Star rating: ****
Venue: Laughing Horse @ Cabaret Voltaire (Venue 338)
Consolidating Ahir Shah’s reputation for dense, thoughtful hours full of political polemic and fraught with personal unease, Machines is dizzying in the breadth of its exploration, closing with an account of his involvement in horror that only further destabilises the listener.
Part of the reason Shah performs stand-up is the sense it gives him of being in control, a fleeting feeling that dissipates whenever he’s returned to the real world. He begins with the premise that we’re all so aware of the suffering and inequality out there, but so “atomised” that we’re impotent, his own recourse being to drink and seek help for his depression.
This might sound heavy but Shah is as sharp and punchily funny as he is occasionally smug, the impressive wielding of his otherwise ineffectual intellect a pyrrhic victory that he tempers with self-deprecation. Witnessing the rise of the far-right internationally, the self-loathing liberal finds himself questioning democracy. Yet he makes passionate advocacy for the necessity of immigration for reinvigorating society’s lifeblood, even if his own tale of a grandfather arriving from India with £3 hasn’t worked out brilliantly, his debt making for a Shah family net loss.
Naturally, the result of the EU referendum has caused him considerable disquiet but he’s less concerned about the rise of the machines, comedian seeming set to be one of the last jobs automated. Rejecting utopianism, calling out fascists and Stalinists, he builds furious heads of steam in his intellectualising, his eloquent articulacy conveying often complex ideas in pithy, grimly funny lines.
He got to see them relate to the real world though when he was caught up in the Paris terrorist attacks last November. Affording a dramatic climax to the show, it’s an extreme way to close an hour that offers few crumbs of comfort to the anxious.
Until 28 August. Today 1:30pm.