Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy reviews: Seann Walsh: Is Dead. Happy Now? | Colin Hoult: The Death of Anna Mann | Stuart McPherson: The Peesh | Tom Mayhew: Trash Rich | Thanyia Moore: Just Being Funny | Robyn Perkins: Million Dollar Maybe
Dark catharsis, intricate character comedy and savage polemic are all to be found in our latest round-up of reviews. Words by Jay Richardson.
Seann Walsh: Is Dead. Happy Now? ****
The Stand Comedy Club (Stand 1) (Venue 5)
Seann Walsh's resurgence continues with this superb, soul-baring hour of stand-up, addressing his demons more openly than ever before. Four years on from the Strictly Come Dancing cheating scandal that splashed him across the front page of every newspaper, the 36-year-old is having an undoubted career renaissance, having stabilised his mental health.
If his previous show, Kiss, channelled the trauma of the Strictly period to great effect, Is Dead. Happy Now? is a more detached, reasoned response with periodic plaintive but explosive appeals for understanding, disclosing just how far down his rock bottom was.
And yes, at base this show gets pretty dark. The gallows humour is rich in irony as this perpetual fuck-up of a man, who can't ever remember to charge his phone and (correctly) internally prays that strangers don't approach him for help on the London Underground, at his lowest ebb can't even drown his sorrows with a bath. He can't drink them away either, having forsworn alcohol on the advice of his therapist, a price the seasoned boozehound decries in hilarious terms as far too high.
But then he can look to his father. Fleshing out the character he first properly introduced in Kiss, the nature of the Irishman's addiction issues are quite shocking, certainly not the relatable foibles that a Michael McIntyre or Jack Whitehall could sell to a mainstream audience - although Walsh, an ever-ready mimic of fellow stand-ups, including a Josh Widdicombe in his repertoire for good measure as well, has an entertaining stab at it.
He gives his father the last, confused word. However, Walsh has eschewed the chaos in his genes for a carefully structured, memorable hour with flashes of the animated observational comedy that made his name and a whole heap more of candidly funny, anecdotal outpouring. Jay Richardson
Until 28 August
Colin Hoult: The Death of Anna Mann ****
Pleasance Courtyard (Beneath) (Venue 33)
If you hang around long enough, you risk becoming an institution. And five years since her last appearance at the Fringe, Anna Mann, the outsize thespian alter-ego of Colin Hoult, has surreptitiously become one of the brighter stars in the festival firmament, a reliably funny creation who at least partly, successfully conveys the impression that she's a national treasure. Or at least much-loved during Augusts in Edinburgh.
So the idea that this is her swansong, as she has received the worst news from the doctor, is both on-brand overly dramatic and genuinely carries a bit of weight. Could this really be the end of Anna Mann?
As ever, the show is launched on the exuberance of Mann's engaged crowd work, with even the most familiar name in response to her enquiries greeted with a disbelieving: “Fuck off, I love it!”
And this time round, perhaps in acknowledgement of the grand number of indeterminate years she's accrued on the planet and the many, many men she's known, she's ascribing primate characterisations to blokes of varying generations in the front rows - a stuck-in-the-mud, overtly masculine orangutan here, a callow young lemur there, archetypes she can put words into the mouths of to afford her declarations grandeur and some patriarchal oppressiveness, while sustaining the illusion of conversation.
Recounting her many, varied husbands, as in her dramatic roles, Mann appears to have failed to the top, each time burning boats and moving on as she puts it. Forging a giddy sense of a life well lived and in constant flux, her backstory and roots are nevertheless fleshed out too, the Nottingham origins that she shares with Hoult, a daughter she loves in spite of herself and a constant older sister, who always believed in her.
Irrespective of some hilarious lines, it's a wonderfully lush, intricate tapestry that Hoult weaves for the character's biography, before picking it apart to lay bare the vulnerabilities and motivations behind it, the Manner of it far more affecting than one might predict. Jay Richardson
Until 28 August
Stuart McPherson: The Peesh ***
Monkey Barrel Comedy (Carnivore) (Carnivore 2) (Venue 180)
With an alternating low-energy drollness and erupting incredulity at things he finds ridiculous, such as the shop he was offered as a home to buy, Stuart McPherson delights in the quirky, tickled by the pointless, confusing gesture of dedicating a novel to a complete stranger or random celebrity, appreciating the swagger of doing the same for his show.
