Reviewers: Latest

Craig Naples

THE LIST

craignaplesCraig Naples has this infuriating habit of trying to give a tantalising flavour of something but just being bloody annoying. When he tells us that Scott Gibson: Life After Death comes “…with one moment in particular (involving a matron and a pillow) … is swift yet chillingly clinical and grotesque”, he applies FOUR adjectives to something WE KNOW NOTHING ABOUT.

In discussing Bethany Black’s show, her outlook on life is “exemplified by ’getting her priorities right’ over a broken leg” What does this add to our understanding of the show? How is it better than saying that there is a bit about a broken leg that is particularly funny, or revealing, or… well, just something more useful than taking a disembodied phrase, sticking inverted commas around it and dangling it in front of us as if to say “Ah, I know what I’m talking about but you don’t!”

I mean, take the ENTIRE FIRST PARAGRAPH of his review of Scott Gibson (and we’ll ignore the dangling modifier):

“A big, gallus Glaswegian, Scott Gibson demonstrates why ‘men’s first aid’ can need a wee bit of back-up from the NHS where sudden headaches are concerned, especially ones that make you go blind.” It continues, but I won’t. Full marks to Naples for not giving anyone’s punchlines away. But there are better and more inventive ways of giving a flavour of a show than nebulous non-explanations of jokes and routines.

The thing is, he can do it if he can be bothered. Reviewing Twonkey’s Mumbo Jumbo Hotel, he explains the general premise succinctly before focusing on a detail, “with songs about, say, Santa going on an opium binge and having nothing but broken badminton racquets to give away.” See, that sounds intriguing. And nothing has detracted from my experience should I choose to see it. And the review, concluding with Twonkey’s line “we’re going to have to live with these memories for the rest of our lives” perfectly ends a thoroughly well-written and satisfying review.

So I would say to Naples: Stick with the explaining and the exemplifying; stick the alluding-to in the bin.

Mark Parker

MUMBLE

markparkerAs ever when venturing into the undergrowth of Mumbledonia, we have to ask ourselves “Is this a real person, or just another one of Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert’s aliases?” Not that MDC actually exists either. But there is a person, somewhere, at the website that calls itself Mumble Comedy, because there isn’t yet a computer program that can generate nonsense this hilarious. So is Mark Parker the same one?

We’ll go out on a limb and assume it’s a different being, because Mark Parker writes in a slightly different style. The style he is closest to is somewhere between Edimbrugh Fringe Dog, who yaps excitable tweets about the things he’s seen on Twitter, and Arts Award Voice, a website in which children are encouraged to review Fringe shows by adults who ought to be arrested.

Mark Parker follows pretty closely in the pawsteps of EFD in his irrespresible excitability except that his spelling mistakes are genuine rather than cutesy. But the habit of putting an exclamation mark on the end of absolutely everything is exactly the same as our canine friend. Take this excerpt from Spencer Jones: “This guy is going to be all over me! Thankfully he was not; I love a good show but I am not too keen on being a star of it! Saying that, there was a lot of audience interaction throughout the show, with most of the people coming from the front middle.” Most people coming from the where now?

His habit of spelling out every single tiny thing that happened to him en route to, and during, and after the performance reminds the reader of an 11-year-old writing a book report – as is his troubling inability to distinguish between performance and actuality. Of Jess Robinson: Impressive, he writes “Jess likes to make everybody very welcome as they enter the room, even standing at the front to help usher everybody in.” (Yes, Mark, this is normal for a show). “She is a very classy lady and has the looks & acumen of a real star.” (Yes Mark, this is normal for a woman doing a show)… “In a nutshell, her show is a classic – though she does go on about her divorce a wee bit too much” (Yes Mark this is what the actual show is about.) Mark is impressed by EVERYTHING. He is like Crocodile Dundee in New York, except that you wouldn’t want to give him a knife.

There are other things I could mention, like his odd habit of apostrophising words a la Miranda Hart’s mother (“her ‘vision’ was thoroughly entertaining”, he tells us of Robinson). But really, this is like watching a man dive head-first into a pool with no water and then judging his technique rather than phoning for an ambulance. Mark Parker has the writing age of an 11-year-old schoolboy, and if he IS an 11-year-old schoolboy then I apologise for being a dick and instead would like the Pleasance to tell me why it keeps letting him into things.

But for all that I do quite LIKE seeing reviews written with the gusto of an 11-year-old schoolboy, so we’ll give him an extra pig for that, and then we’ll all try to move on with our wretched lives.

Will Young

FEST

willyoungThe problem with Will Young – and it’s not a terminal problem – is his apparent need to assault everything he looks at. He’ll attempt to establish an ideological standpoint, frame a performer’s whole existence or tie the whole show up into an epithet. Until he’s got his performer helpless and hogtied, Young does not feel comfortable approaching their work.

For example, he either wilfully ignores or woefully misunderstands Stuart Goldsmith’s first joke in order to make a weak point about the show in general, a fractured foundation he then builds upon. Brennan Reece’s use of a false Jongleurs-style opening to his otherwise weighty material makes him “a bit of a conman”. There may be more imaginative ways of embarking on Mark Watson’s I’m Not Here than by stating words to the effect of “He definitely is here, I saw him in the lobby”. And, in order to take on Nath Valvo, Young first embarks on a straw-man rant about what (I can only assume) he thinks Valvo believes, or perhaps it is meant to convey what other reviewers believe, or what we might believe were Young not there to give us guidance:

“Have you ever noticed how no debut comedian ever has anything valuable to say? Aren’t they ALL awful, shouty, brash white blokes finding ways to embarrass audience members as a distraction from limited observational material? Isn’t EVERY SINGLE ONE a sad disappointment for a hopeful audience risking a new act?”

