Prepare to be amazed as these performers act out a dramatic saga while accompanying themselves (more than capably) on their instruments.

Excalibow is Bowjangles’ latest Fringe offering (marking the troupe’s 10th year together) and sees them embark on an adventure to find the magical bow Excalibow, which will enable them to become (ahem) the Lords of the Strings. Yes, the jokes and musical puns are that good throughout. It’s a fairly ridiculous story, that unfortunately come across as a rather hastily put together pastiche of fairytales, but the characters are fun and fantastical, and the ever-changing mood created by the performers and their instruments is nothing short of masterful. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a more multi-talented group in all my years of reviewing.

What really makes this performance special, though, is the chemistry and personality that ooze from this awesome foursome. They appear very natural onstage together, and are clearly very well-rehearsed and comfortable in being able to deliver this slick and energetic production. Their smiles never stop beaming, so even if the thought of watching an all-singing, all-dancing string quartet brings you out in a cold sweat, you’ll no doubt find yourself swayed into at least a grin by their charm and charisma.

For me, the overall structure and narrative of the piece is where it all falls a little awry, as the action chops and changes between many locations and subplots that it all gets somewhat confused – though the fun and frolicking nature of the performance makes this relatively unimportant in terms of overall enjoyment. Particular highlights include a snippet from a well-know ABBA song, and a comedic take on a certain moment from the film Titanic.

This is a show that’s bags of fun, packed with personality and great for the whole family (bar the odd naughty word which slips out). A definite for the shortlist as a welcome break from some of the harder-hitting shows out there.

 

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 2 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Stiff & Kitsch: By All Accounts Two Normal Girls (C Royale: 14-28th Aug: 16.40: 60mins)

“Two extremely talented comedians who deserve to be playing to full houses”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

There’s something to be said for taking a label someone gives you and owning it, turning it into a badge of honour. It takes guts and good humour. And that’s exactly what Rhiannon Neads and Sally O’Leary display by the bucketload in their latest outing as Stiff & Kitsch in By All Accounts Two Normal Girls – a show so named after a quote from my review of them last year.

The premise of the show is a discussion and self-help guide on how to achieve the level of “normality” the two girls have (according to, erm, me) by taking a comedic look at different aspects of their lives from jobs, to health, wealth and everything in between. Opening quip “things are about to get normal” sets the tone for a witty, honest and accessible hour of fun.

Each section is punctuated with a trademark musical number, which work really well to summarise and highlight their main comments, with choruses including repeated lines as blunt as “Keep your bullshit to yourself” (in reference to seemingly narcissistic social media use by their peers), and “I haven’t a fucking clue”, which we’ve all felt about one thing or another. What pleases most about this duo is their slick back and forth – in both the songs and general banter – the whole performance maintains a beautifully unrehearsed aura, like they’ve put it together especially for you in that moment.

The professionalism and confidence from Stiff and Kitsch have pleasingly stepped up a notch from last year – there is a bit more a swagger and presence within their performance, not un-aided by the life-size cardboard cut-outs of themselves that adorn the back of the stage. Yet with this growth as performers what they haven’t lost is their likeability: the sense that they are still one (or two) of us with the same flaws and insecurities as everyone else. What they do really well is to make each one into something to laugh about, and there are certainly plenty of laughs to be had in this show.

While my main criticism of their show last year is still largely accurate – the variety and creativity within the musical numbers is somewhat lacking – it is the only blemish on an otherwise polished and very funny show. I didn’t stop smiling once throughout the whole hour.

It’s not always easy to admit that you were wrong, but this time I’m glad to: Stiff & Kitsch aren’t two normal girls: they’re two extremely talented comedians who deserve to be playing to full houses. And if they call their next show that, I am retiring.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 19 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Louise Reay: Hard Mode (The Stand Four: 3-27 Aug: 17.55: 60mins)

“A unique and insightful project perfect for Fringe audiences”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

This is a very clever show. Through a healthy mixture of character work, pre-recorded videos, impressive knowledge of modern Chinese society, and truly human moments, Louise Reay has crafted a unique and insightful project perfect for Fringe audiences. Some fine tuning of the details and the flow of the show would be useful to make its 60 minutes shine brighter, but overall Hard Mode is a worthy offering.

