Rowena McIntosh


Reading a Rowena McIntosh review is a bit like seeing a social worker or a psychologist who you’re relying on in court. Probably. What I mean is, that she’s all smiles and happy noises but there’s a sense she’s de-escalating and boxing her reviewees up so she can get on with her life.

To demonstrate: you would be hard pushed to extract more positive comments than you’ll find in McIntosh’s review of Ellen Waddell’s It’s Better to Lie Than to Tell the Truth and End Up Alone in a Ditch Crying. Her presentation style “works excellently as a format”, some bits are “absolutely hilarious” in “an hour that’s both comic and insightful”. It’s rather hard to square these words up against the three-star rating, especially when the title McIntosh gives her writeup, “An insightful show about the trouble with truth-telling” seems to succinctly convey that this show achieved what it set out to do.

Indeed, all McIntosh’s reviews this year come with titles that belie the lack of approbation she’s willing to give. Garrett Millerick has “A high-energy set about the things that can really get on your wick”, also a three, and Isla Bonera is encouraged to keep trying, but get out of my office please, with “Intense if patchy debut that still shows potential” (two).

It would be easy to dismiss McIntosh as arch and condescending but that she writes rather well, deftly dealing with a perennial Fringe comedy gripe by writing that one of Millerick’s routines “feels like a problem felt more acutely around England’s capital than by a Fringe audience”. She gives a good sense of the routines in Millerick’s show without hijacking them, and throughout her writing isn’t afraid to say what a comedian “might” be doing or “seems like” they’re doing, rather than taking the tack of some of her List colleagues *COUGHclairesawerCOUGH* and deciding that her own impression is the only one that can possibly exists in the entire universe.

So it seems that McIntosh is much, much too fussy, and a bit mean with it. But she’s still pretty good.

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Martin Gray


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.


Polly Glynn


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.

Kate Wilkinson


katewilkinsonKate Wilkinson gets the reviewing lark right, on the whole, with a nice balance between exposition and commentary.

Her style is engaging, and she gives just enough away for the reader to want to know more. Of That Pair she tells us “The Truth About Girls is surely destined to become a feminist anthem; its chorus ‘girls, girls, girls… anatomically we are girls’ is now stuck in my head”. For thunderbards, she reveals that “Stevens has a knack for deadpan characterisation and impresses on the guitar with a sad, serious song. We know that’s what it is because it’s in a minor key, he tells us.” All of this is succinct, appetite-whetting and doesn’t spoil any major surprises.

Wilkinson is usually very clear, but every now and then will come out with something a bit bizarre. “Massive Dad … have a sense of humour like Japanese fusion cooking, with their combination of social detail and zaniness,” she says. Does Japanese fusion cooking contain social detail and zaniness? Well no, of course it bloody doesn’t. Wilkinson’s attempts to then drily explain sketches she knows are “absurd” comes across as… well, absurd. You won’t understand what any of Massive Dad’s vingettes were about by means of Wilkinson’s plodding summaries; she should have either rethought how to do this or concluded that you had to be there.

Similarly, we’d like to meet the sub-editor who let her get away with “Off-beat, deliberately bad acting and moments of eccentric rage make Bond the clown to Shaw’s straight(ish) man (woman (princess)).” Punctuation is a lady, not a whore.

But for the most part it’s clear, and engaging, and even entertaining. And when Wilkinson doesn’t like something she’s very down-the-line with it. “The inclusion of one too many naff puns comes across as lazy rather than ironic … A few of the sketches rely too heavily on gimmicky techniques such as the interior monologue voice-over”.

It all feels quite solid and reliable. You can trust her judgment. Wilkinson just needs to be stricter with herself and tidy up her copy. Goodness knows the Fringe freesheets won’t do it for her.

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Cara McNamara


cara-mcnamaraThis year The Skinny has taken to packing shows together for review, which may be new editor Ben Venables’ way of getting more work out of his staff. For my money this approach works best when the shows under discussion have some points in common.

The Skinny does indeed bind the shows together as themes, but McNamara’s discussion of “alienation and relationships” is so broad that she could have put any two shows on the Fringe in here. And indeed she discusses chalk after cheese: Alex Edelman’s easygoing charm and then Phil Nichol’s dark drama. We wouldn’t do that with reviewers. You will notice that I am only discussing comedy reviewer Cara McNamara in this review, rather than Cara McNamara followed by, I dunno, a brothel reviewer called George McCoy. I don’t know why but we just think it’s better this way.

The ditzy poetasting doesn’t help. “Being a stranger in a strange land makes you fall back on your resources. Everyone loves seeing their lives reflected as if through a circus mirror. For example, Alex Edelman …” In other news, Everyone likes cornflakes. Non-sequiturs live in trees.

Once this somnolent throat-clearing is over, however, McNamara improves, giving a crisp and clear account of Edelman and, to begin with, Phil Nichol. Yet while it’s very clear that McNamara didn’t like Nichol’s Angel In The Abattoir, it’s not easy to pinpoint precisely what her problem is. “This is neither surreal nor literary; it’s sixth form studies stuff,” she says. No clearer. “It slides through every wet dream trope in the teenage boy’s canon.” Do you mean fantasy? Does every teenage boy really have a canon of wet dream tropes? I can’t help thinking McNamara could do with a visit from the Plain English Campaign. And beyond that I do wish reviewers would stop putting the word ‘trope’ into everything they look at these days.

There are more connections to be made with Pippa Evans and Jenny Bede: “both slim, blonde, pretty”. Excellent. “Both card-carrying feminists…” oh. I do hope they don’t mind you lumping them together for being blonde and pretty. “…who see no reason to apologise for being female and funny.” Hmm. Has anyone ever asked for such an apology?

It’s a shame because she has something. Her writing is very buzzy, and it’s well paced and engaging. It just tries to be a little too clever sometimes.

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