Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy reviews: The Mr Thing Show | Patrick Spicer: Who's This All of a Sudden? | Richard David-Caine: Tall, Dark and Anxious | Chuck Salmon: Pool Noodles | Vidura Bandara Rajapaksa: Monsoon Season | Abigail Rolling: Shit Lawyer
The Mr Thing Show ****
Pleasance Dome (KingDome) (Venue 23), until 28 August
This goofy, tech-heavy onslaught of a show feels a bit like what might happen if Kenny Everett and the Muppets threw a house party in a NASA control centre. There are live jingles, silly videos, daft games, catchphrases and callbacks, all held together by real-time hi-tech jiggery-pokery.
It’s hosted by energetically upbeat Tom Clarkson and mildly frazzled tech whizz Owen Visser, in matching yellow and red suits respectively, and their furry purple pal Puppet Steve, a human-sized sardonic sidekick perched behind his own desk upstage. There’s a large console operated by Visser, several on-stage cameras and screens, homemade robots and a sofa or two for audience members who are brought on stage as guests or crew.
These questionably lucky few are tasked with being irreverently interviewed, showing off their party tricks, participating in contests, even being sent out into the world with cameras strapped to their head. But everyone in the room plays, sings and waves along.
These high-energy hi-jinks won’t be to everyone’s taste but there’s no denying the technical sophistication of the show’s props and production values, or the real sense of feelgood fun and celebration underpinning the show. Anyone who pitches in is generously affirmed – even if the actual latitude they’re given to do their own thing isn’t always very large. This is partly because beneath what appears to be a ramshackle escapade lies a sneaky narrative throughline, supported by clever use of the technology and a sense of how to structure the audience’s attention over the hour.
The overall vibe is of a studio TV show that isn’t being broadcast. You might think of The Big Breakfast, Adam & Joe and Shooting Stars, or Fringe acts who’ve migrated to the small screen such as Alex Horne and Nina Conti. Perhaps this silly yet tight format will follow. Ben Walters
Patrick Spicer: Who's This All of a Sudden? ***
Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose (Coorie) (Venue 24), until 28 August
Evidenced by his opening enquiry to the crowd of “do you like me?” right at the top, Patrick Spicer is a curious cove, still very much finding himself as a person, never mind as a stand-up. A good-looking lad who nevertheless didn't lose his virginity till he was 24, he's been beset by anxiety and undiagnosable health issues since his youth. The paper thin line between the confident personality he conveys to the world and his ever-present insecurities is presented as the sham it is from the start, as he recounts the loss of face he experienced in front of his friends as a 16-year-old, when he was mugged by a child two years his junior. With the trauma of this occasion carrying through to a first date he was on a full year later, it, or a bad experience he had with drugs at 13, scarcely seem credible explanations for the ongoing instability in his head. But there's no ignoring he's got some obvious issues. So while Spicer's stand-up seems more like therapy for him than entertainment for the audience, the panic attacks and the successive treatments he's undertaken to treat his ailments are at least unique stories, which he relates with wry amusement. Jay Richardson
Richard David-Caine: Tall, Dark and Anxious ***
Underbelly, Cowgate (Iron Belly) (Venue 61), until 28 August
Best known for children's television, Richard David-Caine goofily layers each of his characters' costumes cumulatively atop each other. Yet from the instant he's initially revealed on stage, his angular frame curled in foetal form, bathed in blue light, an otherworldly, monstrous stare and grin playing across his face, it's manifestly clear that this is not a show for kids. With a theme of oppressive anxiety throughout, it's an old-fashioned revue-style series of skits about a thoroughly modern malaise, slight in parts but sustained by his flamboyant charisma. His opening number is an extended delight, as dressed in leather fetish gear, he's the cliched German MC of Weimar cabaret, prancing and posturing through a series of verses offering dubious solutions to your mental health problems. A high which he never quite matches, there's nevertheless much to amuse in a spoof life coach, his TED Talk undercut with some silly bits of business involving fluffed PowerPoint cues. And his gossipy masseuse, heterosexual despite all evidence to the contrary, with a dark secret that just pops out in breezy conversation. Less successful is a Deep South fire and brimstone preacher, engaging in crosstalk with his uncomprehending organist, which really cries out for stronger punchlines to cap their repartee, and a heavily manipulated focus group which wears out its premise. A fine character actor then, underserved by a so-so script. Jay Richardson