The show’s title derives from the idea that in modern China, life is lived as if in ‘hard mode.’ Reay takes care to share a genuine taste of what that kind of life means, from tampering intrusively with audience members to stationing masked cronies around the room to watch and possibly punish the viewers at all times. She uses clever techniques like distributing identical napkins for all audience members to wear (to recall authoritarian homogeneity), and leading the room in hive-mind chants in between musings on what having a free society means now and what losing it could mean later. The masked guards do stay unsettlingly in character the whole time, even banishing non-compliant individuals who dare to remove the napkin to the ‘jail,’ which is the corner of the room. Though some of the points on surveillance are presented somewhat simplistically, the dark sense of forced enjoyment is done well. This show, to its credit given its subject matter, is effectively unpleasant.

Reay bases this societal reenactment on her lived experiences in China, thankfully. A few lines and jokes would seem like sweeping (and potentially offensive) generalisations if she hadn’t proven her extensive knowledge of Chinese culture, from the language to the media to the in-jokes. On the comedy end, the highlights of the show are her stagings of a possible future where the Chinese government has bought and hawkishly runs the BBC. Her David Attenborough-centered skits are hilarious, and her all-Chinese rendition of ‘Far-EastEnders’ is impressive for her sheer capability with the language, as a native English speaker.

On the dramatic side, and yes, there is a somewhat unexpected dramatic side, Reay mixes in her own real life in ways that teeter on the edge of too much. Without giving anything away, the sense of ‘hard mode’ in a societal sense is re-purposed in a personal sense, which at times is truly affecting, and at others feels like retreading and backtracking on points that have already been made.

Reay’s use of an actor to portray Chinese artist and social activist Ai Weiwei in a pre-recorded video conversation Reay apparently had with him feels strikingly off-kilter with the rest of the piece, and not only because it is never truly verified that Weiwei actually said any of the statements in the video. The actor’s timing is jarring, the delivery is confusing and flat, and points are muddled and indistinguishable — under what is admittedly fabulously intricate facial hair. For me, these filmed asides are revisited too often, and though most of Reay’s recurring jokes are quite funny and/or poignant (special nod to the unforgettable Loneliest Newsreader in the World), the Weiwei scenes feel poorly executed.

Overall, if you are looking for a bizarre yet poignant hour at the Fringe, and happen to be in the relatively far away lands that house the Stand Four, Louise Reay’s Hard Mode might be for you. Just be sure to set your expectations to Weird Mode.

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Dad’s Army Radio Hour (Pleasance Dome: 4-28 Aug: 2.40: 60 mins)

“Like a couple of thoroughbreds taking the jumps with ease”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

This joyful show teased smiles from even the flintiest faces in the Queendome audience. The theatrical concept of ‘watching a live radio recording’ is not one I will ever be a fan of, but here the simplicity of the staging is entirely justified. With words this good, and performances this sharp, little more is needed.

The public appetite for Dad’s Army is seemingly limitless. Like Only Fools and Horses, it is one of those rare TV programmes that people are willing to watch infinite times. This does not mean that a stage version of Dad’s Army is a guaranteed hit: in fact the stakes are raised to get it right and do justice to something held so dear in so many souls (consider the fate of the recent film version). But from the moment David Benson and Jack Lane speak, we know we’re in hugely talented hands. They cover the entire cast of dearly-loved characters effortlessly, like a couple of thoroughbreds taking the jumps with ease. More than ease: there is a grace and good-spiritedness about both performances which makes them a genuine pleasure to watch, and which reminds one of why we fell in love with the originals. There are many treasurable moments, but particularly striking is Benson’s bullseye John Le Mesurier, whilst Lane’s effortless switching from a repressed, frustrated Captain Mainwaring to a good-time floozy, with barely pause for breath, is a delight.

Four scripts are performed, two at each performance. When the production tours, it would be great to see this cast perform the episode Mum’s Army somewhere in the mix. It’s the one where Mainwaring falls in love with another woman, and comes within a razor’s width of leaving his eternally-unseen harridan of a wife. It was one of Dad’s Army‘s rare excursions into genuinely moving pathos, and in amongst all the laughs it would be the icing on an already sumptuous (upside down) cake.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Mark Farrelly (Seen 5 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED