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.

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.

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.

Simon Fearn

BROADWAY BABY

simonfearn-320 Reading a Simon Fearn review puts one in mind of one of those QVC infomercials where they have 20 minutes to fill and only a set of Tupperware beakers to talk about. Fearn covers every angle, in the most plodding way, almost as if he’s got one eye on the word count to see if he can stop yet. Meanwhile he’s not really telling us anything.

“His punchlines tend to be clever and original, and the tone is amusingly downbeat,” he says of Alex Kealy. They ‘tend’ to be clever and original? Surely they ARE clever and original, or else they’re not? I can’t see where ‘tend’ comes into it. And how is a downbeat tone intrinsically amusing? Of Zac Splijt’s LJ Da Funk he opines “The persona allows Splijt to get away with punchlines that are sometimes convoluted and sometimes outrageous, swapping the more anecdotal style favoured by a lot of stand-ups for surreal, bite-sized routines, often pitched a healthy distance away from reality.” What does any of that mean? What is a ‘healthy’ distance away from reality? I still don’t know whether this guy is any good or not and I can’t see what’s different about the act Fearn has seen. If Fearn had been ordered to write a review without giving anything away he probably couldn’t do much better than this.

Fearn ticks off all the tropes of lazy reviewing. He makes the fatal error of pointing out that one act may not be the best thing to see “with so many stand-ups at the Fringe” but that “For a free show at midday in a small venue though, you could do worse”. Similarly “Newcastle Brown Male is the perfect choice for a late evening comedy gig”. When he states that “Kealy’s stand-up is still better than most and always enjoyable” he sounds like that person in the audience who hated it but really wants to say something nice. His reviews stop just short of “imagine learning all those words” or “I could never get onstage like that”. It reaches a head in his bizarrely detached summation of Lana Schwarcz’s Lovely Lady Lump about her experiences with breast cancer: apparently she “deserves credit for sharing a terrible experience in a relatively light-hearted tone.” Yes. Have some credit, Lana. Go on, help yourself to credit. I’m not going to tell you exactly what sort of credit you’re getting, Lana, because I don’t want to get involved. But the credit is over there and you are allowed to go and get some with a spoon. Not too much! That credit is for other people too.

All of this round-the houses pedestrianism might be fine if his reviews were appearing in the Llandudno Argus detailing the town hall entertainments for pensioners, but when talking to the most comedy-savvy audience in the world it’s not quite what we need.

Still, you can’t say that Fearn isn’t fair since his piece-by-piece show autopsies invariably leave no part of the  carcass uninspected. What’s more, he always tries to find something he likes, even if that does tend toward trite “on-the-whole-it-was-great-though” conclusions. To conclude in Fearn’s own style, there are much better reviewers out there on the Fringe, but for a quiet bit of reading reviews while sitting in a puddle of warm swarfega, you could probably do slightly worse.

Alun Evans

SCOTSGAY

alunevansAt first it seems that Alun Evans’ reviews are not very good. They seem like very matter-of-fact, unexceptional and literal pieces of prose. And then you remember that this is exactly what reviews are supposed to be like, and that you (and probably everyone else) has been ruined by the review-as-self-expression. The creative writing approach to criticism – love me as I demolish this guy – is now so ubiquitous that we notice its absence far more than we’re aware of it thrusting its crotch in our faces.

See, I’m doing it now. I’m supposed to be soberly discussing the merits of Alun Evans as a reviewer but instead I’ve gone off on some schlocky metaphorical flight of fancy with graphic sexual overtones, like too many student reviewers. And who suffers? Alun does. And you. And journalism.

All Alun does is say what he was expecting, then what actually happened. He notes the things that were good and the things he found disappointing. and then he concludes. Sometimes he will go a bit crazy, such as when he started with “Are you ready to squirm? Oh my, it’s so uncomfortable. ARGH! Lou Sanders brings her own brand of cringeworthy comedy to the Fringe once again.” I thought he was being sarcastic. But that’s because I’ve spent the whole fucking Fringe reading things like Lewis Porteous starting out with “We’re lucky to have Ria Lina”, with the purpose of telling us in a Very Clever Way that we are not in the least bit lucky to have Ria Lina. So you feel your hackles rise at what’s coming next, but nothing is. Alun Evans is just enjoying himself.

He points out the serious parts of the show and why he enjoyed them, before saying “But don’t let that put you off, Lot’s delightfully cack-handed style (or lack thereof) is somehow very charming. Her inability to do convincing accents or sing doesn’t stop her from doing both to hilarious effect.” It’s nice that he takes this breezy approach. And it’s nice that he spelled Lou as ‘Lot’ in a sentence about her being cack-handed.

We might ask what exactly is imparted in sentences such as “Even when he was taking the piss, people reacted positively and stayed happy” [Jimmy McGhie]. It’s the equivalent of being asked how your flight was and commenting that the wings stayed on. But, considering how to-the-point he is, Evans’ chatty exposition is just about right most of the time: “His fantastic faculty with accents … was used to great effect with an amiably blootered Portuguese visitor,” Evans notes. And even Imaginary Porno Charades, which he didn’t much care for, had some ‘roadkill puppets’ which become Evans’ curate’s egg.

So, despite being on ScotsGay Evans is the straightest-talking reviewer you’re likely to meet.

^^ See, that’s how I’d write reviews if I was a dick.

Billy Coconuts