Edinburgh Fringe comedy reviews: Ania Magliano | Reuben Solo | Lucas O'Neil | Katharyn Henson | Jake Baker

Get ready to laugh with the Scotsman’s latest round-up of stand-up comedy reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe. Words by Claire Smith and Jay Richardson.

Ania Magliano: I Can’t Believe You’ve Done This ****Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33) until 26 August

In this beautifully structured show, Ania Magliano brings the lightest of touches to some serious subjects. The comic builds her story around a terrible haircut, but weaves her narrative back and forth until the story is about so much more.

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Magliano strides around the stage, playfully watching her audience. She interacts with a particularly hearty laugher and a man with legs stretched out towards the stage, then returns to them again and again, having correctly picked out people who are happy to laugh along with her. She’s a trickster, who hides big ideas within little observations – and her storytelling is so deft and skilful that it’s impossible to see what’s behind the story until she chooses to reveal it. She’s also an amateur boxer, which gives her added steel, determination and concentration, all hidden behind a dancing gait.

Magliano, who is bisexual, has a thoroughly refreshing take on sexuality which allows her to question, wonder and also to laugh at her own choices. She is questioning, quizzical and playful – and her laser sharp focus on the audience makes sure she takes everyone along with her, every step of the way. She can make laughter which ripples around the room and builds up into a roar but she can also draw us into a story so we are listening to every word.

There’s precision and balance in her every move – but Magliano is delightfully easy to listen to – even though her perspective on life is hers alone. Magliano is a truly original voice with an impressive set of skills. When she finally, briefly reveals her vulnerability it just makes us love her even more. Claire Smith

Reuben Solo: Palindrome ****

Just the Tonic at The Mash House (Just the Attic) (Venue 288) until 27 August

Ania Magliano at the Edinburgh Fringe 2023Ania Magliano at the Edinburgh Fringe 2023
Ania Magliano at the Edinburgh Fringe 2023

Who doesn't love a maverick? Reuben Solo's Fringe debut is craftily intricate and exceptionally showy, nakedly, hungrily so. Yet the Australian commits to his nerdily sketchy, cinematically-framed hour with such vein-bulging energy, sprightly imagination and crowd-pumping zeal that you're swept along in its looping, mind-bending journey.

Barrelling out of the gate, he whips the audience up with a hollering, high-five of an intro and shallow flattery, before introducing the first of his graphs, plotting reactions to the routine in real time, his grandstanding predictions for what follows directly provoking laughter in the present. Thereafter, he's evoking time travel and the butterfly effect, contriving a scenario where everything in the universe is reimagined and reconstituted, entirely bent to the singular task of persuading him to make a parachute jump. Gleefully daft nonsense. But the highlight of Palindrome is a Tarantino-esque caper in which he channels his mania and need for a therapist into an escalating crime spree, the bodies piling high as his best-laid plans go awry, his desperate efforts to cover his tracks only perpetuating the insane cycle of violence.

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Throughout, he's alternately buttering up and bullying the crowd, tagging in and out of the action with a disgruntled PE teacher character distinguishable from Solo only by his whistle, a demented spirit demanding the focused investment of those watching that this unhinged enterprise needs. Twists and turns, supplementary audio and prop gags, callbacks and offstage hi-jinks abound. Yet Solo has also built in plenty of scope to ad-lib and let the audience make a contribution, even if he's rarely far from slapping them down and despotically reclaiming the spotlight. Palindrome is also an effective satire on pretentious comedians' egotistical delusions and their self-inflicted punishment as much as anything else. It's heady, heart-stimulating stuff from a loose cannon Antipodean, who yet retains more overt control than say, his celebrated rule-breaker compatriot Sam Campbell. Jay Richardson

Lucas O'Neil: Emotional Man ****

Just the Tonic at The Caves (Just Up The Road) (Venue 88) until 27 August

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Buttoned down and repressed, Lucas O'Neil isn't a comedian who exactly lights up his dark, dingy venue. Even less appealing perhaps, his ironically titled Emotional Man seems like both the epitome of a Fringe show as an extension of therapy and a fairly blatant play at reconstituting grief as award-baiting theatre-comedy. Damn it then, if the American stand-up isn't also very dryly and understatedly funny, his intimate account of his family's efforts to pull itself back together and reform in the aftermath of his mother's death in 2019, well worth leaning forward for, as it develops into something richer and more impressive than it initially appears.

From a materially privileged and Irish Catholic, spiritually-inhibited background, O'Neil was arguably too distant from his father, whose affectionate grand gesture towards the comic's older sister became a metaphorical slap in the face when it wasn't repeated, and too close to his mother, who built him up to believe that he was more than a beta male. Painfully aware of his shortcomings, he's unsparing in sharing these flaws in his personality and demeanour and that of his family, establishing his mother as the focal point that kept them all linked. Interestingly, O'Neil's girlfriend appears only as a peripheral figure. She merits just passing mention, perhaps because her inclusion would undermine his little boy lost vulnerability, not least when he's forced to move back to Maine because of coronavirus lockdown.

If the path to reconnection that O'Neil pursues with his father is broadly predictable, the conclusions he draws, and the reconstitution of family roles, are not. Moreover, delivering his punchlines with a gentle twitch at the corner of his mouth, rather than strong flourishes, can't ultimately disguise that this is a gag-packed hour, full of smart social observation as well as stilted, human pain. Jay Richardson

Ew Girl, You Nasty **Laughing Horse @ Cabaret Voltaire (Venue 338) until 27 August

As a comic, Katharyn Henson has a biography to die for. A former teenage meth addict, she once worked as a receptionist in a torture dungeon. She’s cleverly sold her show as a low down dirty look at female sexuality and darkness, but it doesn’t deliver. Henson relies on repetitive references to blow jobs, and makes the mistake of thinking an Edinburgh audience will clap at the revelation she recently got married and got sober. She’s likeable, with good delivery, but at the end of an hour we still don’t really know any of her secrets. Claire Smith

Jake Baker: Alone Together ***

Just the Tonic at The Caves (Just the Wee One) (Venue 88) until 27 August

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For the longest time indulged as the youngest in his family, his father inclined to mischief and dad jokes but otherwise just the latest butcher in a long line of butchers, Jake Baker has a fine routine about the time he hit a deer in his car that essentially combines both elements of his paternal influence. Otherwise though, he can't rely on any nepotistic boost for his career. And as an outwardly unremarkable white, middle-class man, with failing eyesight to boot, even the fact that he's now outlived Jesus is not the seismic event that some would have him believe. No, if Baker is going to fulfil his ambition to deliver a pettily vindictive, score-settling awards acceptance speech, he's going to have to do so on the strength of his amiable anecdotes and droll observations. Fortunately, he's accomplished in both regards. At no point does he threaten to rip the roof off this show but there's a steadily consistent level of laughter throughout. And his easy manner at the mic belies the cleverness of his writing, his satirical swipes at the admittedly easy target of Hollywood nevertheless made with informed knowledge and a jestering invention as he dissects popular culture for its underlying ridiculousness. Jay Richardson