Bruce Blacklaw


bruceblacklawThe thing about Bruce Blacklaw is that he writes a bit like Steve Bennett from Chortle. He even looks a bit like Steve Bennett from Chortle. And the way he keeps making little quips that sometimes work and sometimes just tip over into mean-spiritedness, that’s so Steve. The way the frustration leaks out that he’s not doing the show himself: “The cast are self-evidently clever and talented (if possibly a little too pleased with themselves in that respect at times)” he says of No Strings. Although I forgave him in this case for putting the at-least honest preface: “‘Hooray, an Oxford Revue troupe’, said no sane reviewer ever when handed the assignment.”

It would, in fact, be a healthy exercise for Steve Bennett to try cutting his reviews down to 120 words as the Three Weeks hack must. Blacklaw is one of those relatively few who can do it without losing anything; summing up everything that’s pertinent and leaving just enough intrigue to whet the appetite. Of Gary Little he says: “Respect is particularly due for a genuinely funny (and genuinely inoffensive) Auschwitz yarn. Now that really is a thing.”  Of Jody Kamali’s One Man Variety Show: “The ending, which sees him bring out the acts one-by-one for a bow, at a pace quicker than his ability to keep up with the costume changes, neatly sums up a surreal and silly hour of fun”. Okay that wasn’t such a good one, since he gave the end away.

He does callbacks too. In a review that notes how Andy De La Tour was a contemporary of Rik Mayall, he concludes rather acidly that “if Rik Mayall was watching, even with eternity to contemplate, he’d have probably still ended up checking his watch.” How Steve is that?

I will stop comparing Bruce to Steve now. I’m sorry. It’s not fair. I just wish he would go to Chortle head office so the two of them can have a lightsabre fight and Bruce can lose a hand. Yet Blacklaw is on the light side of the reviewing Force: the best and least Bennettesque thing about him is that there’s relatively few typos or grammar nasties in his copy – particularly considering that this is Three Weeks, the Fringe print media most likely to be used as arsewipe before the cessation of frivolities.

Anyway, Bruce could do this for a living if he wanted.

Vince Guttering


Maud Sampson


maudsampsonFirst, a confession: I do not always know what Maud Sampson is talking about. “Think less 50 Cent and his hoes, more Tupac in his 1995 police custody video talking about rap as poetry,” she advises as a way to understand Rubberbandits. Tupac? He was one of those rapper chaps, wasn’t he? Forgive me, I am a middle aged stuffed toy so although I’m aware of him I’m not au fait with his court cases from 20 years ago. I’ve just asked my 11-year old stuffed toy son and he isn’t much help. He says it’s ‘old people’s music’.

I similarly wonder if I’m missing something when she discusses Jonny Lennard: “The night the tooth fairy stopped coming was a shattering experience for us all and surely no one wants to think of The Little Mermaid as having body dysmorphia.” Did you have to see the tooth fairy every night, Sampson? Where did you live, a sugar plantation in the 1750s? I honestly don’t remember grieving for her (I know not all fairies are female but I think mine was) and not only do I not want to think of the Little Mermaid’s body dysmorphia, I never have.

I think the disconnect comes from the fact that Lennard is talking about the tooth fairy and the Little Mermaid as surreal, abstract ideas whereas Sampson is taking them in as observational humour that where we’ve all thought a thing but never expressed it. “You know when you wake up and the milk tooth is STILL under your pillow? What’s THAT all about?” I don’t think that’s what Lennard is doing. But I think Sampson should. I think maybe she’s onto something.

Sampson also provides one of this Fringe’s clearest examples of why a two or one-star review is better than a three; why frothing hatred for a show is a far more desirable response than a reviewer who is sympathetic but nonplussed. “While there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the show and the laughs are consistent,” she says of Pierre Novellie, “it errs on the side of safety too often to make it unmissable.” Funny but missable. This Fringe is a bitch.

But even if Sampson is, occasionally, experiencing a very different show to the one I’ve seen, I don’t distrust her conclusions. I’ve read many potted descriptions of the Rubberbandits, but – despite the references to dead people – only hers piqued my interest enough to finally watch Horse Outside. And now I’m sold, all thanks to Sampson. For which all thanks is due.

Sampson is no easier to please than her List colleagues: while Lennard suffers from “a little too much scripting”, Russell Hicks’s entirely unscripted show “started to wear thin as ideas for new material were noticeably lacking”. Sampson wants her comedy to be off-the-cuff unscripted hilarious perfection.

Fair enough. But fuck me, this Fringe is a bitch.

Vince Guttering


Evan Beswick


evanbeswickThis year, Beswick had me at Hello when his review of Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel opened with: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a successful show in possession of good reviews, must be in want of a bit of an upgrade.” And I quite like how he tries to keep the tone pompous but then abandons it for the explanation that “Austentatious simply isn’t, well, as Austenny as in times past”.

