Fringe comedy reviews: Sikisa | Hannah Fairweather | John-Luke Roberts | The Lovely Boys | Soup Group!
A note-perfect introductory show from an immigration lawyer turned stand-up, dark musings from the ‘Taylor Swift of comedy’ and a show about the multiverse demonstrate plenty of artistic promise, finds Jay Richardson
Sikisa: Life of the Party ****
Pleasance Courtyard (Pleasance Below), until 28 August
Only when you see a performer like Sikisa Bostwick-Barnes do you truly appreciate how static and staid most stand-up is. Sikisa is fun, with charisma to burn. Even without the dance breaks she's built into her party-themed debut show, replete with takeaway party bag, she's the life and soul of the room – gossipy, flirtatious, open and revealing, determined that everyone has a good time, yet commanding and brooking little nonsense from others. Above all though, she's effortlessly funny, waspish and wicked in her asides, uproariously hilarious when she's putting someone in their place or the world to rights.
A proud British-Barbadian with a day job as an immigration lawyer and previously other side hustles, she's grafted towards her status as an “Alpha”. Opinionated on Brexit, refugees, gentrification and appropriate party food, she's contemptuous of veganism in a way that's so hyper-exaggerated she makes it feel like an affront to God rather than a dietary or lifestyle choice. Stung by sniping that her serial dating of white men compromises her blackness, she's both insightful and mischievous on race, playfully manipulating her Caucasian friends and predominately pale audience when the opportunity arises. Presenting her sex life as both a sly rebalance of ethnic inequality and boss woman's buffet choice of partners, she treats the toxic phenomenon of dick pics with casually indifferent contempt and endearingly confesses to an excruciating episode where her innocent mother chanced upon her vibrator.
As distinctively packaged, yet straightforwardly funny introductory shows go, Life of the Party is pretty much note-perfect. Right down to the grandstanding closing speech in which Sikisa reiterates that for all of her accomplishments and challenges that she's faced, she's still capable of being an egocentric idiot.
Hannah Fairweather: Just a Normal Girl Who Enjoys Revenge ***
Just The Tonic at The Caves (Just Up the Stairs), until 28 August
As the self-avowed “Taylor Swift of comedy”, Hannah Fairweather's score-settling debut takes its title from the pop queen's lyrics and travails with the patriarchal industries that inhibit them both, an hour of l'esprit de l'escalier or “what I should have said was...” A Scot who lived in multiple countries growing up, she had classic outsider status even before pursuing vocations in male-dominated realms like golf, engineering and accountancy. Whether through personality flaw or simply misleading advice, she always appears to have been a misfit, naturally developing enemies.
In truth, she's not an obvious click for the comedy industry either, not when it's dominated by thin-skinned freedom-of-speech warriors podcasting to millions. Her stagecraft is pretty raw but she's a promising writer, with a clutch of exceptionally well-crafted and appealingly dark lines and the overflowing enthusiasm of someone on the cusp of finding their voice. The show's naughty list structure provides an adequate, novel framework to introduce her. But there's perhaps too much superficially crammed in, with her time spent studying in the repressive, Bible Belt of South Carolina for example, suggestive of deeper material to be mined. Regardless, one to watch. And not turn your back on.
John-Luke Roberts: A World Just Like Our Own, But... ***
Monkey Barrel Comedy (Monkey Barrel 4), until 28 August
Following on from last year's show, engaging absurdist John-Luke Roberts is pioneering a sort of jazz-stand-up whereby every set-up begins with the refrain: “There's a world just like our own, but ...”. As high-concept whimsy goes, it's a delightful science-fiction premise, the limitless possibilities of multiple universes and a chance to look at familiar phenomenon from fresh angles inspiring him to some joyously silly and surreal gags. As per his recent Fringe offerings though, the escapist daftness deflects and contains a genuine sadness in his life, which emerges over the hour – a pain that has understandably prompted him to think of parallel existences with different paths chosen.
The blend of ridiculous humour and creeping pathos works perhaps surprisingly well, with the comic carefully balancing the tone. Regrettably though, despite some entertaining interludes in which he communes with other John-Luke Roberts from other universes and occasional bits of business with props and sound cues, over an hour, the formulaic repetition becomes slightly numbing and one finds one's mind wandering. He may be at a personal nadir but Roberts is in a rich place artistically and one anticipates his next tweak of the form with real interest.
The Lovely Boys ***
Just the Tonic at The Caves (Just the Wee One), until 28 August
With distant echoes of The League of Gentlemen and Reeves and Mortimer, The Lovely Boys' debut hour is a claustrophobic, semi-delightful, semi-nightmarish splurge of absurdist clowning that in their cave venue plays out like a comedically twisted take on Flowers In The Attic. Huddersfield duo Joe Kent-Walters and Mikey Bligh-Smith are the eponymous Lovely Boys, Joe and Mikey, daft innocents who while away their time with nonsensical games. They also reappear as their nemeses, The Naughty Boys, Spiky and Mo, naffly bad, equally unthreatening rebels. Elsewhere, Kent-Walters acts as a sort of MC of proceedings, playing the boys' disturbing Uncle Willy, perhaps their jailer, while Bligh-Smith is a touchingly crap Robocop in rudimentary cardboard uniform.
There's a tremendous knockabout chemistry to this duo that papers over the shortcomings of their loose script, which, nevertheless sets up anticipation for deliberately anticlimactic games of Yahtzee, time travel and a nonsense imposter plot that's brutally dispatched almost as soon as it arrives. As an audience member, you're compelled to get on board in the moments of crowd engagement and push the inexplicable enterprise to its uncertain, rackety denouement. The pair's commitment to their ridiculousness proves catching.
Soup Group! **
Monkey Barrel Comedy (Carnivore) (Carnivore 1), until 28 August
Reminiscent of the near-silent, prop-based clowning of Spencer Jones, Soup Group's family-friendly comedy is intermittently amusing but there are too many longueurs for an early afternoon 45 minutes. With their soup-making theme and preoccupation with horses, Phil O'Shea and James McIntosh are likeable and committed, engaging the crowd to assist them in their culinary endeavours. Unfortunately, too often their absurdist premises simply baffle and few linger in the memory once concluded. It feels like an unsparing director is required to boil the show down to its palatable parts and skim off some of the fat.