Edinburgh Fringe reviews: 5 shows about Brexit

There's no getting away from it, is there, and if you can't laugh, you'll have to cry.

Now That's What I Call Brexit, Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose (Venue 24)
Now That's What I Call Brexit, Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose (Venue 24)
Now That's What I Call Brexit, Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose (Venue 24)

In a raft tied to Britain by a rope, four comrades have set sail to drag their beloved England away from Europe, to give the people what they want. These doughty lads sail under the St George’s Cross, with ship’s rations of custard creams and lime segments for scurvy, a cool box, sand bag, and umbrella. They pick up bottled messages of support from a grateful nation – “he who throws mud, loses ground” – along with soggy sausage rolls.

It’s rafting for Godot, and they are but strolling players on a drifting stage. Jack Hilton, Chris Whyte, Luke Bateman and Elliot Williams, mostly former Newcastle University students on their first Fringe with their Moaning Toad company, deliver an inspired comedy of Brexit futility in The People’s Boat. Quarrelling jumblies at sea in a sieve, singing hymns to Margate. Whyte, as Arthur, is the writer and visionary, determined to make the mermaid monologue. Williams has a delicious comic gift as Garth, creating an insane video diary, while Bateman, as Hector, resolutely will not be racist about his mother’s Muslim lover, and Hilton is really going to nail that leading role as a cleaner. All for England, their England, land of clotted cream and getting into the sea when it’s freezing.

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Matt Forde is the consummate political comedian, but you leave Brexit: Pursued by a Bear with the sense that even he is finding it hard to find the funny in Brexit. Last year at the Fringe, farcical attempts to negotiate a deal were still ongoing. This year Forde walks on stage with the UK on the cusp of a recession for the first time in seven years. The coming election, he said, will offer a choice between a populist, racist imbecile and – Boris Johnson. Boom boom.

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Forde’s brilliant mimicry is here displayed on his own politics show. He does Johnson with an entirely empty Etonian drawl that delightfully trails off into nothing, but what can jokes about the no-deal, crazy Tories led by a buffoon, and the Corbynista anti-Semitism, really tell us?

He finds his feet with Rory Stewart, deliciously ordering a pint of water in absurdly drawn-out fashion, and gains more traction dishing it out to the SNP. His vision of the coming Boris and Donald parade makes you wince, and you’d take a whole hour of his Trump.

A musical seems a more promising way to lance the Brexit boil; the whole thing has that Weimar cabaret feel, redolent of a former Great Power turning nostalgically to nationalism.James Ringer-Beck as Boris, in Now That’s What I Call Brexit, channels freely under a massive blonde wig from Mick Jagger, a young Tom Stoppard, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. His Boris has a nice sense of self-doubt, looking sideways at himself and what he’s made.

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The production is almost very good. Highlights include the love-hate romance sung between Boris and Govey, played by Polly Bycroft-Brown, a vocal and physical fireball who also nails roles from a Brexit rapper to a hooded hag with a walk-on part as Scotland. And Natasha Lanceley’s David Cameron does a nice line in nasty bed-time Brexit stories. In a full house, on an aisle seat, it seemed that the right hand side of the audience was roaring with laughter, while the left was a bit lost – perhaps, as per Forde, betokening a lurking sense that we know it’s all a screw-up, and we’ve decided who to blame. The Blowfish company cast then go on to do Trump the Musical in the very next slot, bless them.

A canny Scottish friend speculates that Boris might even try and reverse devolution, with Trump’s blessing, after the Nationalists refused to meet him. Now there’s an interesting drama, ripe material for the likes of Scottish comic Mark Nelson, who engaged his audience in a far smaller space than Forde’s in his show Brexit Wounds.

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He tries for a give-and-take exchange with a couple of Brexiteers, and a German and an Italian. The best moment is when we shout down the luridly loud American act next door. The show meanders, digressing into marital sex as well as the politics. He says he first wrote his Brexit show last year, but has had to remake it five times. The advantage of the Scottish angle? We don’t own this mess. But it has polarised our relations with England.

You learn more about what you don’t know about Brexit in 45 minutes with Geoffrey Brown’s The Good, the Bad and the Brexit than days of reading commentators – along with a luxury selection of the best Brexit one-liners, cartoons, and cliff-edge graphs. Brown runs an EU consultancy called Euclid, advising the arts and culture sector on how to access EU funding; he has done this show four years in a row, and expects this to be the last.

Worried about how long it’ll take us to leave the EU? Check how long it took us to get in. Can you name the four presidents of Europe? How many people work at the European Commission? (“’alf of them”.) What happens if the Germans ban exports of sausage and cheese? How many Brexiteers does it take to change a light bulb? How did David Cameron describe Dominic Cummings? And you really, really don’t want to hear the odds on a no-deal.

The People’s Boat Until 24 August * * * *Matt Forde: Brexit, Pursued by a Bear until 25 August * * * *Now That’s What I call Brexit until 26 August * * *Mark Nelson: Brexit Wounds until 25 August * * *The Good, the Bad and the Brexit until 23 August * * * *