Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Spike Milligan once quipped: “What’s the difference between Frank Carson and the M1? You can turn off the M1.”
Assembly Rooms (Venue 20)
Milligan was referring to the late Irish comedian’s reputation for always being “on”, even in real life. He was an enigma. Interviews with him revealed nothing about the man behind the incessant barrage of gags. He could be exhausting.
But he was also very funny, a consummate gag-man. The real Frank Carson, though, what was he like?
This surprisingly tender one-man show, written by and starring Dan Gordon, suggests that Carson used comedy to escape from the pain and horror he’d endured.
He grew up poor in sectarian Belfast, raised by a tough, unloving father. His beloved brother was killed in WWII. While serving as a paratrooper in Palestine, Carson searched for body parts in bombed buildings. He shot and killed an armed terrorist, an incident which haunted him. He witnessed The Troubles first-hand.
Unsurprisingly, these experiences forged a deep distrust of politics and – it’s implied – prejudice. Carson was an old-school comic who didn’t, as far as I’m aware, tell racist gags (his fondness for the “thick Irish” stereotype always felt playful, there was never any malice).
He did, however, support Ukip in later life, an inconvenient fact that Gordon neglects to cover.
I’m always suspicious of “tears of a clown” narratives, but Gordon sketches a sensitive, convincing and clearly affectionate portrait of Carson. How does he know all this about such a deeply private man? He’s spent three years sifting through family archives. This is a labour of love.
Gordon’s performance is tremendous. He captures Carson’s jovial machine gun stage persona with impressive accuracy – the show is full of gags – while subtly softening his delivery during the offstage confessionals.
Until 27 August. Today 1:40pm.