He seemingly can't raise himself to get worked up about anything, dedicating the comic laurels in his family to his grandmother, while his dream is of retirement, an easy life. With this in mind, a stag do in Newcastle seems a bit energetic and ripe for drama for the Scottish comic. But that's the central narrative thread he initially chooses to hang his show on, nurturing his insecurities by comparing himself to his more settled fellow stags.
At a certain point though, McPherson switches the focus of the narrative, easing into the real nitty-gritty and letting his hair down. Recent events, both inexplicable and everywhere about the Fringe, reminding him, have conspired together so that he is, in his own words, “white knuckling” the festival. That's not necessarily to the audience's disadvantage though, as the bleakness has at least begot a pathetically hilarious routine about his baseball cap of sexual conquest. Jay Richardson
Until 28 August
Tom Mayhew: Trash Rich ***
The Stand Comedy Club 2 (Stand 2) (Venue 5)
A passionate and authentic working-class voice, Tom Mayhew's sense of frustration and injustice is powerful. A comic for eight years, he'd just started to make a reasonable living from the job when the pandemic struck, consigning him at 30 to the feeling he's once again stuck, his horizons narrowing.
Despite two series on that bastion of the middle-classes, Radio 4, he's still living with his parents. And he can accurately chart a drop in aspirations from his parents to his nephews through their home ownership potential.
For better and worse, Mayhew has refined his act in recent years, so while he's less distinctive and open to leftfield material, he's got an urgency and focus that spits disdain from the microphone. He's at his most memorable when he applies his neglected absurdist streak and revolutionary zeal to popular culture and petty rabble-rousing, leading the audience through a tasting menu of billionaires we should eat and reimagining working-class versions of popular bourgeois television shows.
In the final analysis, he can't be funny about a political system that degrades, demeans and increasingly entrenches poverty, but his polemic is savage and viscerally affecting. Jay Richardson
Until 28 August
Thanyia Moore: Just Being Funny ***
Monkey Barrel Comedy (Carnivore) (Carnivore 1) (Venue 180)
This isn't the show Thanyia Moore wanted to be her Fringe introduction, Covid having postponed her debut and drained her of the will to talk about her bullying past. That's a slightly odd admission to make at the top of her hour, as it sounds psychologically compelling, perhaps rather more so than this straightforward sharing of her origin story.
Raised working-class on South London's New Cross estate, dismissed by the police, media and government yet which she champions, she found culture shock in attending school further away, the only black girl in her class. Her eyes were further opened when she danced her way out of the “ghetto”, competing in the World Hip Hop Championships in America, her crew's performance triumphantly shown on screen. Elsewhere, she also plays her appearance on the Dave channel panel show Question Team, asking trivia of her fellow comics while skydiving, her bluff-calling of the programme-makers gone awry.
All entertaining enough, with the confident Moore supplementing her tale with persuasive cultural and racial analysis, a strong sense of familial and civic pride in her community, plus plenty of laughs at her own expense, Just Being Funny nevertheless lacks a satisfying narrative through-line and appears to have sacrificed ambition for relatability. Jay Richardson
Until 28 August
Robyn Perkins: Million Dollar Maybe ***
Gilded Balloon Teviot (Balcony) (Venue 14)
It's a truism to say that stand-ups are endlessly fascinated with themselves. But Robyn Perkins ascribes a scientific method to her navel-gazing. A scientist-turned-comic, the UK-based American was stunned to discover she was bisexual at the ripe old age of 35, somewhat wounding her professional pride as she never saw it coming.
She does, at least though, have the dogged aptitude and research skills to try to ascertain why this was. Yet in the process of creating this thoughtful, amusing hour, she found herself less exploring biology, than prejudice, needing to affirm and validate her sexuality in the face of widespread scepticism.
At the core of this show is her seeking the approval of her military man father and an interview with the somewhat controversial figure Professor Michael J Bailey, whose claim to have found real empirical evidence for bisexuality, arguably degrades it by calling it into question.
Certainly, his findings stand in dry contrast to the blossoming romance of Perkins and her partner, against their initial misgivings to be with each other. And the brave identity claim of an inspirational 12-year-old she encounters, who signifies the start of a generational shift in attitudes. Does Perkins find incontrovertible proof for bisexuality? It's a strong maybe. Jay Richardson
Until 28 August