UCL Graters: Panopticon


Underbelly Bristo Sq
Aug 25-27 (14:30)

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UCL Graters are a sketch group that have emerged from the lecture rooms of University College London & thrust themselves into the brutally ruthless Napoleonic battlefield that is the Edinburgh Comedy Fringe. Their very seaworthy vessel is manned by 3 lads – Joe, Luke & Sam – & two lassies – Izzy & Felicity -, whose varicoloured sweaters give them the appearance of children’s television show presenters. With hair & figures unflummoxed by age, they together showcase with extreme ebullience an hour of rather eccentric ideas – but was it comedy? Elongated sketches concluding with a dodgy pun/punchline are interesting to watch – like surreal theatre – but ultimately just timorous humour at best.


37517986_926858777504997_8132390716639805440_o.jpgThere are clearly five highly intelligent minds at work here, & at the piemaking factory of their brainstormings it can easily be observed how the details have been pored over & poured in. Indeed, the endearing qualities of Panopticon are the variety, the rapidity & the originality of the scenes – I still can’t quite call them sketches as they lacked, like I said, the killer comedy blow. There were some entertaining moments, granted, the Brooklyn Community Theatre’s production of Aladdin leaps to mind, but again it was more of an interesting spectacle than laugh-out loudness. But, the artform is constantly evolving, & I am 42 years old, & these guys are barely in their 20s – therein lies the rub. Are they actually hilarious & I just don’t get it? The truth lies, of course, somewhere in between, but the UCL Graters’ sauce definitely needs thickening with some funnier flour.



The Crooners


Pleasance Courtyard
August 24-26 (23.00)

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The BBC’s BattleActs! boys, Brendan Murphy and Kiell Smith-Bynoe, are bringing something rather special to this year’s Fringe. Playing Frankie Paradise and Louie Valentine, they are your classic singer-banter double-act, expert light entertainers in a field where light entertainment is what we punters are really all after. Their playhouse is a nice & comfy little quadrant that is the Pleasance’s Bunker One. Their pianist is shit hot, & their routine as swinging comedy kings is a see-thro,’ flower-stuff’d vase of invigorating & variegated variety. In laymans’ terms we have Murphy’s hyperactive Jim Carey bouncing off & into Smith-Bynoe‘s Sammy Davis Junior. The latter, especially, did what it said on the tin, a smooth-tongued posture prince with an instinctive manifestation of the ghosts of crooners past. As for Murphy, he seemed as if a brick had been wedged into his performance pedal, so relentless – but never annoying – was his train.


Experiencing The Crooners is like being up on the deck of a gust-sailed caravel, wave-skimming to Cathay, sipping comedy cocktails thro’ a sustained rush of controlled pursuance. The boys sing us a selection of classic croons, shortened & adapted for their comedy needs of course, & on well-timed occasions get the audience willingly involved. Their show has a proper trig-point too, for the beat account of when Smith-Bynoe ‘Kicked the Devil in the Face’ is of optimum entertainment. To summarize, The Crooners is a very well-crafted party, quite niche, but quite beautiful, as if it were one of the École de Barbizon in a quiet corner of the Louvre.



Ian Smith: Craft


Underbelly Bristo Square
August 1-26 (17.15)

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Ian Smith is man on the rise. Last year, at the fourth time of asking,  he won the ‘People’s Champion’ Amused Moose Comedy Award, & its dead easy to see why. He’s a good ol’ laid back northern lad, y’see, which makes him naturally salt-of-the-earthy, & he’s a proper funny un’, n’all! Goole’s own comedy gyrfalcon welcomes us all into his nest of familial friendliness. He’s the kinda guy you want to get blasted with & play Risk; he’s like an ubernerd, but the one who gets all the fit chicks & the best drugs. Three weeks into the Fringe, & five minutes into watching this refreshingly funny comedian, I felt like I was back at the beginning of August, highly excited that all these talented people had come to my city to perform, & up for a reyt laugh.


Spending an hour with Smith allows us to penetrate our world via the distorted mirror of his imagination as he powerpoints & gabbles his way thro’ Craft. Like an industrious waterfall he rarely pauses for air, while his material is of the obscurer, kitschy type – the War of the Worlds brass band segment for example – & the stuff he gets up to near to, & at the, end is off the scale.


About half-way through Craft we reach the raison d’etre of his 2018 show – the ancient Japanese art of origami, which Smith very shrewdly tell us, via wikipedia, ‘followed on from the invention of paper.’ This is a really welcome & integral part of the adventure – it never feels contrived – as are the hilarious subliminal messages which Smith slips in from time to time.

Sticking with the Japanese theme, Smith even found comedy in haiku, which reminded me of one of Basho’s classics, ‘Furu ike yakawa / zu tobikomumizu no oto,’ which translates something like, ‘Old pond — frog jumps in — sound of water.‘ Thus, in this instance, Ian Smith is the frog who has – like a comedy cannonball blasted out from the origami boom – leapt into the antique pond that is the world of Fringe comedy, where he is definitely making a noisy splash.



Anna Nicholson: Woman of the Year


Just the Tonic at the Caves
August 23-26 (15:00)

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There is definitely room in the comedy world for lightheartedness. What with all the Brexit and Trump and whatnot. Not every comedian can be Stewart Lee and nor should they be. Then, it is into that cozy, inoffensive niche of cheeky asides and respectful bawdiness that Ms Nicholson comfortably fits. Her show is built around four central characters all bidding for the title of ‘Woman of the Year.’ They are certainly no grotesque caricatures, but rather familiar & well-observed female tropes from British society; one could say this show is a celebration of female stereotypes across the nation. Feminism for the WI brigade if you will. Each character is distinct, properly developed and performed with confidence and verve. The question of who deserves the eponymous title, or rather who doesn’t deserve it is a difficult one to resolve.

