Stephanie Withers

THREE WEEKS

stephaniewithersStephanie Withers gives the impression of being scared of running over the word limit. Her reviews release their information in staccato squirts of data. Occasionally she’ll pair two sentences with a comma. But mostly it reads like this.

However, her reviews are better than this makes them sound. They’re perfectly clear and she always takes care to note the show’s premise. Her reviews tend to go such-and-such is about those moments when your blah blah goes blah. It really had me laughing when blah happpened. Blah and blah worked very well in the sketch about blah. However, I didn’t like blah so much, it needed more blah. Overall, a great bit of blah if you like your comedy blah.” And what more does anyone need?

Withers’ admirable desire to create reviews that cover the entire breadth of each show means that her writing sometimes gets squashed by Three Weeks‘ tiny word limit. So although I’m sure her description of Trgve Wakenshaw’s Kraken is accurate, it leaves me none the wiser as to what she is actually describing: “Using just his body, and vocal sound effects, ‘KRAKEN’ takes the audience’s imagination to various weird and wonderful places, creating a vivid world where we see unicorns alongside rap battles.” WHAT is going on here? I mean, she’s told us… but then again she hasn’t. I suppose I should have seen it. But I do wish I had a better idea of what I missed.

But at least Withers creates a sense of intrigue, and she has a nice way of saying that the central joke of The Pin is wearing a bit thin: “The better material seems more heavily weighted to the first half, when the editing gag is still fresh, and towards the end I perhaps started to feel the concept’s bite waning”. She is, throughout her canon of critique, politer than most reviewers.

She has some irritating habits though, such as using exclamation marks for no good reason. And when she uses inverted commas it’s not clear if she’s quoting someone or suggesting, in the style of Miranda Hart’s on-screen mother, that the term she is using is quite exotic and unique to her: “They spend their set hilariously replaying and editing sketches to ‘pad the show out’,” she tells us. But really I’m just picking holes. Withers does a very good job of jamming a lot of information into a small space as Three Weeks requires, so that all the space left over can be sold to attention-seeking morons who know no better.

Edmund Rumania

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

Kate Wilkinson

BROADWAY BABY / EDFRINGE REVIEW

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.

Business Leopard

Helen Ackrill

CHORTLE

heken-ackrillHelen Ackrill has a strong sense of what’s fair, and never criticises anything without first giving a thorough explanation. And when she praises something she tends to do it from the side, above, below and close up. Helen Ackrill tends to say the same thing over and over again.

I’m not going to be a dick about it because it’s clear that she’s just trying to be reasonable and probably doesn’t yet have the confidence of her own words. She should have. When she tells us that “[Darren] Walsh struggles with the few heckles made at his expense”, that works fine as a statement. It didn’t need the 80 words that comprised the rest of the paragraph and said the same thing different ways. Similarly she doesn’t like it when 50 Shades of Fizzog introduce a fourth actor halfway through. Her instincts are correct, this IS perhaps a bit unusual. But Ackrill didn’t need to suggest a whole raft of reasons why it might have happened.

For all this, the progress of the show is always made very clear and one can only admire Ackrill’s enthusiasm; particularly in her love-letter review to Markus Birdman. She doesn’t get too florid, either, though she needs to avoid lazy idioms. Where she writes “Puns are like Marmite” I wanted to respond “What are cliché’s like, Helen? Salad cream?” (Actually maybe I AM going to be a dick about it…)

Also I’d like to nominate Helen for the Fringepig Faint Praise Award, which I just invented,  for writing “It makes a refreshing change to have a comedian chat about everyday situations without needing to make a joke at the end of every sentence.”

If you want unfunny comedian chat, Helen, come to my flat in Marchmont. We have biscuits.

Boxley de Ribeiro

Will Pope

BROADWAY BABY

willpopeFor any comedian older than about 35, bringing your comedy to the Fringe has a special pitfall: the sizable chance that, if you speak on any subject other than snogging, worrying about your genitals and handing in a dissertation, the 17-year-old student reviewer will brand your material “not always relatable”.

So it’s nice that Will Pope says that Jeff Green is “so enjoyable” because “the audience can identify with so many of the issues he tackles; from marital tension to the joys and difficulties of parenthood, and the reality of coming to terms with failure”.

It’s a good thing when you can’t quite place a reviewer’s age by the things they say. Pope does some youngish things, such as putting himself in the frame too much – his Adam Riches review is peppered with “I was expecting” this or “I was disappointed” by the other. He also has a bit of a tic about asking rhetorical questions and using turgid reviewerisms such as “dry and pedestrian”. But at other times his prose is elevated and mature.

Indeed, Pope makes a decent fist of summing up what he sees in general terms. He needs to go in for the close-up a bit more: he’ll rattle on about seamless segues and universal truisms and brilliant anecdotes without providing a single example. Nobody wants Pope to give the game (or any punchlines) away, but if something’s worth seeing then he needs to whet our appetites with more than adjectival bluster.

We can add to this Pope’s habit of throwing stars around like John-Paul the Second doing beatifications. Everything so far this year is a five-star hit, apparently. But then I’m always rather unsure about how much to needle critics for really liking stuff, even if they claim to like everything. Since Pope makes a detailed case for everything he approves of, I think I won’t.

Derwent Cyzinski