Reviewers: Latest

Tamsin Bracher

EDFRINGE REVIEW

I sometimes wonder what it is that draws reviewers to Edfringe Review: is it the dizzying, unwelcoming site navigation that makes you want to leave immediately, or is it the gaudy T-shirts that let everyone know there is a REVIEWER in the house? Or perhaps it’s their habit of reviewing everything twice to give a ‘balanced’ flavour, the way that Truman’s two atomic bombs prevented Hiroshima from feeling singled out.

There have been some apocalyptically dodgy wearers of the REVIEWER T-shirt in the past, but Tamsin Bracher isn’t one of them. She’s not the most fluid writer but on the whole she’s pretty good and has a very perspicacious eye for comedy double acts and comedy theatre. She can get a little over-analytical at times, telling us that Liverpool Revue are “topical without being overly-political and confident without being overly-affected” when we really just want to know if they’re funny.

There is a wee bit of conclusion-jumping too. When Stiff and Kitsch perform between cardboard cutouts of celebrities, Bracher doesn’t just tell us that it happens but explains what it signifies. It’s as if she’s writing the York Notes on the piece. This isn’t bad reviewing per se, just a little unusual. Bracher states that they “both satirise and celebrate their own normality, that hallmark of ordinariness and the mundane.” Hmm, thanks for explaining what ‘normal’ means, Tamsin. It’s a bit odd that she then goes on to state that the show “veer[s] dangerously close to the ordinary”, as if she hasn’t just explained this word along with all its synonyms.

More positively she does a lot of reading around the subject, looking at the performer’s pre-Fringe interviews. While reviewing Trump’d she gives a run-down of all the other performances that satirise the Orange One, which is genuinely helpful. She’s certainly taking it all very seriously, comedy theatre or not. I imagine her reviews take her hours to do; they’re written with diligence rather than confidence.

When Bracher puts herself into the review she tries not to obstruct and gives us reasonable caveats: “I was slightly nervous Trump’d! would simply regurgitate the mockery that proves the hallmark of his presidency thus far,” she confides. But then, in discussing Liverpool Revue, she states: “There followed, rather inevitably, multiple digs at Donald Trump, Brexit and the Scottish Referendum. But I would question whether these were necessary. Such issues have been completely overworked by comedians”. Bit of an odd take, perhaps, on a topical sketch revue. But fair enough.

In any case her conclusion (“the Revue told the chaotic story of student-life with electric verve”) is benign: Like a 1980s dot matrix printer Bracher eventually – slowly, a bit noisily – makes enough marks on the paper to form a cogent and legible tract. She tends to chew things over for far too long, but perhaps with this depth of analysis Edfringe Review could get by with just one hack per show. But then, this rather strange website is nothing if not a lanyard and T-shirt party for the youthful masses.

Frodo Allan

BROADWAY BABY

You know that bit in the Fisher King… (yes I know nobody watches the serious Robin Williams films anymore but you MUST have seen this one)… you know that bit where the lonely office worker lady says to Robin “Are you real?” because he’s being the sort of lovely, dreamy boyfriend everyone wFrodo Allan

On top of this admirable tendency to show mercy, Allan seems to understand what he’s watching and can precis it without boxing it or giving the game away. Of Twonkey’s Christmas in the Jungle he says: “Everything is fitting to a plan”, although “the plan might be written in green crayon on the side of teapot”. It’s nice when reviewers can review in the spirit of the thing they’re seeing without, you know, going a bit dickish with it like every lame duffer who has reviewed Austentatious in the style of Jane Austen.

He’s an odd fish though. His biog states that the press call him “The Godfather of Scottish cabaret”… hmm. Well he’s certainly a lot more Gambino when he reviews his chosen genre. In fact there are some cabaret show ponies who get their heads cut off. But for some reason he goes nice and easy with pretty much every bit of comedy he sees. Is it because he doesn’t take it seriously? Is comedy a bit of a review-holiday for him? Frodo, are you real?