That said, being funny in a comedy review is a bit of a creepy old game. What about when you’re slating something? It just isn’t nice to make light of hurting someone. If Beswick had given Austentatious one less star I don’t think I could stand him. He’d remind me of my old history teacher, who used to pretend to be a Dalek while issuing detention slips. “Detentionate!” he used to say as he made his way through the desks. Dick. That’s not even a word. He could have had “Incarcerate!” Or “Castigate!” I mean, if you’re going to be a dick do it with forethought. (Can you get back to the review now please – Ed)

Beswick, on the other hand, isn’t too heavy on the wit and makes reasonable points. He does, on the whole, convince me that he just wants the show to be as good as it can be; as good as it was last year in fact – and top marks to Beswick for spelling out that he knows the history of the thing he’s critiquing. It’s good when reviewers follow the development of shows across the years, and all too rare with the increasing number of one-and-done critics.

“An abundance of lazy modernisms means that any departures from nineteenth-century parody (tonight, for instance, a sonnet about a boom box) don’t chime in delicious contrast to what could be tight, disciplined pastiche,” he explains. I had to read it three times but, now that I have, I think I possibly sort of agree with it.

Explaining The CHRISTEENE Machine, Beswick similarly aims to knock us backwards in the style of the show itself by invoking sweaty bodies and balloons “anchored” in the star’s anus (and there was no better word to choose here than ‘anchored’). Sadly this left only one paragraph to give a taste of the show, which we don’t really get except to know that it “treads wildly unfamiliar territory”.

Still, Beswick is an astute observer with a deft turn of phrase and reasonable reserves of empathy.

Vince Guttering


Troy Holmes


troyholmesTroy Holmes… is that a man or a lady? It sounds like a man, doesn’t it? A male erotic film star, in fact. Troy Holmes. Good name. Yet it seems from the picture that Troy Holmes is a lady. Ooh hang on, she’s American. That explains everything.

Anyway, to start my discussion of Troy Holmes, here are some words and phrases that she uses: “Painfully terrible stand-up”, “annoy the meager audience”, “two of the least talented, least funny people ever”, “no one in their right mind would ever pay to see it”, “ramblings”, “terrible”, “boring voice and even worse jokes”, “high pitched wittering”, “the most annoyingly grating woman on the planet”, “absolutely nothing”, “no laughter whatsoever”, “these narcissists can’t fill a whole hour with their pointless babble”, “not amazing”, “constant jabber”, “absolute horror”, “tortured”, “steer clear”, “completely and utterly pointless”, “devoid of any and all talent”, “a bore to sit through”, “You would have to pay me a lot of money to make me go back and watch it again”, “inane twaddle”. Wow. And these are all in one review!

I’ve never believed the old saw that Americans don’t get irony and nuance but I had to resurrect my prejudice when I read her review of the Graham Fellows creation Brian Appleton: “Fellows simply does not have enough distance from Brian Appleton, it no longer feels like parody, which is the main problem with this show.” Does this mean that it was too well acted, or that there was no knowing wink? When has a comedian ever been accused of having too little ‘distance’ from the character they’re playing?

Intrigued by Holmes I went off piste a bit and was amused to see that she had deigned to review one (one, mark you) exhibition, the 151st International Exhibition of Photography “selected from a worldwide entry of more than 2500 by a panel of distinguished international judges”. So you might expect BB to send a distinguished judge of its own or, at least, someone whose appreciation of the visual arts takes her to more than one exhibition a year.

Nah. They sent Troy Holmes. Holmes gives it two stars, calling it “mediocre at best”. But there was “at least some talent housed in this terribly-curated room”. What is that word Americans use for shameless cheek… is it chutzpah? Holmes has lots of that.

Oh, and Holmes… you spelt “meagre” wrong. We put the R before the E over here. Not because it’s better, but because it’s right.

Vince Guttering


Lizzie Milton


lizziemiltonThe thing I like about Lizzie Milton’s reviews is that she doesn’t try to write like a reviewer, or rather, like what the average Three Weeks critic THINKS a reviewer might write like. Milton writes the way your friend might talk when coming out of a show. Well, depending on what your friends are like. Milton talks like a nice, positive friend would. Probably. I’m guessing.

While each Fringe is full of moaning shysters who can no longer be turned on by anything the world has to offer, it is also full of grateful rubes from the provinces who will sit through just about anything and convince each other they’ve had a grand time. That’s sort of what Milton sounds like when she damns with faint praise or castigates with softened blows: “Whilst the material on offer is not particularly original, the show is well structured and [the comic] is generally likeable”.  “All in all, I felt a lot of [the comic’s] better material was hampered by the tense atmosphere he created for himself”; “The material is very funny and, I think, with a bit more structure this would make a great show”. Sometimes Milton sounds like a loving mother who wants to give encouragement but doesn’t want to be dishonest. “All in all, too inexperienced to do a Fringe run quite yet” she says of one young troupe (she does say ‘all in all’ a bit too much).

However, she does spell out the actualities – like, she’ll say she didn’t like that the act made no eye contact, or there was too much corpsing. Thus she writes about what she saw. Most reviewers these days make few notes, then write a review about their memory of a feeling about a thing that they saw.

For this reason, I say that you can trust Lizzie Milton, even though she keeps shooting Free Fringe acts in the legs with her two-star critiques. But she does at least explain herself to them as they writhe in the dust.

Vince Guttering