Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy, cabaret & variety reviews: Sugarcoated Sisters: Bittersweet | Jack Harris: Teaching Teachers How to Teach | Make Me Your Queen | Oliver Coleman: Sublime | Alice-India: Be Brave | Cecilia Delatori: Rock Spinster
Get set for some witty musical confessionals, a survival guide for would-be teachers, and a highly unlikely hard rock Goddess in our latest round-up of reviews. Words by Kate Copstick, Jay Richardson and Claire Smith.
Sugarcoated Sisters: Bittersweet ****
Just the Tonic at the Caves (Venue 88)
Dressed in beautiful floor length chiffon gowns, with a rail of alternative outfits behind them the Sugarcoated Sisters introduce themselves with a song. Everything they are about to tell us is true, they say. They really are sisters, they really do live in a small town in Hertfordshire with their parents. One of them is diabetic, one of them is bipolar.
Chloe and Tabby Tingey wear their imperfections like a badge of honour. Accompanying themselves on double bass and guitar they give us witty songs about heartbreak, small towns, bad romances and sibling rivalry. They even do a cross dressing turn as the Bitter Brothers, donning coats and hats to excoriate all female comedians for such trivial obsessions.
Chloe and Tabby are part of a new generation of comics who have developed their act by creating short funny videos on TikTok. But they have some very solid skills behind them. They play in a variety of styles, from hip hop to jazz and their lyrics are clever, funny, and clearly drawn from life. After we have all been locked away for so long it is a delight to enjoy the fresh perspective of young women comics confidently finding their voice. Claire Smith
Until 28 August
Jack Harris: Teaching Teachers How To Teach ****
Just the Tonic at The Mash House (Just the Snifter Room) (Venue 288)
Jack Harris' brilliant debut is a gem of a show for the mid-afternoon - effortlessly funny, with its fundamental aspects crying out for Radio 4 adaptation, but with so many more mischievous and offbeat moments than it needs.
Benefiting greatly from the universality of its subject matter, with everyone having gone through education, there's a moment of weary cynicism early on in the hour that I swear elicited the deepest collective laugh I've heard at this year's Fringe, a rumble of mass guilt and appreciation for the toughest element of a teacher's job.
A former secondary school physics teacher turned trainer of fellow teachers, Harris sets his show up as the course he gives to would-be educators, very much a survival guide rather than any high-minded blueprint for inspiring young minds. Indeed, the casual disregard for pupils' prospects is a big part of what makes the show so delightful, from the careful positioning of disruptive kids in formations akin to a football team in order to afford a teacher the easiest life and the physical strategies deployed to avoid answering difficult questions.
One clever ploy to tame the most out-of-control elements by getting them to open up about something special to them appears a genuinely effective tactic. Typically though, Harris uses it as a gag he can callback to about his own misguided recourse to rappers as inspirational.
A smoothly delivered lecture with multimedia elements, multiple props and the assistance and co-starring role of his sister and tech Anna, the hour gets sillier, departs further from its stated aims and amusingly collapses in on itself by the end.
Harris increasingly projects an air of having long ago disengaged and checked out from his vocation. But there are enough satirical swipes at Government policy and the working conditions of a profession in trouble to suggest that beneath his renegade persona he still cares. Jay Richardson
Until 28 August
Make Me Your Queen ***
Laughing Horse @ The Hanover Tap (The Wee Tap) (Venue 259)
Nervy and vulnerable, Sam Serrano on stage is at peak confidence, the young comic maintains, which really makes you feel for them. Juggling a significant number of identity and mental health issues, they're queer but not in easily defined ways. This attracts anti-gay violence but also some compelling sex stories, from a one-night stand with a Lady Gaga impersonator gone awry, to their relationship with their asexual girlfriend, it's all out there, atypical experience that they can still find the relatability in and amusing side of.
That also applies to Serrano’s upbringing after their parents' divorce and their bulimia and Kabuki syndrome, responsible in part for their insecurity about their looks, though they could probably do with more elucidation on this. With a fondness for dick jokes and a tendency to go for the easy gag, Serrano is still quite raw in their performance and needs to trust more in the strength of their anecdotes and original thoughts, as when they subvert the idea of having a knee-jerk homophobic grandmother.
