Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy reviews: Morgan Rees: Bi and Large | Phil Wang: The Real Hero in All This | Eli Matthewson: Daddy Short-Legs | Tina del Twist: Caravan in the Sky
Morgan Rees: Bi and Large ****
Pleasance Courtyard (Bunker One) (Venue 33), until 28 August
The coming out as queer story is a particular variant of the coming of age tale popular as Fringe stand-up debuts. And Morgan Rees smashes his with considerable aplomb. A strapping, ebullient man from Merthyr Tydfil, the working-class Welshman appears your archetypal rugger bugger, with a brook-no-nonsense attitude towards veganism and the overbearing hipster vibes of his adopted home of Bristol.
Yet Rees, who always knew he was bisexual, only came out over lockdown. Although societal pressures played a part, he blithely dismisses prejudice from the straight and gay community towards the bi and has a self-mockingly hilarious line about why he can’t be considered pansexual. Yet all this nuance and sexual awakening has been a belated crash course for him, his ignorance and internalised bi-resistance the product of a dysfunctional upbringing of not discussing such matters and the considerable eccentricity of his family.
From the great aunt whose ghost-hunting YouTube channel eclipses him for fame (hardly surprising given the tale of his repeatedly fluffed line on BBC Wales sitcom Beena and Amrit) to the marriage of his first cousins, Rees appreciates he’s sitting on a treasure trove of familial weirdness and exploits it for all it’s worth. The closing account of his grandfather’s marriage to a much younger woman and the infant aunt and uncle he’s thus recently acquired – whom he now babysits – is wrung for all its topsy-turvy, modern life oddity and cognitive dissonance.
However, it’s in the eyes of younger, less prejudiced generations that Rees found the confidence to be himself. Although he initially lambasts his teenage half-brother as a Gen Z layabout, he’s more recently evolved respect for him and follows his laidback, casual gender-fluid example. Rees is a fine storyteller with an instinctive appreciation for his own ridiculousness. Yet almost in spite of his big, bluff distemper, he’s suffused this introduction with tremendous heart and warmth. Jay Richardson
Phil Wang: The Real Hero in All This ***
Assembly George Square, Gordon Aikman Theatre (Venue 8), until 21 August
Phil Wang done good. He’s just recorded a Netflix Special, toured America and bought a flat. But success keeps catching our hero unawares. The British-Malaysian comic, who often refers to himself in the third person, begins his show with a series of self-effacing stories about failing to fully enjoy his luck.
So he fails to buy furniture for his new flat, can’t quite find his special on his television and enjoys being recognised so much it becomes a nuisance for his fans. His delivery is both highly animated and slightly robotic – and he sometimes flips into ironic awkward computer voice for his punchlines. I particularly love the section where he suddenly turns into a character from the animated computer game the Sims. There’s also a very funny section where he gives a personality and voice to his father’s laptop after being re-united post-lockdown.
Wang gives us some excellent material about the difference between British and Chinese culture. He talks about emotion, ambition and goes into a lot of depth about attitudes to rice. He’s got some great stuff about social media and some pointed and pertinent material about attitudes to immigration. Blink and you’ll miss it but the politics and social comment are there.
As a newly famous person Wang is nervous about being cancelled – which sends him into an entertaining daydream about all the anti-social things he can no longer do. He also spends a lot of time worrying about inconsistencies in his autobiography and wondering if he can make himself look better with a few well-placed lies.
There’s no great theme or narrative to this but there are plenty of skilfully delivered and precisely written jokes. It is an enjoyable hour of self-portraiture, which carries us along on a tide of geeky silliness. Claire Smith
Eli Matthewson: Daddy Short-Legs ****
Underbelly, George Square (The Wee Coo) (Venue 300), until 28 August (not 17)
Despite being a minor celebrity in his homeland – a former voice of New Zealand tourism no less and the third most famous graduate of his school – Eli Matthewson isn’t as secure in his identity as he might have hoped. For a start, he’s still coming to terms with not being the most famous graduate of his school. And granted, on stage he’s got the relaxed charm and droll, anecdotal skill of a young John Waters, packaged with the best teeth that cosmetic dentistry can buy, not to mention the confidence in himself and foresight of a Mad Max-style apocalypse to sport a brazen mullet.
Yet despite noting the double standards that wouldn’t apply to a heterosexual comic, he was perceptibly stung by a producer’s suggestion that he dial down the gay jokes on television. Blessed with a name both madly Biblical and gender-vague, society doesn’t allow him to forget his homosexuality when he and his boyfriend are renting holiday accommodation for example. Still, Matthewson was up for the challenge, conceiving his latest hour as being a gay joke-free zone. Unfortunately, life has a way of throwing a spanner in the works and the Kiwi was forced to again re-evaluate his identity after a family revelation.
Realising that there’s still time for an old dog to learn new tricks, he reasons that being defined by homosexuality maybe isn’t such a bad thing. A bodged but graphic expression of he and his boyfriend’s love that went viral on the internet at Christmas apparently afforded him some much needed perspective. Presented rather more neatly than the messier aspects of his story suggest, Matthewson largely keeps a lid on the emotional fallout of his tale. But it’s absolutely there beneath his bemused, flawless smile. Jay Richardson
Tina del Twist: Caravan in the Sky ****
Assembly Checkpoint (Venue 322), until 28 August (not 20)
A warm, jazzy voice, a nice line in subtly shambolic slapstick and a bittersweet appreciation of the joys of solitude underpin this slow-burning charmer of a cabaret show. Tina del Twist emerges at the start from a pop-up tent on the stage of the Assembly Checkpoint, embarking on an extended bout of semi-inebriated, broadly bewildered business in which she struggles to establish where she is, what she’s doing, who else might be involved and indeed where the stage might run out – all without ever seeming like she’s terribly bothered one way or the other.
The alter ego of comic Wes Snelling, Del Twist sports a flowing turban with a violet flower and an amiable air of hard-won indifference – to conventional understandings not only of space and time but also of social expectations. This leads to plenty of amusingly misfiring attempts at physical coordination and audience engagement but the clowning is also in service of a broader vision. Caravan in the Sky emerges as a set about finding your own way through the world, even if it is fumblingly. The theme is solitude: not loneliness but the business of living alone among others, in caravan parks or apartment blocks or on stage, open to connection but determined to remain captain of one’s own little ship.
It’s in the songs that this finds its fullest and loveliest expression. Numbers such as All By Myself and One is the Loneliest Number are delivered in big, rich tones, sometimes with an edge. Del Twist isn’t afraid to amend lyrics to suit her sensibility and we get the sense that she sings for herself as much as for us, though other numbers embrace loving connection too. She sometimes feels adrift in this large room but adrift is a mode this intriguing character seems long accustomed to inhabiting. Ben Walters