Larry Bartleet

larrybartfleetBROADWAY BABY

There’s a certain sort of FringePig reader who only reads the reviewer-reviews that are two pigs and below. Some of them even write in to ask why we bother praising some reviewers, suggesting that’s not what we’re here for.

So it’s with apologies to these readers (probably, let’s face it, 90 per cent of you out there) that I must gingerly shrug my leopard shoulders and present our first reviewer-review this year: the altogether rather excellent Larry Bartleet.

I don’t think I’ve read a review before that contained the word ‘pleonasm’. I don’t think I’ve read anything, anywhere, that did. Or ‘indubitable’, for that matter. (In case you’re wondering, ‘pleonasm’ is a synonym for ‘tautology’).

There is space to argue whether such exotics are necessary in a Fringe review aimed not just at the unwashed but the Broadway Baby, freesheet unwashed. I doubt whether many people on my street know even what tautology is.

Yet Bartleet can be forgiven the occasional bit of dictionary diving; it’s the way he strings things together that marks him out from the notebook flock.

For example there’s his review of Rhys Nicholson and “his mischievous jokes, which march deep into taboo territory and, on occasion, bring back considerable spoils”. Or Sara Pascoe, whose “set succeeds in providing keen intellectual engagement, perhaps at the expense of a definitive moment of hilarity”. Of Kitten Killers he observes “It’s the intense speed of the scenes that deprives them of the success they deserve”.

It’s hard to sort his mild rebukes from his faint praise sometimes, but it doesn’t really matter – everything Bartleet writes is tremendously considered and lyrically competent. The worst anyone will feel is the sensation of being hit round the face with a scatter cushion.

If you could have Steve Bennett without the spelling mistakes, then you would have something approaching Bartleet’s breadth of vision, but it’s the fun had in the approach that makes all the difference.He assesses comedy in the process of enjoying it; never the other way around. It’s hard to say if Bartleet will keep this up as the Fringe drags on but, looking at last year’s output, it seems perfectly possible.

He can get a bit carried away, such as the review of Austentatious with which he opened this year’s batting: “Did they all know what a jalopy was? Nay! Did they flinch? Verily, nay!” Bartleet is very keen to point out careworn tropes, so he should know that every bleeding year some reviewer attempts to review Austentatious in the style of Jane Austen. And to be honest ‘verily, nay’ sounds more Shit-Faced Shakespeare than Austentatious. But you know what? We’ll put it down to high spirits at the start of the season.

So apologies about the early outpouring of pig stars. We are not starting out as we mean to go on, and will continue with this very much behind us. If you’ll excuse the repetitively tautologous neoplasms.

Business Leopard

James McColl


jamesmccollIf all reviewers wrote like James McColl, Fringepig would be out of business. Not that Fringepig IS a business, obviously. Not until someone has the guts to take out an advert with us, anyway.

No, if they all wrote as matter-of-factly as this chap there wouldn’t be much to moan about. “Laurence Clark is a delight to spend an hour with and it’s his charisma that really holds this show together”; “Tony Law’s brilliance lies in his ability to weave together planned and improvised material into a cohesive hour of comedy”; “as a performer, [Jonny] Lennard is confident and collected, happily waiting for the audience to catch up to his trail of thought before delving into something else”. There’s really nothing to take issue with in anything that McColl writes, and probably nothing you haven’t heard before about these acts.

The downside of this (if there is one) is that McColl is not the most captivating writer. He doesn’t so much seize our attention as ease us through the broad strokes of the thing he’s seen. Neither does he provide flash-bang quotes for performers to stick on next year’s paraphernalia; McColl prefers words like ‘collected’ and ‘justified’. He can even make something he’s praising sound a bit dull, talking about Clark “regaling the audience with tale after tale”.

To sum up, McColl is a very boring, unexcitable writer who has no wish to tell us how what he watched affected him personally, and no apparent desire to draw any broader conclusions from it about comedy, society or the world. I just wish we could have him cloned.

Edmund Rumania


Edimbrugh Fringe Dog


fringedogWell, you wait 67 years for an Edinburgh Fringe parody to happen, and then two come along at once.

This one is very wet-nosed and friendly and is called Edimbrugh Fringe Dog. Fringe dog spells everything wrong and gives everyone five stars.

As you know, we at Fringepig get quite cross with reviewers who use grammar incorrectly and fail to check their work for typographical errors. You might expect that we would relax this rule for a small over-excited dog, but I’m afraid not. This dog has clearly taught itself to speak a human language, type to a basic level and upload its work to a blog site. Would it be such a massive step for him to check his bloody work?