The closing admission, that some of what they’ve discussed has dated since they wrote it, is a bit deflating and could be expressed with more sophistication. But Serrano is a distinctive, likeable act. Jay Richardson
Until 28 August
Oliver Coleman: Sublime ***
Monkey Barrel Comedy (Carnivore) (Carnivore 2) (Venue 180)
There's a simmering, visceral fury powering Oliver Coleman's Fringe return, as the Australian ostensibly rejects the confines of character and sketch comedy with which he's established himself, and strains to perform stand-up as himself. With the caveats that he really doesn't seem to have a great affection for the artform, repeatedly fails to start his show proper and there's a shark moving amongst the audience, he's a belligerent, intimidating presence at the mic.
His tongue-flicking sinister vibe and pained expressions, splenetic outbursts and teeth-bared anguish at the undertaking he's set himself are intermittently very funny and keep you anxious and on the edge of your seat.
Growling his way through turgid observations about craft beer from the persona of a washed-up, 55-year-old male comic, the 33-year-old contemplates and rejects the notion that stand-up could have the shelf life of classical music and anoints himself the “bad boy” of comedy, even as he maintains against all evidence that he's generally a normal person.
As a reflection on stand-up it's bunk and confusing, yet inventive and engagingly so, the artistically ambitious comic aiming to make you laugh at a guttural as well as cerebral level, to really feel like you've experienced a performance. Jay Richardson
Until 28 August
Alice-India: Be Brave (Or Whatever) ***
Laughing Horse @ The Three Sisters (The Wee Room) (Venue 272)
Performing in one of the boxiest rooms at the festival, the intimacy suits Alice-India's candid, confessional style. With the avowed aim of making friends, she gently probes the audience even as she unloads her own insecurities and issues. A former school teacher with no great love for children, she was signed off unwell a month into the academic year and chronicles a string of depressive symptoms, though her diagnosis remains unclear.
She may be autistic she ventures but doesn't allow herself to be confined by this possibility. And in truth, she's more defined by her bisexuality and that of her caring boyfriend's, with her very much wearing the trousers and the phallic supremacy in their relationship.
Some of her material grasps towards gratuitousness, a bit about incestuous dreams presented as if it's relatable. But this seems less taboo-busting than an attempt to be distinctive, the young stand-up still trying to find her voice to an extent, exemplified when she quotes another comedian's account of their sexual awakening as being akin to her own. No great matter though, because she's a perky, engaging presence, despite her troubles, and shows glimpses of ambition and potential. Jay Richardson
Until 28 August
Cecilia Delatori : Rock Spinster ****
PBH’S Free Fringe @ Omni Centre
The Free Fringe has created a wonderful-ramshackle squat of a multi-venue at the Omni. It is quintessentially Fringe. It is a world away from the commercial theme-park up the hill. And the chips from its resident food van are great. The 'rooms' down here are little plasterboard boxes of delight. OK, the no-roof thing is challenging but it didn't stop the Waitrose-shopping, twinset-and-pearls rebel who is Cecilia Delatori's Rock Spinster.
It is impossible not to love this show. It is possible to point out that Cecilia's way with a Fender might have Hendrix doing the hokey cokey in his grave, and her style as a lyricist is going to give anyone who likes their rhymes to scan a tough time but though her pitch in parts might be dodgy, the show as a whole is a joy. She is charming, engaging and somewhere to the unexpectable side of the Spanish Inquisition.
Her comedy weapons include an expertise with the paraprosdokian (or 'twist ending') gag that never fails to get us, a lot of strange but hilarious parody, and the power of the incongruity of a delightful, charming, politely spoken lady in a lovely frock playing AC/DC on a Fender. And she does. Although she admits struggling with the chords of Scum by Napalm Death, Cecilia has powered through because she always wanted to be in a band.
The heady mix of indie rock and tray bake recipies, riding the Modern Major General through every genre of rock you can imagine and an eerily on point Ozzy Osborne impression are some of the gifts that this show just keeps on giving. I do not think any of us will forget attempting to imitate Dame Maggie Smith by way of joining in with the chorus of Highway to Hell. No. Don't bother trying to imagine it. Just go and do it. Kate Copstick
Until 28 August