Like a lot of Broadway Baby reviewers since it left the constraints of of print, Allan can be a bit verbose – for example taking 75 words to tell us a Mulholland routine was a bit near-the-knuckle. He also needs to read his stuff through. He tells us twice that he was gutted that he didn’t have enough cash to buy Juan Vesuvius’s mixtape after the show. (Maybe he wants us to take the hint and buy it for him?) He also writes “The angry comedian is a common trope these days and Mulholland is brilliantly pissed-off at the world” twice. It seems that Allan likes to write in pithy sentences and then move his favourite one to the end as a conclusion, but does a copy-paste instead of a cut-paste. I’m guessing. In any case he needs to edit his own stuff because I’m sure the only thing the editors of Broadway Baby ever check is their Snapchat and the wet patch behind their ears.

Jonny Sweet

THE WEE REVIEW

Jonny Sweet describes Phil Nichol as “like a precocious schoolkid who’s guzzled too many Dip Dabs before the bell and is now showing off in front of his classmates”. It’s a charge that can be levelled at Sweet himself, for although his reviews bounce from point to point like a likeable swot reading his book report, there are times when he’ll throw in a swear just to impress us. Sarah Kendall, for example, invokes a Chinese proverb that allows us “to get the fuck on with things”. He calls Frankie Boyle a “sadistic shit”. It feels as if we’re meant to gasp and go “Errrrrrr! Jonny!”

And yet Sweet dos reprimand more than one comedian of favouring “shock over incision” (he likes the word ‘incision’ a lot). He has a good go at weighing the rough with the smooth where Boyle is concerned, providing a nice little detail  about “an uncharacteristically benign interchange with a nonplussed Russian in the front row”.

His review gives good colour to the show, only jumping the tracks slightly when Sweet gets caught up in his own flight of fancy. “After all, to err is human and to forgive bloody well should be too, since God hasn’t shown his face around lately and someone needs to pick up the slack,” he says. You get the feeling that these moments would be more at home within Sweet’s own Fringe show, should he ever write it.

There are some overworked analogies (Boyle sharpening his fangs and readying his poisonous venom / venomous poison is an example, and moments where Sweet’s chatty style lapses into cliché.  Largely, though, Sweet’s style veers just the right side of fun, and he does seem to remember that fun is what we’re here for. John Hastings, he says, “literally had to turn off two of the stage lights because they bounced glaringly off his massive bonce”. You can’t figuratively turn off stage lights and so you can’t do it literally either, but we won’t obsess on that: Sweet’s having a god time and he’s starring everything generously.

Most importantly he appears to take everything as he finds it and never suggests what anything should be but isn’t. There is a nice sense of wonder to his reviewing, but it’s clear that Sweet doesn’t like talking ill of things: a fact betrayed by his prose suddenly losing any sense of agency. The Newsrevue “performers … should be lauded for giving it their all”, he says, going on to express his hope that they get back the edginess “that has seen them” nominated for multiple awards. There is no such problem in his review of Phil Nichol, where he is 100 per cent engaged and talking in the present about his own feelings towards it: “It’s a rollercoaster of a show, teetering all over the place in terms of style and tone, “ he says. Sweet needs to bring that sense of alacrity to all the stuff he writes and – I can’t believe I’m saying this in Fringepig – not be so afraid to say when something’s not as good as it ought to be.

Laura Pujos

BROADWAY BABY

Nobody could accuse Pujos of being dismissive about what she sees. Bloody hell no. She attends comedy shows as if she’s been asked to take notes for a Hague War Crimes tribunal; presenting each point before cross-examining it and (usually) finding it guilty of something. This jurisprudence is not in the service of seeing both sides of any argument: far from it. Pujos puts everything she sees through the wringer of watery liberal safe-space university batshit bullshit, and to such an exceptional degree that her schtick becomes oppressive and quite depressing to read.

I’m sure Kae Kurd, for example, is a very funny man but he is done little favour by Pujos’ heavy-handed advocacy. “Addressing the increase in open racism and hate crimes post-Brexit and Trump, Kurd’s strikes me as a necessary voice in comedy in current times,”Pujos attests. “The events in Charlottesville particularly poignantly indicate the relevance and pertinence of comedy shows like his.” Erm… he’s trying to have a laugh on the Free Fringe, Laura; not rescue neo-liberalism from the Nazis.