The hour flew by, and despite the room being far too hot the frequent laughter from the audience cooled my senses & kept me enthused. Along the ride I took wonder with Anna’s chameleon; a simple change of top or hairstyle made each of the four characters unrecognizable from the next. Praise must also be given to the superb keyboardist who kept the show bouncing along at a merry pace and the sound design which was as imaginative as it was amusing. The room was packed almost to the hilt and, at this late stage in the fringe and on a Wednesday night, that is quite an achievement. I see a bright future for Ms Nicholson. Having said all this I do tend to prefer my comedy a little more on the edgy side, but in a world of sharp edges and treacherous thorns, a fluff-ball comes as a welcome breath of fresh air.

Victor Pope




Underbelly, George Square – The Wee Coo
Aug 22-27 (20:00)

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clip_image002 (1).pngFreya Slipper is one slick & classy lassie. With a black sweater, blue jeans & scruffy trainers, at first she seems not quite the person to deliver the argument of her tale, that of a multi-persona romp through the backstory of fifty-seven year old Linda Pritchard’s journey into space. Then, as soon as she plunges into her vast array of voices & faces, waving her hands like an enchantress, she proceeds to succeed in her task with incredible aptitude.

We never actually meet Linda, the concept being that the tale of her imminent trip through the stratosphere is told through the people she left behind; such as her horny co-worker at the village library & her graspingly annoying family members. We are given, then, sketch comedy with a very thick thread, & I’m happy to say that as set pieces, the sketches run rampant with laughs & daftness.


The audience is heavily involved, fleshing out the Freyan dreamworld, a gamble which upon this occasion rarely stemmed the flow. Unfortunately a couple of non-British impersonations bounced a little awkwardly for 2018, but I guess this lends to an overall picture of cosmopolitan inclusion which was Linda’s world on Earth. To weave such a complex tale through the medium of sketch is high-brow stuff, but Freya pulls it off without flaw & makes damn sure we’re having a good time as she does so. With a warm, human message at the conclusion of the tale, this is an intriguing & ultimately happiness-inducing hour.



Jacob Hawley: Howl

Just The Tonic at the Mash House
Aug 22-26 (15:40)

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There is a brief story in the New Testament which records how the twelve-year-old Jesus, ruminating on Jewish scripture, compelled the complete attention of the elder rabbis in the temple at Jerusalem. Now, I’m not saying Jacob Hawley is the messiah or anything, but his 26 years were definitely among the youngest in the room where he was holding his comedy court, when his maturity of delivery & subject held us all in an unsnapping thrall.

Hawley revels in his dichotomous existence as a working-class cultural artist. It is soon evident that he possesses an ever-expanding intelligence, a keen analytical mind, & the talent to turn it all to comedy. The fact that he was playing The Streets on entrance didn’t pass me by – Mike Skinner was a middle-class boy masquerading as a ghetto rapper. In 2018 class boundaries are dissolving, & anyone can be who they want to be if they just set their minds to it. With Jacob Hawley, he is who he is, a passionate young man with lots to say about all aspects of society through his genuine & sharp sense of humour.

As the show progresses, every now & again Hawley turns on the jet engine boosts & shows the mastery of his craft – that of the pure, in-your-face stand-up fashioned in the smoky back rooms of New York. Overall this is a brave attempt at intellectual comedy, the self-titled Ginsburgean ‘Howl’ of the educated proletariat against the forces that be. This is also an extremely honest show, & as a record of where the 26-year old Hawley is in life it was cool to compare my own experiences with his. With more living under his belt I am totally convinced that when experience is allied to Hawley’s technique & control, some great, great comedy is yet to come.



Sid Singh: American Bot

Image result for sid singh american bot

Just The Tonic at the Mash House
Aug 21-26 (18:25)

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Displaying sid3.jpgIs Sid Singh the Silicon King? To find out, I reccomend checking out his solo show, American Bot, where this, & many other questions shall be answered.  Sid smilingly takes to the stage and immediately gets down to setting the rules straight. Our comedian is an Asian-American who is living the American dream in San Francisco…. or is he? As Sid traverses the many highs and lows of the economic and digital world we live in, I revelled in his storytelling, which remains funny despite coming from a serious angle, & catapults us into the murky depths of globilization through the companies that control the daily lifes of all humanity. Silicon Valley plays host to Facebook, Google, Youtube, Air BnB, and Sid does not like it!


American Bot is educational and informing, direct and truthful, & with a sprinkling of funny innuendos there is room for laughter beyond reason. There  are not many topics that fail to get Sid’s blood boiling. Sharing some of his own personal expericences that he has encountered , we are soon traveling through subjects that seem dear to us all. Diversity, race, religion, gender, equality, colour, money, status, racisim, power, women, men, hate, love… the list is endless.  This is a show you must take with a pinch of salt, but also one with many a hidden message.   A show that encourages change but also allows us to see the funny side of life. What is a day without laughter when everything seems so serious around us and Sid captures this perfectly. If we dont speak up then we will lose our voices and and I cannot see Sid Singh losing his any time soon. His American Bot has some clever points, but with his twists of silliness you leave with a sense understanding that life should, of course be serious, but better when enjoyed with a sense of joviality.

Raymondo Speedie