Edinburgh Festival Fringe reviews: Patti Harrison | Mark Thomas: Black and White | The Delightful Sausage: Nowt but Sea | Olaf Falafel: STOAT | Sophie Duker: Hag | Moni Zhang: Child from Wuhan | Good Kids: Appetite
Patti Harrison ****
Pleasance Courtyard, until 15 August then 21-27 August
Despite taking the stage at a gallop in intense strobe lighting and flying round the room like an unleashed banshee, Patti Harrison is a slow burn. Asking for patience as she returns to stand-up after a period focusing upon her mental health and easing herself back in with a work-in-progress show, the American issues a disclaimer of all the potential triggers for audience sensitivities in the hour to come. These are progressively dark and also yet increasingly ludicrous, a really bold, lengthy opening gambit.
There are a few sincerities in there and it does presage the games she plays with tension. But these scarcely give a true flavour of the crazed and even murderously violent instincts in Harrison's head, as she narcissistically indulges in self-obsessed, healing psychobabble, her gentle journey back to wellness periodically interrupted by splenetic eruptions of fury or spiralling madness. Just a truly magnetic and phenomenally well-rounded performer, capable of spinning a premise on a dime, the laughs the comedian and actor elicits are carefully eked out.
But when they arrive they're deep, memorable and sustaining, her cutesy voiced impression of vocally distinct singer-songwriter Joanna Newsom being ravished by right-wing blowhard Steve Bannon the first of several bleakly hilarious songs. The fact that Harrison only explains some of the American cultural specificities of a tune in which Björk works in a supermarket after she's performed it is perfectly in keeping with her chaotic character, yet hardly makes it less entertaining. And though she is at pains to rescue Kate Bush from her reputation as a Tory, her wicked homage has its cake and eats it by adhering to the myth. Pointing out that she's trans almost in passing, Harrison doesn't need minority licence to attack anyone, LGBTQI folk included, her troubled, overwrought persona affording her all the scope anyway. Once seen, Harrison is never forgotten. Jay Richardson
Mark Thomas: Black and White ****
The Stand's New Town Theatre, until 28 August
A long time ago, Mark Thomas changed my life. I still have the “Killer Coke” T-shirt to prove it. It is an incalculable joy to see that even in 2022 – now famous, successful, diabetic and hard of hearing – he is still packing the same political punch as ever. And with such delight, such relish and, as he always had, such intelligence While Sun Tzu's famous advice was to “know thine enemy”. Mark Thomas could pretty much get a PhD in any of his foes.
The sort of comedy edifice of ideas and opinion and beautifully articulated angry humour you will get from a Robin Ince show (with less science, more socialism) hurtles along on a Niagara river of knowledge – this is the white water rafting of political comedy. It is breath-taking (as well as enlightening, infuriating and very, very funny). Just when you think that all possible insults have been exhausted, Thomas creates brand new and excruciatingly funny attacks on Raab, Sunak, Patel and, most hilariously of all, Liz Truss. I guarantee you will never watch her speak again without hearing fire engines. Thomas’s genius take on the whole horror of sending refugees to Rwanda gets the kind of laughter that turns into an applause break.
He takes the new protest legislation to its logical conclusion and suggests ways for women to take advantage of the English Heritage protection laws Thomas even finds the politics in his own Type 2 Diabetes. And there is no counter argument, to be honest. Every so often, Mark treats us to “jokes”, sometimes even as Les Dawson. We get all of this, plus Bernard Cribbins, Barry Cryer and a bit of a singalong to The Boy I Love is Up In The Gallery. This is the kind of comic that a girl gives up drinking Lilt for. Kate Copstick
The Delightful Sausage: Nowt but Sea ****
Monkey Barrel Comedy, until 28 August
Disaster has struck Amy Gledhill and Chris Cantrill. The Yorkshire duo known as the Delightful Sausage have washed up on a desert island, surrounded by nowt but sea. Gledhill and Cantrill, who both have their own shows at the Fringe this year, drop in and out of character in this absurd, nonsensical tale. The pair have a wonderful rapport and are indeed delightful, whether they are riffing with each other, advancing another daft twist in the madcap plot, or trying not to laugh – which they do a lot.
Their crazy, out-of-context adventure involves a mysterious showbiz agent, a starvation segment in which they eat their own clothes, and a very niche species of perversion in an odd corner of OnlyFans. The Delightful Sausage also use projected animation to illustrate their story, allowing them to cross oceans and travel down long corridors mysteriously full of hand sanitiser.
It’s all very lo-fi and extremely silly, whether Cantril and Gledhill are pushing through the audience in a hollowed-out boat, spraying the audience with mist, or being spooked by the moving eyes on the portrait of a showbiz legend. Guest performer Paul Dunphy does an absurdly creepy turn as the villain of the piece - although his presence sometimes interrupts the rhythm of the double act. It’s rare to see such a celebration of male/female friendship. Gledhill and Cantrill have a winning chemistry and revel in their shared sense of humour, which is one of the things that make them such a joy to watch.
