Matt Forde ‘Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right

Pleasance Beyond
3-28 Aug (20.00)

It has been a truly horrible 2 years. I’d been reminded of this recently when I was fortunate enough to have 2 whole days where I didn’t worry about anything. Performers in what there was of the Fringe last year chose differing methods to engage with similarly brow beaten and disaffected audiences. I saw Kate Smurthwaite’s show, in which she described spending lockdown in the Bahamas. This was not a reality I felt that most in the room could clearly identify with, and it felt oddly lacking in awareness. I also saw Flight of the Bumblebee, a delightful unraveling of the mind of the protagonist during a home invasion attempt in which his whole life, and the surreal international events of recent times flashed before our eyes. So how to combine this escapism with the cold hard realities of the world we have all inhabited in fear and discord?

Enter Matt Forde. He’s called this show “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right.” If one were to bestow a more descriptive title on it however you could do worse than “Matt Forde punches up. With ferocity.”

The skill in this shows construction is the manner in which it plays to the great strengths of Forde’s powers of impersonation. He gives the audience what they need. To be sat in a room with the architects of the miseries of these last 2 draining years. As each of the characters from recent western political history appear there are throughout the show constant laughs, cheers claps, mutterings and tangible revulsion as they appear one by one like a criminal gang in the dock, before the court of public opinion.

Overseeing much of the action is our hosts perpetually laugh inducing performance of Lindsay Hoyle, speaker of the house of commons berating the other characters from the Speakers Chair, and in a glorious flight of fancy from behind the bar in a small Lancashire hostelry. This is one of the great impersonations of our time. Forde’s Keir Starmer captures the passive aggressive undertones which undercut the Labour leaders credibility so much. Boris Johnson seems played by Rowley Birkin QC, the Fast Show character of the 90’s who garbled gibberish in every scene whilst shouting weird soundbites that capture attention in a free association ecstasy which always, inevitably, ends with a grotesque thrust and a ‘woof’ which leaves the audience reeling with a mix of disgust, horror, and staccato yet constant laughter. The SNP do not escape easily either, though it’s notable that whilst rightly skewering the shame which is the Scottish Ferries debacle, and playing a note perfect grandstanding Ian Blackford MP, he held back from launching any broadside on Nicola Sturgeon herself. Probably a wise move in a generally partisan Edinburgh crowd.

The palpable simmering rage with which every appearance of The Donald was greeted required a balance to be struck over the hour. Accordingly we were provided with a number of delightfully silly moments featuring Yorkshire boxing commentary, a spooky and supernatural Liz Truss serving up late night coffees in a Boondocks diner, & Keir Starmer as Michael Douglas in Falling Down. These are all delivered with a light touch to provide balance to what is otherwise a non-stop conveyor belt of political ghouls and goblins being led up to the stocks to receive metaphorical rotten tomatoes to the face.

Some of the observational comedy felt a little dated. Material about plastic bags of dog poo being hung on trees felt like a routine which could have been delivered several years ago. Matt Forde however was clearly plucking from the playbook of his main protagonists. Populism, red meat, giving the public precisely what they wanted and needed in this post-truth era we find ourselves in. Ultimately, I spent an hour in a room where most of the people laughed a lot almost all of the time. I heard muttered “He’s right!”. I heard people vocally declaring their disgust every time the rank hypocrisy, and moral cowardice, of politicians of every political party were recreated in a performance visceral enough to provoke genuine emotion. I’ll leave the last words to a couple I overheard, over the excitable hubbub of the rest of the crowd, discussing the show as we made our way out.

“It was very funny wasn’t it?” “Yeah.” “It was so TRUE though.” “YEAH! Yeah.”

Ewan Law

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