Fringepig is staffed entirely by stuffed toys. None of us have blood, or a pulse, or a cerebral cortex, and yet here we are happily looking stuff up in Hart’s Rules and the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors. I can’t help thinking that, if you’re a living, breathing dog who has managed to do so much then running a spellcheck and using capital letters would be, by comparison, a very small developmental increment. This dog’s carelessness is sinking the boat for a ha’porth of tar in my opinion.

However, we value consistency above all, and by giving five stars to every single act Fringe Dog sees – or sometimes he just bumps into them or notices their poster – Fringe Dog is probably the most consistent reviewer of the Fringe this year. Also, unlike other reviewers, you could share a drink with him without feeling artistically compromised or dirty. And he seems to have no interest in upgrading his reviews in return for advertising cash, so he could teach his peers a thing or two about journalistic ethics.

However, I have a nagging (wagging?) feeling that Edimbrugh Fringe Dog’s writing style is ersatz; that he can write perfectly well and is just being cutesy to endear himself to the humans. I know that it’s natural for small dogs to want to be friends with everyone and to live entirely in the moment in a hysterical fit of unrestrainable enthusiasm, but this is the Fringe for goodness sake. There are political issues to consider, and this sort of behaviour is degrading not just to this dog but to all dogs. I know dogs who spent the whole of last year’s Fringe in a NO MORE PAGE 3 T-shirt. Have you seen Page 3 of Modern Dog? It’s nothing but a filthy anachronism.

I would give Fringe Dog no score at all. However, my colleagues disagree with me and have cut a hole in my bottom with a Stanley knife. I am leaking a steady stream of tiny polystyrene beads and I feel very weak and groggy and they say they won’t help me stitch myself up until I give Fringe Dog five pigs.

I expect five pigs are of little use to him so I’m giving him five bones.

Edmund Rumania




Miles Fielder


milesfielderThere’s very little to criticise in Miles Fielder’s writing style. It is adult, sober and fluid. The sentences are tight, the adjectives well chosen. He writes with rhythm. In fact you actually feel a sense of loss for not seeing some of the shows he recommends, because it sounds like advice from someone  you’d be inclined to agree with.

To make a review personal, without putting yourself in the midst of it, is a rather rare talent, achieved by what seems to be a genuine store of background knowledge.

When discussing Shit Faced Shakespeare, for example, he knows which actors have had a stab at playing Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing on the big stage. When discussing John Lloyd’s Meaning of Liff, he remembers to tell us what, and where, Liff is. It’s little things like this that make a difference and tell you that a writer is using the tip of their talents.

Even when examining something he dislikes, Fielder does at least have the grace to find fertility in the horse manure.

Mister Kipper


Jonny Ensall



Jonny Ensall offers not so much a critique of what he sees as a contemplation.

Over 500 words or more he explores not just the when and the where of a show, but the why, the physics and the metaphysics.

Not that there is anything vague about his reviews: from the very outset their opinion is very clear, and given a sense of immediacy by his strange, but effective, habit of writing in the present tense. “This is painful. Daniel Simonsen is deliberately trying to sabotage his own show,” he begins his review of 2012’s Scandinavian award-winner.

Whether or not you agree with Ensall; whether or not you’re interested in the act he’s discussing, you are compelled to read to the end after glancing at the first sentence. You want to read his reviews as a piece of writing rather than just as the disposable opinion of a stranger in a crowd. This is very rare indeed.

What is also surprising – and only possible with such a generous word allowance – is the neat circularity of his arguments. Thus, the review will invariably conclude with something that happened in paragraph three.

With Andrew Lawrence – after discussing his “Beckettian spirals of entropic despondency” – Ensall tells us that he “is offering nothing other than an evening of professional competence, at the end of which he expects you’ll leave thinking, ‘Yeah, it was alright’.” And 300 words later “the consensus is, ‘Yeah, it was alright’.” Where Simonsen compared the empathic awkwardness of watching a struggling act to the straightforward joy of watching a man fall down the stairs, Ensall returns to this theme as he wraps up the audience’s (assumed) emotions: “The empty gurgle of mortification, like the weightless feeling of falling down the stairs.”

Whereas most reviewers are comparable, in some measure, to one of their own peers in style, Ensall seems to have taken most of his inspiration from William Faulkner. It’s bold, lucid prose but also has a great sense of space, atmosphere and – for my money – melancholy. Even when celebrating something as fluffy as Cassetteboy vs DJ Rubbish there’s such a tinge of despair in “those sheepishly sat at the back of the room start to get their groove on” that when he tells us “It was near impossible not to have a good time” I remained unconvinced.

In fact I’m reminded of an uncle of mine who would tell you, sombrely, that your Christmas present to him was exactly what he wanted, while leaving it half unwrapped on the floor by the plastic tree.

Mister Kipper