RM Ballantyne

SCOTSGAY

rmballantyneWe assume that this name is ersatz, since we are very clever here at Fringepig and I know that RM Ballantyne was a Scottish children’s author in Victorian times, who wrote such ripping yarns as The Coral Island, forerunner to the altogether more dystopian Lord of the Flies.

Of course, I could be wrong. It is entirely conceivable that there would be another RM Ballantyne, just as there’s somewhere, undoubtedly, a k d lang who spells her initials with capitals and likes cock. Somewhere there’s a panda, beloved of another Becky Walker, who isn’t half as clever as me. There is a universe within any name; of course there is.

So excuse me if I get this wrong, but I’m going to refer to this Ballantyne as a ‘he’ in tribute to the other one. I beg forgiveness if this is wrong, but there are no clues in the reviewer’s prose and, while I should hate to make impolitic assumptions, I do need a gender-specific pronoun in order to write this.

So: R M Ballantyne. He has the air of someone who has seen it all and is now a bit fed up with it. Not, I must stress, the faux-worldweary gasping and huffing of a freesheet zine reviewer but an altogether more mellow ennui: jaded, corked, weathered and tarnished. The person behind these reviews is either on older person or a youngster wizened before their time.

“It seems to me that the audience that would most enjoy this show in any numbers are more likely to be sitting around after a few cocktails on their cruise ship lapping up tame tales of a wild life and the nostalgia of their childhoods,” he concludes of All-Nude College Girl Revue. Of The Goddess of Walnuts he says “Don’t let the ‘walnuts’ in the title fool you. This is better described as an old chestnut.”

I wish he would like things more, but at the same time he explains his problems with them so lucidly that I can do nothing but sigh resignedly, the way that resigned sighs echo throughout these reviews. I don’t know why such a chap would go and see the memoirs of Caroline Rhea, but I can certainly appreciate that hearing the adult Sabrina the Teenage Witch do a transatlantic Scots accent must be very trying indeed. I just want to run RM a hot bath at this point.

Stranger, though, is his account of The Bitches Box. How can something in which “Most of the audience laughed, howled even” and is “one bitchin’ good show” come away with a three-star review? This was RM’s chance to find some last vestige of joy in the world; to rail against the dying of the light.

Most SGFringe reviewers are star-chuckers; you’re unlucky if you get this mysterious cove (or covette) along. That’s not to say that these reviews are not well written, or enjoyable: they are.

Becky Walker’s Panda

 

Pete Kelly

LONDON IS FUNNY

petekellyOf all the reviewers to get cross with Carl Hutchinson for having a show about nothing much, Pete Kelly gets the crossest. “There should be a Fringe award for flimsiest premise in a stand-up show,” he growls. “[His show] conforms to the current orthodoxy that an hour of stand-up must conclude with a trite moral about how we should live our lives”.

I agree with Kelly’s feelings, in part, but herein the kernel of the comedian’s dilemma: so many Fringe comedy shows sum up with a trite moral because, if they don’t, the likes of Steve Bennett and Jay Richardson will write that your show “lacked structure” or “seemed inconclusive” or even “needs an ending”.

The trite moral at the end is how 99 per cent of Fringegoers believe they have been ridden to completion, and that they can now leave the hot dark room pregnant with some sort of notion. Even when it’s not a notion at all but a barren, stillborn platitude. So the reason why 900 comedy shows chug along to the same beats and breaks and rhythms is, I think, because people – particularly reviewers – have beaten them into the one shape they fucking like.

Similarly Kelly isn’t overly impressed with Peacock and Gamble, calling the straight man vs force-of-nature maniac pairing “really quite traditional” and “like a tribute act to Lee and Herring”. Harsh – especially when he does seem to acknowledge, between the lines, that the show works. So at this point I’m saying “Bloody hell Kelly, what DO you like?” But I don’t know, because I can only find these two reviews.

Pete Kelly expects the unexpected, and is angry when it isn’t there. So if I hear that he’s been to something totally off the wall in 2014, and then written the usual reviewer twaddle about the lack of “show structure” and “payoff” I sear I’ll be down on him like a ton of bricks.

For now I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. His reviews are well-written and he seems to care passionately about what he likes or, at these two shows, mostly doesn’t. Maybe he should see a lot more things next year, and concentrate on telling us about any that fit his template for a new and thrilling form of comedy.

Becky Walker’s Panda

Nancy Napper-Canter

BROADWAY BABY

nancynappercanterNancy Napper-Canter saw two comedy shows in the 2013 Fringe, and gave them three stars between them. She was similarly ungenerous the year before, where she seemed to respond to a show called We Love Comedy with the riposte “Well I bloody don’t so piss off”.

