Reviewers: Latest

Martin Gray

THE SCOTSMAN

When you work at the Scotsman, I guess, you don’t feel you need to impress anyone. I mean sure, the paper is going down the tubes faster than a KY-jellied eel poo at a waterpark but for the moment it’s still the grand dame of Scottish journalism. Or croque monsieur, since Scotsman is the most patriarchal title on earth.

But enough of this flannel. Martin Gray is a flannel-free reviewer. Everything he writes comes across as being in a jocular offhand, as if he’s only talking to you because you’ve been put on the same table at a wedding and he’s trying to stop it being awkward. No sooner has he made a statement than he’ll brush it under the carpet. “But honestly it doesn’t matter”; “it’s forgivable, because…”; “Or not…”. He doesn’t take anything he’s seeing too seriously, and thank the Abrahamic deities. It’s only a festival.

Whereas most young reviewers these days forget to say whether anything was funny or not, Gray is not of this school. He describes shows as “very funny” (Gareth Waugh) or “a fun hour” (David Mills) or, and get this – “Impossible to describe in one word” (Chris Forbes). It’s almost as if nobody has told him that he has to insist that a piece of comedy he likes is funny because of some provable and universal constant. There’s no soapboxing or blackboard work. Seriously, he’d better behave in this job because there’s no way he can work for Fest. Turning up at comedy, enjoying himself and leaving? It’s pure madness.

Gray does a good line in leading the reader to the spoiler and then shutting them down. “I can’t get into it”; “That’s for the man himself to tell you”; “just as a sausage isn’t always a sausage, sometimes a banjo string isn’t just a banjo string. Ouch.” (okay I think that one spoilt). But it’s all a sort of families-may-be-listening level of saucy. In fact, this is Radio 2 reviewing. He’s reviewing’s Ken Bruce, basically. It’s not making me buy new boots, get my head shaved and leave home, but I trust it implicitly.

 

Eva Hibbs

BROADWAY BABY

We were beginning to think that the art of the reviewer brainfart was passed, so thank all that’s holy for Eva Hibbs. Her small stack of reviews so far provide some of the most perplexing and intractable sentences yet committed to the canon.

Hibbs has reviewed some shows with very out-there conceits, which in itself shows a healthy interest in the unusual. In such cases it can be best to explain the idea behind the comedy or just leave it well alone and concentrate on the jokes. Hibbs makes the error of going in halfway so that we’re intrigued but left scratching our heads. Of Kill The Beast’s Don’t Wake The Damp, she tells us “‘The Damp Is Rising’, where the team make the most of their screens-on-wheels set-up, is performed to a West End standard and, like the bacteria itself, lingers for a while after it’s introduced”. I can GUESS what’s going on here (I think), but why am I doing all the work? I didn’t get the free ticket did I?

Her review of James Veitch is clearer; a man “cursed by his friends and family for taking jokes too far”. “This has got to be some of the most satisfying stuff of the summer,” she declares. Such unmitigated and positive conclusions are rare and wonderful. She should make more of these conclusions and do less explaining about how she arrived at them.

It comes down to Hibbs’ use of words really. “It’s rare to get people laughing to the point of crying whilst simultaneously spreading a sense of poignancy,” ‘Spread’ belongs either with a noun or with a cliché like happiness. I’m not sure what consistency poignancy has but it’s hard to imagine it being spread. It’s odd little hiccups like this that evoke a sense of Alan Partridge. “To wrap Kill The Beast’s third show up in a nutshell would be to allow the ‘nut’ a coconut status,” she attests; a statement that would be right at home on Mid Morning Matters. She returns to the coconut later in Kill The Beast’s review, like a comedian doing a callback to a routine that had failed to begin with. “Like a coconut – what’s inside is not the most robust and actually comes out flooding, at speed.” Er… what?

Goodness knows what Briony Redman is meant to take away from her review; the conclusion finds that “Yes, favouring tested models of success limits room for originality, but what should we actually do about it?” It doesn’t make any clearer sense on the page.

The blunt conclusion is that Hibbs is reaching for a prolix writing style that is possibly out of reach and wouldn’t serve her needs anyway. She simply needs to tell us what is going on in the show and whether or not it works. “The energy with which Kill The Beast transport you, however, cannot be contested.” [she writes]. “We’re nothing if not taken back there, to a time a before, to a style of things that, no matter whether you were born in ‘55 or ‘95, is equally nostalgic.” I have no idea what this statement is doing, what it wants or why it hangs around so long with its mange and its sad eyes. The only civilised reaction to it is to take it outside and shoot it.

Eve Livingston

THE SKINNY

There’s no affectation to Eve Livingston’s reviews; they’re straight as an arrow hewn out at the Rolls Royce machineworks. The quality isn’t far off either.

If Livingston has one fault it’s perhaps her conviction that she has to comment on every bit of the show; not quite blow by blow but certainly every major movement. Talking of which, there’s a moment in her appraisal of Next Best Thing: How to be Good at Everything where her rather anodyne treatment turns a tad puritan:  “The show does at points rely on toilet humour, which can seem incongruous with the style of wit and writing elsewhere”. However, since she’s fine with another show where the future is predicted in bog paper (Kat Bond: Loo Roll), we can only conclude she’s genuinely counting each show on its merits.

Livingston is particularly interested in how the audience is reacting to the show, which is no bad thing. Bond “responds well to unpredictable contributions”; with Next Best Thing “it becomes clear that many of the crowd are not comfortable with what is being asked of them”. This sounds a bit like she’s extrapolating an on-the-night experience into a general point, but it’s fair to say that discomfiture is something she positively enjoys when watching Evelyn Mok: “At points she treats truly upsetting admissions like punchlines, looking to the audience for a reaction as they grapple to find the correct one.”

From the evidence available, it doesn’t appear that Livingston has a bug she can’t bear or a grate she won’t mitigate. We must start our 2017 reviewer-reviewing off by awarding her the Fringepig Star of Reasonableness, 2nd Class, with oak leaves and sprinkles. Which is another of those truly upsetting admissions, I suppose, but one we’ll all have to deal with.

 

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.