Edinburgh Fringe comedy reviews – Maggie Crane: Side by Side | Annabel Marlow... is this okay?? | Ian Smith: Crushing | Leila Navabi: Composition | Absolute Chaos

​Emo obsessions, car-crushing tanks and comedic no-shows feature among the highs and the lows in our latest round-up of Fringe comedy shows

Maggie Crane: Side by Side ****

Underbelly Bristo Square (Venue 302) until 28 August

The twin subjects of emo outfit Panic! at the Disco and a family impacted by severe disability make unlikely bedfellows in Side by Side, an immaculate autobiographical show that isn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve while finding laughs in the darkest of places.

Maggie CraneMaggie Crane
Maggie Crane

It’s through Brendon Urie’s oft-maligned band that we are introduced to American performer Maggie Crane – they’re both a teenage obsession that will follow her into adulthood, and the perfect framing device to return to at the end of a beautifully constructed hour.

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We then meet her older brother, Aiden, who was born with agenesis of the corpus callosum, a brain disorder causing him to be blind and developmentally disabled, and needing to use a (really cool) wheelchair. Being a typical child, Crane’s main reaction to this is jealousy at the attention he gets from their parents – beautifully illustrated by a recollection of a party game that leads to a brutally funny reveal. It’s a courageously honest insight into the kind of relationship that could only exist between a pair of young siblings, where love is most often expressed with affectionate jibes.

Crane is from Boston, meaning that she already has an unfair advantage in standup – there’s very little you can’t get away with in a Boston accent (particularly, as she points out, if you preface it with “wicked”). Her delivery is flawless, gesticulations often taking the place of punchlines that the audience can finish themselves. Her storytelling offers vivid pictures of her family and the frequent visits to a hospital that transforms into a magical place when seen through child’s eyes.

Crane isn’t unaware of the perceived arms race in comedy when it comes to shows about tragedy, archly looking down her nose on the comedians with “just” a dead dad. There’s nothing cynical or contrived here though, just an affecting tale of loss by way of the dangers of meeting your heroes. David Hepburn

Annabel Marlow... is this okay?? ***

Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33) until 27 August

Kooky is too reductive and twee a description for Annabel Marlow’s varied talents and turbulent inner life. But it's certainly a flavour to the fore in her curio of a festival debut. She’s the originator of the role of Katherine Howard in the initial Fringe production of the smash-hit musical Six, and the most immediate, striking thing about her is her incredible singing voice, soulfully, powerfully conveying yearning and heartache. Bravely, too – for a show that opens with Marlow supposedly in dialogue with her offstage encouraging mother and has a number of eccentric little flourishes – she plays a couple of straight, plaintive numbers among the comedy songs.

Probably the most dominant aspect of her wide-eyed, tentative, understatedly intense persona though, is the sheer psychosexual drama that the 24-year-old seems to have packed into her relatively young life. Couching the soul-baring honesty of a singer-songwriter within the self-conscious, self-mocking deflections of a stand-up, it's an appealing if often highly strung, chaotic mix. A song about everlasting cringe moments scarcely suffers by comparison to Flo & Joan’s similar tune on the subject, while “Byron” is a complex, thoroughly contemporary shout-out to an ex who electronically stumbles back into your life. Occasionally retreating too far into solipsism, Marlow is nevertheless a singular presence at the keyboard. Jay Richardson

Ian Smith: Crushing ****

Monkey Barrel Comedy (The Tron) (Venue 51) until 27 August

Ian Smith has quietly, unfussily built a reputation at the Fringe for standout afternoon stand-up shows, solid, banker hours that get your festival day off to a flyer. However, that doesn't convey the roiling emotions underpinning Crushing, which opens with the familiar, the Yorkshireman once again marvelling at the exquisite Northern parochialism of his hometown, Goole. But then he establishes the low point from which he must resurge. As anyone who saw his last full Fringe show will recall, anxiousness about his engagement prompted him to take a trip to Eastern Europe, specifically Chernobyl. Well, unfortunately, he’s no longer engaged and he’s not married. But the pattern is similar, an hour of him expressing his stresses, culminating in a trip to Bratislava to let off steam, crushing cars with hammers and a tank.

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Belying his lunchtime slot, Smith vents hard, thwarted in his efforts to maintain authority over puddings he's tried to microwave, before the first really memorable routine of several in a show that’s relentlessly packed with them. Seeking to de-stress in Blackpool, he finds his hotel room downgraded because of an accident by the previous occupant, the degrading circumstances intensified by the staff’s alacrity in sharing the grim details with him – his outrage as a customer competing with his incredulity at the absolute horror. Patronised as a Northerner in London, he’s forever on his guard against being taken for a ride. A lovely observational routine about baby teeth is framed like it’s his own body playing a trick on him, while his flotation tank experience is a highly relatable waking terror, so vivid is the retelling. With a steady accumulation of angsty energy, when he’s finally crushing all before him in the tank, it’s a cathartic outpouring for the crowd too, a perfect metaphor for well-crafted stand-up's build-up of tension and release. Jay Richardson

Leila Navabi: Composition ***

Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33) until 27 August

In terms of minority brownie points, Leila Navabi is winning. Mother Welsh Catholic, Father Iranian Muslim. And she is a lesbian. She was, she tells us, 12 when she realised she is brown, and 16 when she realised she is gay. I get the feeling that, although she has plenty of talent to work with, Leila has still not quite figured out who she is as a comic. The main narrative of the show, decorated and punctuated with original songs (more of which anon) concerns her vilification, at the hands of the press, for having described Rishi Sunak – for a Radio Wales recording – as looking like “Prince Charles in brown-face”. A not (as she demonstrates with images) entirely inaccurate statement. But it became an international press furore, in the aftermath of which she is still putting her comedy career back together. There is a lot of material here about identity, neatly balanced by dead hamsters and the viciousness of horsey people. An absolutely delightful potato-based rap is my favourite among the strange but moreish collection of songs Leila offers. She may be right. Maybe the future of comedy IS brown. Kate Copstick

Absolute Chaos *

Laughing Horse @ 32 Below (Venue 442) until 27 August

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I have laughed more having a smear test. Our MC is a stand-in and it transpires that two of the acts have not turned up. I will be unwarrantedly kind and name no names. MC spends most of his on-stage time telling us how tired he is and how he hates hosting comedy. Our first act offers tragically hackneyed advice on who gives the best head, the second quickly heads to his sheep-shagging routine. Graham and Tom from the audience step up to fill time. No-shows? You should be ashamed of yourselves. Show producers? Sort yourselves out. This is unacceptable. Kate Copstick

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