Chuck Salmon: Pool Noodles ***
Just the Tonic at The Caves (Just Up the Road) (Venue 88), until 28 August
Narrative sketch tends to require a certain youthful exuberance and knockabout goofiness, which Chuck Salmon have in buckets. But this appealing debut also has plenty of invention to go with its vim and a script that for all it's absolute hokum, contains some finely crafted lines. Alex Franklin, Noah Geelan and Will Bicknell-Found have been performing their silly tale, about an aspirant lifeguard, since 2019, and it shows, with the trio incorporating (laughably inconsequential) audience direction of the story and riffing off each other's improvisations and corpses with boyish commitment. The plot, such as it is, focuses on peppy towel boy and wannabe lifesaver Kenny Shallows (Franklin), inspired by pool legend Flume Hotshot to seek the lifeguarding elixir and win The Big Race. Never really leaving the confines of his local leisure centre, Geelan and Bicknell-Found play all the other freaks and grotesques he finds there at training. The former evokes some of the cold, intimidating energy of Jane Lynch as the cruel lifeguarding coach, while the latter amuses as the crazy golf course owner with ze outrageous cod-French accent. Given the limitations of budget, cast numbers and setting etc, Pool Noodles is supremely well put together and superior tosh. Jay Richardson
Vidura Bandara Rajapaksa: Monsoon Season ***
Monkey Barrel Comedy (The Hive) (Venue 313), until 28 August
A charismatic Sri Lankan with laid-back, slacker energy, Vidura Bandera Rajapaksa has packed plenty into his life to date, leading to a glut of material for his standup (or, more accurately, sit down) comedy. From boat orgies in Berlin to studying medicine at a questionable university in Malaysia, it’s a whirlwind tour of countries and cultures that also takes in the USA and London, his home for the last two years.
In a strong opening he addresses his home country’s troubled past and present, targeting gap year travellers and low-level racism, before heading west on his travelogue. The perceived differences between immigrants and expats are addressed with nuance, as are the ways in which far off disasters are dealt with - or ignored - by the Western media.
There’s plenty of personal material here too, including a troubled relationship with his father and a diagnosis of anorexia, but they are frustratingly disposed of with quick punchlines rather than any attempt to go deeper.
At the end of the set he is needlessly apologetic, declaring that it has been “a rough one”. From such a smooth performer it’s the only thing in the whole show that doesn’t ring true. David Hepburn
Abigail Rolling: Shit Lawyer ***
Just the Tonic Nucleus (Just the Sub-Atomic Room (Venue 393), until 28 August
Like the Secret Barrister, but with gags and a face, Abigail Rolling's debut Fringe show is a powerful indictment of the death by a thousand cuts of the British legal system, from someone who has toiled as a criminal defence lawyer for three decades. Fascinating and revealing of an institution that's ways remain largely obscure and arcane to the layperson, the show empathises with the poorly-served victims of judicial process in this country, yet in many instances is unavoidably grim and depressing. Severe, unsmiling and archly cynical, Rolling is, nevertheless, a compelling orator and credible witness, repeating her world-weary admission that she's a “shit lawyer” as she takes her lumps defending serial offenders, committing petty crimes to be re-incarcerated rather than face life on the streets. Attacking Tory and Labour administrations alike for their destruction of a system in a death spiral, pointing out that any one of us could get caught up in it at any time, Rolling's underlying belief in the right to justice resonates, her mask endearingly cracking when she recalls the most eccentric behaviour of some of her most troubled clients. Ultimately, she doesn't yet possess the breadth of stand-up skills to prevent her bleak account overwhelming. But her call-to-action certainly impacts. Jay Richardson