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.

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

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

Marni Appleton

BROADWAY BABY

marni-appletonMarni Appleton isn’t a terrible reviewer – let’s be clear about that. She lays out very clearly what the viewer can expect in broad strokes, and her prose is clear and unjumbled. That may sound like faint praise, but we’re talking about Broadway Baby here, where every writer with basic literacy skills is like a little gift.

It’s just that her appraisals show little flair for the ‘creative writing’ she’s apparently studying. In fact they’re rather plodding, dot-to-dot reductions of what was on her plate, to the extent that you find yourself reading them in an adenoidal monotone.

It’s good to know that Felicity Ward is “self-deprecating, inspiring, silly”, but can’t you offer us something a little more insightful, Marni? Something that gets under the skin a bit more? Similarly, the fact that the jokes were “well-timed” and “well-observed” still doesn’t tell me what sort of jokes they were.

Appleton seems to be missing the bigger picture here. The title What if There is no Toilet? is a bathetic piss-take of the existential question “What if there is no heaven?”, or “What if there is no God?” Ward is praying over a toilet in the picture, so the irreverent intention couldn’t really be clearer. Is that funny? Is it offensive? I’m not telling Appleton how to feel about it, I just want her to mention it. And I want to know how this title serves the show.

Other bits just ring a bit odd. For example, Appleton tells us of Goodbear: “There is a surprisingly large amount of death in this piece – particularly of women. Although most of it was funny, by the time we got to the sketch describing the drowning of one of the character’s wives, the female death count had begun to make me feel more than a little uncomfortable.” I wonder how many imaginary female deaths should be allowed per show, and whether Ms Appleton thinks there should be a quota? I’m guessing she just noticed something and, rather than feeling an adverse reaction, decided she ought to have one.

So when she says “you have to laugh” at something, I’m not convinced that I do, and when she tells us that something is “brilliant”, I’m not sure it’s any more brilliant than when you find seagull poo on your car and you say “Oh, well that’s just fucking brilliant”. Except that there would be a bit of passion in that. And real depth of feeling, for all her unthinking hyperbole, is what Appleton is perhaps missing.

Business Leopard

Larry Bartleet

larrybartfleetBROADWAY BABY

There’s a certain sort of FringePig reader who only reads the reviewer-reviews that are two pigs and below. Some of them even write in to ask why we bother praising some reviewers, suggesting that’s not what we’re here for.

So it’s with apologies to these readers (probably, let’s face it, 90 per cent of you out there) that I must gingerly shrug my leopard shoulders and present our first reviewer-review this year: the altogether rather excellent Larry Bartleet.

I don’t think I’ve read a review before that contained the word ‘pleonasm’. I don’t think I’ve read anything, anywhere, that did. Or ‘indubitable’, for that matter. (In case you’re wondering, ‘pleonasm’ is a synonym for ‘tautology’).

There is space to argue whether such exotics are necessary in a Fringe review aimed not just at the unwashed but the Broadway Baby, freesheet unwashed. I doubt whether many people on my street know even what tautology is.

Yet Bartleet can be forgiven the occasional bit of dictionary diving; it’s the way he strings things together that marks him out from the notebook flock.

For example there’s his review of Rhys Nicholson and “his mischievous jokes, which march deep into taboo territory and, on occasion, bring back considerable spoils”. Or Sara Pascoe, whose “set succeeds in providing keen intellectual engagement, perhaps at the expense of a definitive moment of hilarity”. Of Kitten Killers he observes “It’s the intense speed of the scenes that deprives them of the success they deserve”.

It’s hard to sort his mild rebukes from his faint praise sometimes, but it doesn’t really matter – everything Bartleet writes is tremendously considered and lyrically competent. The worst anyone will feel is the sensation of being hit round the face with a scatter cushion.

If you could have Steve Bennett without the spelling mistakes, then you would have something approaching Bartleet’s breadth of vision, but it’s the fun had in the approach that makes all the difference.He assesses comedy in the process of enjoying it; never the other way around. It’s hard to say if Bartleet will keep this up as the Fringe drags on but, looking at last year’s output, it seems perfectly possible.

He can get a bit carried away, such as the review of Austentatious with which he opened this year’s batting: “Did they all know what a jalopy was? Nay! Did they flinch? Verily, nay!” Bartleet is very keen to point out careworn tropes, so he should know that every bleeding year some reviewer attempts to review Austentatious in the style of Jane Austen. And to be honest ‘verily, nay’ sounds more Shit-Faced Shakespeare than Austentatious. But you know what? We’ll put it down to high spirits at the start of the season.

So apologies about the early outpouring of pig stars. We are not starting out as we mean to go on, and will continue with this very much behind us. If you’ll excuse the repetitively tautologous neoplasms.

Business Leopard