I’m still not sure what that was all about, but it was almost certainly unnecessary. Still, at least once Young has his subject under wraps he delivers some decent reviewing. “It’s not for everyone, and it’s little more than the sum of its surreal parts” he says of Alison Thea-Skot while, commendably, enjoying her show to the full nonetheless. By the time Young gets to discussing Watson’s passport routine, “a rich vein to mine his own neuroses, with engaging diversions into his family life and views on modernity” I’d almost forgotten his other transgressions. When you can distil a performance this efficiently, there’s no need to go at it with a semantic pickaxe.

Polly Glynn

THE SKINNY

pollyglynn“There are a few lyrical clangers,” says Polly Glynn of Gareth Richards… and it’s a charge that might be made of her reviews too. There’s quite a lot that jars. She tells us that Michael Brunstrӧm’s The Hay Wain Reloaded is saved by “its clever and coherent structure”, but then immediately afterwards concludes that it’s “a ramshackle, surrealist delight”. So is it clever and coherent or is it ramshackle and surrealist? I won’t even ask how a study of the Hay Wain is surrealist when it concerns a work of romantic realism.

I think we have to put it down to laziness; Glynn has a tendency to lose all discipline as her reviews taper off. Thus we have half-arsed sign-offs such as when she tells us that Spencer Jones is “Playful, charming and clever, it’s a real treat. Much like an eggy bread bagel” (because the show is called Eggy Bagel, you see).

Also there’s this statement, made of Nish Kumar, which is both the most irritating and funny remark made in a review so far: “Both intellectual and down-to-earth with his comedy, big ideas are presented in ways that non-Guardian readers can also understand”. I’ll just repeat that in case it passed you by: “Big ideas are presented in ways non-Guardian readers can also understand.” Hahahahahahaha! Oh to join that lofty pantheon that is the Guardian reader! Well I suppose that’s why we ended up with Brexit isn’t it? The consequences hadn’t been presented in ways that non-Guardian readers could understand.

However, I’m going to park all this dickery for a second and say that, although her reviews are sometimes VERY grating momentarily, for the most part they are perfectly functional and even quite enjoyable. Her assessment of Fern Brady is zippy and bang on the money. She perfectly put across the fun and silliness of The Birthdays Girls’ Sh!t Hot Party Legends. I even like the bluntness, where it occurs (it is at least a reasoning kind of bluntness): “If it’s supposed to be ironic, it doesn’t work”. Glynn just needs to concentrate right to the very end of her writeups, and maybe get a friend to read her stuff through before she presses ‘send’.

I apologise if that sounds condescending, but I’m trying to use language a non-Guardian reader can understand.

Simon Fearn

BROADWAY BABY

simonfearn-320 Reading a Simon Fearn review puts one in mind of one of those QVC infomercials where they have 20 minutes to fill and only a set of Tupperware beakers to talk about. Fearn covers every angle, in the most plodding way, almost as if he’s got one eye on the word count to see if he can stop yet. Meanwhile he’s not really telling us anything.

“His punchlines tend to be clever and original, and the tone is amusingly downbeat,” he says of Alex Kealy. They ‘tend’ to be clever and original? Surely they ARE clever and original, or else they’re not? I can’t see where ‘tend’ comes into it. And how is a downbeat tone intrinsically amusing? Of Zac Splijt’s LJ Da Funk he opines “The persona allows Splijt to get away with punchlines that are sometimes convoluted and sometimes outrageous, swapping the more anecdotal style favoured by a lot of stand-ups for surreal, bite-sized routines, often pitched a healthy distance away from reality.” What does any of that mean? What is a ‘healthy’ distance away from reality? I still don’t know whether this guy is any good or not and I can’t see what’s different about the act Fearn has seen. If Fearn had been ordered to write a review without giving anything away he probably couldn’t do much better than this.

Fearn ticks off all the tropes of lazy reviewing. He makes the fatal error of pointing out that one act may not be the best thing to see “with so many stand-ups at the Fringe” but that “For a free show at midday in a small venue though, you could do worse”. Similarly “Newcastle Brown Male is the perfect choice for a late evening comedy gig”. When he states that “Kealy’s stand-up is still better than most and always enjoyable” he sounds like that person in the audience who hated it but really wants to say something nice. His reviews stop just short of “imagine learning all those words” or “I could never get onstage like that”. It reaches a head in his bizarrely detached summation of Lana Schwarcz’s Lovely Lady Lump about her experiences with breast cancer: apparently she “deserves credit for sharing a terrible experience in a relatively light-hearted tone.” Yes. Have some credit, Lana. Go on, help yourself to credit. I’m not going to tell you exactly what sort of credit you’re getting, Lana, because I don’t want to get involved. But the credit is over there and you are allowed to go and get some with a spoon. Not too much! That credit is for other people too.

All of this round-the houses pedestrianism might be fine if his reviews were appearing in the Llandudno Argus detailing the town hall entertainments for pensioners, but when talking to the most comedy-savvy audience in the world it’s not quite what we need.

Still, you can’t say that Fearn isn’t fair since his piece-by-piece show autopsies invariably leave no part of the  carcass uninspected. What’s more, he always tries to find something he likes, even if that does tend toward trite “on-the-whole-it-was-great-though” conclusions. To conclude in Fearn’s own style, there are much better reviewers out there on the Fringe, but for a quiet bit of reading reviews while sitting in a puddle of warm swarfega, you could probably do slightly worse.