They revel in over-the-top characterisation. Gledhill is abundantly sexy with terrible judgement, Cantrill is prone to deluded dreams of showbiz glory. But we appreciate they are best buddies, who will always have each other’s backs – no matter what insane adventures life throws at them. Claire Smith
Olaf Falafel: STOAT ****
Laughing Horse @ the Pear Tree, until 28 August
I arrive at my allotted show to be told that the comedian doesn't want reviewers in until the world is a better place. Or something like that. But because this is the Fringe, I just go downstairs and, through a curtain in a pub, I find a world of happy. A world with a laugh in every moment. Except the ones that take us to the edge of tears. But Olaf keeps them till the end, which is, structurally, the best place. Fun, Olaf insists (with the help of a visual aid and an enthusiastic call and response) needs structure. STOAT has everything. It has a duck-covered insult hat, sausage hurling for blessings (Halle Berry!), a lizard in a power tool and even a Mind Reading Mic Stand which reveals our thoughts to the room. Surprisingly, it turns out we are all hilarious.
I thought I gave my inner child up for adoption years ago, but two minutes with Olaf Falafel and we are giggling uncontrollably as we are shown the original prototype Spongebob Squarepants (much better) and strawberries being levitated. And of course we are treated to a barrage of ridiculously silly one-liners and Olaf's legendary Cheese of Truth makes an onscreen comeback in “Xtreme” form. Even the charismatic Falafel Daughters make appearances along with Snake, the comedy cat with musical paws and life lessons to teach. This is a big, beautiful bearhug of a show. I will not spoil the ending but a Neil Diamond Singalong makes everything seem better. These days comedy is used to do many things. Olaf Falafel uses it this afternoon to make my life a lot more fun. And for that I thank him. Halle Berry! Kate Copstick
Sophie Duker: Hag ***
Pleasance Courtyard, until 28 August (not 17)
Sophie Duker has an odd stand-up style, which starts to feel forced after a while. Her natural voice is a posh north London, but she intones her words with the rhythm of an American beat poet. She’s a powerful individual and a committed performer but it all feels rather non-spontaneous and over-rehearsed. Sophie is fed up of talking about race so she’s centred this story on her deciding she was a lesbian while on a lesbian cruise – I say was, because apparently she has now become a pansexual. There’s also a story about being shipped back to Ghana in her youth to live with relatives. But it is a rather emotionless telling, which leaves us unsure what she wants us to think about it. She certainly looks phenomenally cool, with a tiny colourful dress, beautiful braided dreadlocks and big tough boots, but Duker has a tendency to resort to weak, cliched punchlines which rely on brand names and class references. Her interaction with the audience is forced and rather uncomfortable. And the notion that at the age of 32 she has now qualified in some way to be called an older woman – or hag – is misplaced, unenlightening and rather irritating. Claire Smith
Moni Zhang: Child from Wuhan ***
Laughing Horse @ The Three Sisters, until 28 August (not 17, 24)
It’s a strange thing to find yourself in a tiny room with a person from Wuhan right at the tail end of a global epidemic. Moni Zhang could have made more of her closeness to the source of an epoch-making event; instead she introduces us to her hometown through its favourite food – a kind of crunchy noodle. And she gives us an astonishing glimpse into her own early life, growing up with a disabled single mother who ran a sweatshop. Zhang now lives in Europe, in Berlin. But her account of an impoverished Chinese childhood is unforgettable. It’s a pity she tries to get laughs from overt sexual references and clumsy cultural stereotypes because her storytelling is beautiful. You will never forget her account of the shame and humiliation of living in extreme poverty. The descriptions of food are particularly evocative, and her disgust at the stuff eaten by western people – particularly the Dutch – is funny. She ends her hour with a real moment of transformation, which movingly explains how she overcame her self disgust. She has a way to go as a comic, but it is a privilege to hear her story. Claire Smith
Good Kids: Appetite ***
Just the Tonic at The Mash House (Just the Cask Room), until 28 August
Good Kids won’t be the last Fringe comedy act to send up the concept of a self-help talk, their matching navy gilets and excessive veneer of confidence betraying that their seminar on success may not be the game-changing proposition it's billed as. Still, their shtick is definitely one of the better and looser ones, with Appetite For Success UK only the core narrative thread for some pretty weird and wonderful tangents. Appearing both as their huckster selves and the American billionaires bankrolling the British arm of their operation, Kieran Ahern and Tom Dowling admit that in a former life, they were a pop act big in Luxembourg. Crooning their hit, I'm Addicted to the Chinese Chocolate Fountain, it's a gloriously daft, Roald Dahl-referencing opening that's indicative of the stupidity they trade in and the underlying desperation of their personas. With a sub-plot about pushing Tiger Blood, an energy drink presumably named after Charlie Sheen's egotistical ravings and Dowling's descent into virtual reality-enabled sex, Appetite might more accurately be called Gluttony, with the pair repeatedly dragging each other back from the precipice whenever they get close to hitting rock bottom. The general, knockabout idiocy carries the weaker sections, as does their easy chemistry and furious will to entertain. Jay Richardson