Not that she’s workshy: she takes 550 words to explain, blow by blow, why she didn’t enjoy Darts Wives. While she claims to have watched Shhhh – An Improvised Silent Movie “in a state of complete bafflement”, this doesn’t prevent her from taking a scalpel to it for the length of a short dissertation, utterly ignoring its screams for mercy. I don’t think she was baffled at all.

We have to go right back to Roisin Conaty’s show of 2012 to find someone who put a genuine, five-star smile on Napper-Canter’s face. Here we can see that her prose style improves with her mood, and, what’s more, the people she likes get away with 400 words or less. Although I agree with the reviewer’s conclusions on comedy genius, I can’t say that her writeups would bring me to that conclusion by themselves. In several reviews she recites “brilliant” or “perfect” jokes that leave you shrugging and sensing that you really needed to have been there.

Harsh and sometimes dismissive (if you CAN dismiss something by writing a novelette about it), Napper-Canter is by no means a bad grammarian or a poor composer of critiques. She just needs a bit more inspiration and a bit less explanation.

Business Leopard

 

Vonny Moyes

THE GUARDIAN / THE SKINNY

vonnymoyesVonny Moyes isn’t a bad reviewer. In fact she could be great.

Reviewing is not, of course, anything that greatly adds to the canon of literature, but some of her passages really sing. Of the show Pick Me Up she writes: “One or two sketches feel just a touch unresolved, and a meandering narrative sometimes leaves you playing catch up, though the rest is so blindingly hilarious it’s instantly forgivable.” Critique, counter-critique, resolution – and all in one fluid sentence. Very nice.

It’s a shame then that her prose seems to wander from the School of Excellence to go and sniff glue behind the bike sheds of sub-journalese. She uses the word ‘gonna’ a bit much, and of Ian Cognito she writes “The Mary Whitehouse brigade would probably crap their billowy pants, but that’s exactly what comedy should do. It should divide.” Billowy pants? I’m also unsure whether she means the defunct Viewers and Listeners Association or the defunct Newman-Baddiel-Punt-Dennis vehicle. Either way it sounds like she’s trying to look grown up by swearing. It is also detracts from a perfectly valid opinion.

There’s a fair bit of malapropism: stating that The Curse of Elizabeth Faulkner was about people trying to “excise their granny” genuinely had me thinking they were trying to get some tax out of her. If magazines like The Skinny employed eagle-eyed subeditors it would greatly improve the work of talented but rough-edged shavers like Moyes.

She’s a bit of a star-chucker too, even things she says nothing good about tend to end up with three. This is not a capital crime; it suggests that Moyes’s talents, once properly honed, will be used for good. And we can only admire her for having a heartfelt go at Copstick’s rape comments at Fringe 2013. On the whole, a pretty fine reviewer who just needs to keep chucking ’em out.

Business Leopard

 

 

Richard Speir

BROADWAY BABY

richardspeirIt’s never easy trying to reviewer a reviewer who has reviewed precisely one comedy show in their entire life. Apart from anything, a person should be allowed to try everything once, should they not? I would not dream of grading Liam Speir on his proclivities with one ladyboy or one hit of methamphetamine, or one attempt at being a silver-painted living statue (note: we have no evidence that Richard Speir has ever been a living statue). But Fringepig is a work of completeism, and so it is my onerous duty to divine the soul of Richard Speir from one review. It might be easier if he’d gone to see something off the beaten track, but no – he went to see the Oxford Revue: “a safe bet”, as he assures us – particularly as the show was free.

Richard Speir only usually reviews theatre, and you sense that he dropped in on this very other thing and decided he might as well review that too. Like Victorian missionaries, BB reviewers take their civilising ministry wherever they please. He’s still thinking like a theatre reviewer, appalled that acts not on stage should chat to each other and drink alcohol by the bar. “[It] take[s] breaking the ‘fourth wall’ to another level. Why not just hide behind the bar, or face the back wall while standing still?” he tuts.

Yet this naiveté is welcome elsewhere: “The Butless Chaps are genuinely funny (which I find key to comedy)” he explains, helpfully. “Although it was a pity about the tough crowd. The act deserved more of a reaction than was offered, especially in the beginning, and they did very well without a decent audience to bounce off.” Well, that’s the sort of observation we could do with more of, frankly. Most reviewers treat the crowd in the room as a faultless jury; twelve good men (or women) and true – even though twelve is way above average for shows in 2013.

On the whole, I’d be happy to see Speir write some more reviews, if only because it would mean his colleagues writing rather less.

Billy Coconuts