Every year it seems like Ian Smith brings an effortlessly brilliant stand-up show to the Fringe.
Ian Smith: Half-Life, Underbelly, Bristo Square (Venue 302) * * * *
And every year it tends to go slightly uncelebrated and under the radar. Perhaps it's because the Yorkshireman is ahead of the curve. Long before the television drama Chernobyl was attracting plaudits, the comedian and his brother took a dark holiday to the Soviet nuclear disaster, a curious choice of destination for someone so au fait with anxiety, yet appreciative of a good dramatic cliffhanger. Just the safety small print for the trip alone is absurdly funny.
But there's plenty else going on in this carefully woven tale besides: the injured pigeon eating mushy peas that transfixed him on a visit to a Scottish wool shop; the Christmas jumper he shares with his fiancée's sister's undeserving boyfriend, the depth of the injustice proved with typically pernickety detail and maths; the morning wake-up call that he's conceived for his beloved, the better to soothe her distress; and the extreme lengths he went to in order to prove his investment in their relationship, getting himself comprehensively thrashed by pensioners in a Scrabble tournament.
Expertly varying his address, from patiently argued justification for his quirky behaviour, to animated incredulity at the eccentricities of others, Smith also masterfully uses his backing screen, surpassing mere exposition for original and imaginative playfulness, seamlessly dropping in callbacks and reinforcing the show's deceptively robust structure.
At base the expression of a man's devotion to his wife-to-be, Half-Life is never conveyed in such sentimental terms. Still, Smith imbues it with a gentle, romantic quixoticism, even when he's furiously denouncing old ladies for questioning his crudity on the Scrabble board. Interesting on the mythology of Chernobyl, the show is consistently, daftly funny and occasionally moving too.
Until 25 August