You get the distinct feeling that Pujos hasn’t seen much comedy; the sheer length of her Kurd hagiography is, to say the least, unneccesary – as is her tortuous deliberations on whether to throw Rosie Wilby’s Breakup Monologues in the bin (it didn’t actually include Rosie Wilby on the day she saw i which, we sense, threw Pujos into an existential panic). Little surprise that when she doesn’t like Thom Tuck’s discussion of ISIS and the Middle East, she uses his review to sing the praises (yet again) of Mr Kurd, the one other comedian she has seen talking about ISIS in her entire short life. Pujos makes it absolutely clear that she supports Jim Crow laws on comedy: “Tuck, a white non-Muslim comedian, is ill-positioned to make half the jokes he does,” she says. Er… what?

She continues: “Particularly problematic moments include a gag that belittles and disregards the seriousness of alcoholism as an illness,” as if Tuck has been abusing patients rather than performing comedy.

The extremist butt-rod isn’t even Pujo’s main problem. It’s not even that she is inexperienced and witheringly boring (her 143-word explanation of how Grainne Maguire pronounces her name will have you praying for death to whichever God is available, whatever your creed and colour). It’s that ALL her reviews really are about herself and her modernist, millennial search for self-betterment. It’s all “I thought” this and “I expected” that and “Oh how disappointed I was” about the other. The sheer pomposity of Pujos’ self-entitled tracts is occasionally hilarious; things are always “sadly” or “disappointingly” not what she wanted, and we should be in no doubt that this sadness and misfortune is universal.

You may wonder whether Pujos even understands her own liberal wahabbism. “They Mail on Sunday’s branding of Tuck as ‘the next David Mitchell’ led me to expect some erudite political commentary,” she says. Well who’d expect the Mail on Sunday to give you a bum steer on who to watch at the Fringe, Laura.

Laura Pujos knows three fifths of fuck all about comedy, and she wants to tell you about the profound personal journey she had watching four and a half hours of it.

Paul Whitelaw

THE SCOTSMAN

Nick Doody has a joke (and I won’t spoil it by doing the whole thing), that says you can’t write ‘swan’ on a pig and shove it out onto the lake. And yet over the past five years we’ve discovered that we have to accept things as they’re labelled, however little sense it makes. It started with Rod Liddle in his ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ T-shirt, back when he edited the Independent, which still insists that it is a newspaper. Donald Trump is apparently a president. And now this. Paul Whitelaw. Apparently a Scotsman reviewer.

The Scotsman is printing what Paul Whitelaw thinks as if he’s a journalist. Checking and double-checking the webpage just returns the same result: it has the Scotsman’s web address and all the page furniture seems to be hanging in the right place, so I suppose we just have to accept his single-paragraph assassinations, mostly of female comedians, as reviews.

There can be no real doubt, of course, that Paul Whitelaw is a troll with his ticket stamped by a newspaper, the way Picasso used to sign blank canvasses for people to do a validated shit or sneeze on. Even if we try to analyse his discharge as if it’s writing we find he is using stolen jokes to criticise comedy (“Every comedian requires a persona of some description … Eleanor Morton has chosen the persona of an ordinary person with nothing funny or interesting to say”, he says, using a joke stolen from ID Mobile who stole it from Family Guy). Despite the paucity of words, Whitelaw manages to cough up every cliché in the reviewer’s arsenal. The word “Pedestrian”, putting “-a-tron” after everything he finds ‘pedestrian’; adding “for reasons best known to herself” to things females do which he can’t (for reasons best known to himself) be bothered exploring and even – EVEN – banging ‘definitely one to watch’ on the end of Fern Brady (three stars). Oooooh, Fern Brady! Looks like you’ve got an admirer! By the way, If this all sounds childish it is merely in the course of reviewing a reviewer so squarely in the nyeah nyeah ne nyeah-nyeah school of post-millennial professionalism.

So, to conclude, we must accept that Paul Whitelaw is a thing. Except of course we don’t. Whitelaw does not have his finger on the nuclear trigger and he isn’t an artist, except possibly in the medium of piss. If he’s anything then he’s a symptom of a sad, sorry little newspaper that has utterly squandered the goodwill it once enjoyed as the keynote voice of the Fringe, giving up good writing and solid opinions for gimmickry and shlock. Little surprise they can’t now give it away, except with some fruity water and a tote bag. It’s done. It’s finished. It’s gone-a-tron.

Whitelaw is best understood not as a writer but as an attendant detail; a sort of maggot that will provide forensic colour to anyone in the future who cares to study the pathological decline and suicide of a once-great newspaper.

Edmund Rumania