Eve Livingston

THE SKINNY

There’s no affectation to Eve Livingston’s reviews; they’re straight as an arrow hewn out at the Rolls Royce machineworks. The quality isn’t far off either.

If Livingston has one fault it’s perhaps her conviction that she has to comment on every bit of the show; not quite blow by blow but certainly every major movement. Talking of which, there’s a moment in her appraisal of Next Best Thing: How to be Good at Everything where her rather anodyne treatment turns a tad puritan:  “The show does at points rely on toilet humour, which can seem incongruous with the style of wit and writing elsewhere”. However, since she’s fine with another show where the future is predicted in bog paper (Kat Bond: Loo Roll), we can only conclude she’s genuinely counting each show on its merits.

Livingston is particularly interested in how the audience is reacting to the show, which is no bad thing. Bond “responds well to unpredictable contributions”; with Next Best Thing “it becomes clear that many of the crowd are not comfortable with what is being asked of them”. This sounds a bit like she’s extrapolating an on-the-night experience into a general point, but it’s fair to say that discomfiture is something she positively enjoys when watching Evelyn Mok: “At points she treats truly upsetting admissions like punchlines, looking to the audience for a reaction as they grapple to find the correct one.”

From the evidence available, it doesn’t appear that Livingston has a bug she can’t bear or a grate she won’t mitigate. We must start our 2017 reviewer-reviewing off by awarding her the Fringepig Star of Reasonableness, 2nd Class, with oak leaves and sprinkles. Which is another of those truly upsetting admissions, I suppose, but one we’ll all have to deal with.

 

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.

Stu Black

THE SKINNY

stublackStu Black is quite refreshing. Perhaps I feel like that because we’ve all had a week in the FringePig office looking at reviewers eager to winkle out misogynists and those guilty of cultural essentialism or national exceptionalism or gender reductivism. Reviewers who have taken on the job of culture police.

And then suddenly we have Mr Black writing, of Diane Spencer’s show about Nancy Dell’Olio: “Her takedown of the oleaginous Botox bucket is as brutal as a mafia hit. We do hope Spencer has her protection sorted, and this therapeutic dragon-slaying doesn’t bring Dell’Olio’s legal chums or cousins from Sicily round to her flat to break the radiators.” I feel unable to enjoy this kicking of Dell’Olio because I don’t know her. But I do know a man from Sicily who isn’t in the Cosa Nostra. So, you know, it’s possible Stu. Maybe dial the Mind Your Language stuff back a bit.

Still, at least he’s very clear. After I’d read a Fest reviewer’s take on Brett Goldstein’s Burning Man, I hoped that some other reviewer would come along, at some point in the Fringe, and explain what it was ACTUALLY about. So when Stu Black writes: “The main spark of this show is an offhand remark made by Goldstein’s mother that sets off an existential dilemma that ultimately leads him to the Burning Man festival in Nevada” he not only explains a quite complex idea succinctly but satisfies a curiosity that, in me, dates to the beginning of the Fringe.

SO he makes me wish I’d seen Brett Goldstein. But I DID see Sarah Callaghan:

“She imagines her bedroom and invites us to look around: photos on the wardrobe, a broken curtain rail, don’t step on her notes, mate! It’s all a bit like this – she welcomes and repels at the same time.  She pins her spikiness on ambition and assures us it will all get better once she’s on TV”.

That about covers what I saw. It’s a simple thing, but when you see something you like and it gets misdescribed, it really grates. Black didn’t like Callaghan as much as I did, but I don’t doubt that he knew what he was looking at.

So I’m willing to accept that Twonky’s Stinking Bishop is “a wilfully weird show that would probably be best appreciated after taking a crash helmet full of drugs”. Although I find it hard to believe that a man who “sings uncomfortable ditties about sheep dip and haunted cable cars, and also performs incredible feats with the assistance of a menagerie of unsettling puppets” is only worth two stars. His review makes him sound delightful.

Derwent Cyzinski

Craig Angus

THE SKINNY

craigangusCraig Angus is a good example of how The Skinny’s new approach to reviews may not be working. Reviewers now have to see a whole bunch of shows and then, when they’re ready to share their accumulated wealth of opinion, they have to sew them all together with a causal thread. So The Skinny is not so much publishing reviews this year as putting out articles about shows and furnishing them with stars as it goes.

It all comes across as a bit forced in Craig Angus’s roundup of sketch comedy (although a roundup of Fringe sketch comedy IS very useful, don’t get us wrong). Having told us that the sketch group Daphne “finish on an a capella cockney sing-song”, he then tries to roll his observations over into the next paragraph, even though he hasn’t really made any and there’s absolutely nothing to compare them:

“That equilibrium extends to Phil Wang’s understated style and juxtaposes with the physical intensity of Jason Forbes – who plays a grieving mother and clumsy barista with glorious dramatic range – and the idiosyncratic show-stealer George Fouracres, introduced by the group affectionately as ‘the token white guy’.”

The sheer length of some of Angus’s sentences (the one above is paragraph-long) betray the fact that he is carrying too many concepts at once. He drops them all over the floor and then breaks them up with dashes and commas. He needs to take more time, concentrate on what’s important and decide whether he is going to explain the workings of his favourite jokes or not.

His approach is a halfway house: “The material is a mix of the utterly bizarre (you’ll never think of Postman Pat in the same way again), the snappy and immediate (such as a great putdown of Radio 4’s The Archers)”. As in the world of sex offenders and drug addicts, the reviewing halfway house is a sad place. We don’t know why these jokes were, by turn, ‘utterly bizarre’ OR ‘snappy and immediate ‘because he uses a lot of words to not actually tell us.

It’s not as if Angus CAN’T hit the right note of disclosing just enough, as he does with his review of Lazy Susan: “A sketch about Geordie micro pigs is otherworldly in its greatness, as if it had been plucked from a Lynchian dream sequence.” And a Massive Dad’s sketch, “an exploration of the overly-sexualised marketing of yoghurt (and other tedious foodstuffs) is bang on the money.” He can be good. But he enjoys  the sketch group Midbrow so much that he rambles on about them for far too long and loses his dynamic.

“ ‘Why do sketch groups have such terrible names?’ a friend remarks, as I read my scribbled itinerary from the back of the latest meal-deal receipt. ‘Apart from Massive Dad, obviously.’ Yes, Massive Dad…”

Whereas I normally can’t stand reviewers putting themselves into the review, in this case I was just relieved that he’d segued from one review to the next without stalling or putting his narrative vehicle into reverse.  At best it’s all very stop and start.

Angus will be a competent reviewer before too long. Perhaps, in changing the format, The Skinny has demanded that its reviewers do the critics’ equivalent of shifting from a ten-minute set to an hour-long show. Some are not quite ready yet.

Becky Walker’s Panda

Cara McNamara

THE SKINNY

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.

Business Leopard