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.

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.

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.

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.

Louise Jones

BROADWAY BABY

louisejonesLouise Jones could do with reading over her work and tightening things up a bit. She uses the word ‘conceit’ and the phrase ‘padded out’ a bit and there are quite a few typos to trip the reader up.

But such things are only worthy of mention because they impede what could be very good reviews, giving a nice overview of what works and what doesn’t. She mostly looks at sketch comedy, and does manage to give the impression that she understands the tenets of this métier: “It’s a tricky feat to maintain an exciting and entertaining plotline in improv for fifteen minutes, let alone three plotlines across an hour, but unfortunately this struggle shows with some awkward silences,” she says of Beings.

Some reviewers willfully ignore the crowd in the room, instead basing their reviews on some transcendent quality they claim to have recognised in the act. Jones bases her judgment on the reception each passage of the performance receives, and is particularly alert to the duff bits: Jokes “don’t land as well as intended” is one of her standard lines. Towards the End of her What A Load Of Skit review she makes the reviewer’s error of telling the sketch troupe how they SHOULD have done a particular piece; never an edifying sight.

There are some bits where the explanation breaks down into something that needs unpacking. In discussing Katherine Ryan she states that “Ryan responds to her Twitter trolls following a clip of her being found out of context abroad”. I can guess what was going on here, but I’d only be guessing. Looking at What A Load, she says: “Set ups like shopping on Amazon or the idea of Shakespeare writing in a Starbucks are brilliant concepts”. I would actually like some more convincing here. I mean, you must know they don’t LOOk like brialliant concepts when you say it like that? I don’t, for one second, doubt that they are – but a little more exposition could go a long way.

Marigold Bumbellina-Froome