Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy reviews: Sooz Kempner: PlayStation | Lucy Hopkins: Dark Mother | Anthony DeVito: My Dad Isn't Danny DeVito | Jon Pearson: What Have You Been Up To | Séayoncé: Res-Erection

Our latest comedy round-up includes a tech-savvy rumination on arrested development, a mesmerising bus-based clown-punk, and a tough yet tender confessional. Words by Jay Richardson, Claire Smith and Ben Walters.

Sooz Kempner: PlayStation ****

PBH’s Free Fringe @ Banshee Labyrinth (Chamber Room) (Venue 156)

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Sooz Kempner has made waves for a while on the live comedy and cabaret scenes (including a memorable role as a body part in the All Star Brexit Cabaret) but she moved to a whole new level of recognition during the pandemic, thanks to her social media content. Kempner combines a range of talents, her sharp wit, cracking timing and strong mimicry skills complemented by a trained singing voice, a visceral understanding of what lands well online and the tech savvy to make it happen. All that plus a willingness to devote what she acknowledges to be an unhealthy amount of time and energy to digitally bickering with rightwing trolls (and invariably handing them their rear on a plate).

Sooz Kempner: PlayStation
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Directly or indirectly, these skills are all put to use in PlayStation, a show supposedly about the feeling that, at 37, Kempner still hasn’t really learned how to be an adult. This throughline is linked to the Sony console of the title and the sense that Kempner is in some sense stuck in the year she and her brother got one, 1998, as if trapped in a lift with Lara Croft and Tony Blair. Riffing off this, she deploys on-screen images and videos to deliver observational material about several generations of video games and material about her troubled family relationships, her adventures in online comedy and the challenges of lockdown life.

Arrested development isn’t exactly fresh ground for stand-up, and PlayStation’s structure feels increasingly baggy, with detours into movie recaps and political TV coverage. But Kempner has funny bones and, for someone who describes herself as merely “internet successful”, an effortless audience rapport. When I saw the show there were a couple of technical hitches but thanks to her self-reflexive quick thinking, neither the energy nor laughs took a hit. Ben Walters

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Until 28 August

Lucy Hopkins: Dark Mother ****

Blundagardens: Blundabus (Venue 212)

She has shiny gold and black eyes, this one, and a black tongue. Lucy Hopkins is the Dark Mother. As she enters the bus, which is her womb, the lights flick on and off again. She brings the darkness, she brings the light. She sparkles with candles, fairy lights, a lantern. The mother is elemental. She creates us and we are here, or not here, because of her.

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On the top deck of the bus we sit in the dark. The dark mother asks us what we want. Are we sleepy, hungry, disturbed by the noises outside. We are tiny children again, totally dependent on her power, and she has whims and strange switches of mood that scare us.

Hopkins coos, speaks softly and reassure us. But her hands fly about doing unseen things in the dark. We don’t understand. We laugh because we are scared, because we recognise ourselves as tiny people and because our brothers and sisters ask silly questions in the dark.

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Hopkins, who is a legend among Gaulier clowns, is unmatched in her ability to create atmospheres, to work with whatever energy is in the room and to make you laugh in the oddest ways. She looks extraordinary, a punk rock Edith Sitwell in a fitted waistcoat and a top hat. Elegant, beautiful and terrifying. Finally the dark mother tells us a story. A strange story of a tiny mermaid who falls into a pot of black, shiny jam. It’s not the story we wanted. But then it never is. We are us and our mothers are themselves. We are separate people - although often we forget.

This is a new creation and still evolving but Hopkins has made something special, powerful and healing. Before the end of the Fringe I’ll go back to see it again. Claire Smith

Until 28 August

Anthony DeVito: My Dad Isn't Danny DeVito ***

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Just the Tonic at The Mash House (Just the Bottle Room) (Venue 288)

Anthony DeVito is a New York club comic to his bones, an affable Sicilian-American who usually trades in punchy gags and self-deprecating mockery of his heritage and relationships with women. But underlying that persona is his exceptional backstory, which he's been fabricating since he was a child, yet belatedly came to terms with and is now sharing the truth of in his first full-length show.

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Raised in a strongly matriarchal household, DeVito's father died when he was seven months old. And his sense of the man was patched together from the little his mother disclosed of her husband. Slowly though, the legend that DeVito established to help negotiate his own tricky path into masculinity, which included a period sleeping rough even as he made his television acting debut and over-commitment to romantic ideals that doomed his relationships, came up hard against the truth about his father.

Suffice to say, the full story is not pleasant. But the comic draws considerable humour and tenderness from it, principally for his long-suffering mother but also to an extent his old man, born into a tough way of life with few choices. The trauma of his cultural and even genetic inheritance is salved with the gratitude that DeVito could make a structurally haphazard but consistently funny, compelling show about it. Jay Richardson

Until 28 August

Jon Pearson: What Have You Been Up To ***

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Just the Tonic at The Caves (Just Out of the Box) (Venue 88)

Considering he's just released a stand-up show on the hip US label Comedy Dynamics, Midlands-based Jon Pearson has opted for an altogether more down-to-earth approach for his Fringe hour.

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Cynics might suggest that doing an hour of mostly crowd work is a cop-out for the platform the festival affords, or the last recourse of an act who hasn't written sufficient material to fill the time. But the big man is upfront about his intentions and a decent compere, varying his stock enquires about his audience members' occupations and relationship statuses with more unexpected, idiosyncratic lines of enquiry that keep the conversation bubbling away throughout the room.

In the course of drawing out information from those before him, he does disclose a bit about his failed marriages, with a little insight into his second impending divorce. He also explains the practical consideration of a 6'6, 21 stone man showering in student accommodation and his experience modelling plus-size clothes with Freddie Flintoff.

It doesn't add up to a tremendous hill of beans. But Pearson puts in the legwork of effort and delivers a slight, undemanding hour of chuckles leading up to dinnertime. Jay Richardson

Until 28 August

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Séayoncé: Res-Erection ***

Assembly Roxy (Upstairs) (Venue 139)

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RuPaul-ready look notwithstanding, there’s an endearingly end-of-the-pier feel to this spiritualist-themed drag escapade. That’s partly because our host, the lugubrious medium Séayoncé, greets us in the guise of one of those coin-operated seaside machines that tell your fortune. And partly because a lot of the comedy comes from gloriously groanworthy puns and wordplay of a kind that might have proudly graced a music-hall stage.

The biggest pleasures of the show come from this talented act’s way with (often obscene) words, and their assured way with an audience too. With arched brow and impish drawl, they give an air of a risqué Noel Coward character let loose. There’s also a weirdly charming rapport with on-stage keyboardist Robin Theyfellow, whose running accompaniment keeps things atmospheric even as their character adds a joyfully rough edge.

The show is on less confident ground with its rather convoluted plotting and songs, however. There’s a drawn-out set-up involving interaction with demons and lost souls leading to body-swapping shenanigans, and some songs that don’t quite scan or land as well as they might. The inspirational message of self-love and self-determination, meanwhile, feels sincere but on-the-nose. Still, it’s funny and charming, with filth and heart. Spirits will be raised. Ben Walters

Until 28 August