Victoria Nangle

FEST / FRINGE GURU

victorianangleWhen you read Victoria Nangle’s reviews you find yourself muttering ‘Get on with it’ a lot. There’s a great deal of throat-clearing and pussyfooting, all of it taking up ink and paper that could have been used for poetry, or a treatise on human rights or something.

Take her first paragraph on Candy Gigi:

Looking for love is a familiar trope in Edinburgh comedy shows. Comedians’ hours are anti social—read that as perma-single—so it’s an easily relatable topic, and there’s plenty of scope for individual anecdotes as well as the broader familiar themes. Have the lovelorn idea intersect with a clown, unafraid to switch without warning between gleefully terrifying and sharply absurd, and you’re left with something truly unusual.

Clearly she’s trying to get all her metaphorical ducks in a row before offering a critique. But it’s confusing, difficult to read and largely unnecessary. It makes us think that maybe the one-tweet-reviewers have something after all. Because her second paragraph begins: “Framed loosely within the construct of a romantic date with a member of the audience, Chicken Soup doesn’t so much feed the soul as threaten it at knifepoint.” Fucking hooray. Now you’re telling us about the show in a way that offers wit and opinion. This is good. Why wasn’t this your opening? And why am I doing the Fest sub-editor’s job?

The review continues with things like “Gigi doesn’t shy from making herself appear crudely grotesque and almost demonic at times”, but doesn’t tell us how. We know, from reading other reviews, that Gigi eats onions. But using proper nouns would, it seems, stick in Nangle’s throat and make her cry. Her reviews are remarkably muddy.

Her opening lines on Matt Winning demonstrate that she’s anxious not to give any jokes away:

“There’s something to be said for starting your show with a bang. Kicking off with what he claims is ‘the most expensive opening joke at the Fringe’, Matt Winning does just that.”

This is an honourable impulse, but it tends to manifest itself in the non-description she gives of Winning’s show. Apart from the fact that Winning calls himself the son of Robert Mugabe, it’s hard to work out what else is going on.  Similarly her review of Paul Sinha reads rather like the 100-word precis comedians crank out to a Fringe Society deadline months before they’ve written the jokes yet. You keep wanting her to zoom in on something – anything – and give us a taste of what this comic is about. But there’s just a fuzzy overview about how nice it all was, and suggestions that Sinha doesn’t like Keith Lemon or Paddy McGuinness. It’s all a bit of a tease and you wish she’d either tell us these stories properly or not mention them.

It’s odd, because her opening on Steve Bugeja is cracking:

“What happens when an already socially awkward man finds himself driving the father of the girl he loves, on day release from prison, to her wedding to another man? You’ll find the answer in this touching and funny show, which takes a roomful of people on a most surprising road trip.”

It may just be that a really good premise gives Nangle the focus she needs. But really, she needs to cut the flannel from all her reviews. To adapt one of her comments about Matt Winning: It’s a shame, because she can clearly write.

Jemyma C Noevil

Claire Smith

THE SCOTSMAN

clairesmithClaire Smith – or ‘The Scotsman’s Clair Smith’, as the Wow24/7 website denomes her – is every bit as good a reviewer as you’d expect a veteran hack to be. (Note to comedians: ‘hack’ is not a pejorative term in journalism.)

You might not agree with everything she writes, nor the assumptions on which she builds her arguments. In her review of Felicity Ward she writes that “a lot of creative people fear analysing their quirks”, despite working in an environment where 1,200 comedy creatives want to talk about their quirks for a whole hour. And her comment that Henning Wehn’s “joke telling is as dry, logical and precise as German engineering” is the sort of thing a freshly-minted student reviewer would think is really clever.

However, such bumps can only jolt the reader because the rest of the road is so smooth; on the whole Smith’s reviews are marvellously clear, articulate and witty without giving the impression she’s trying to compete with her subject. She tells us that “Candy Gigi eats onions, disco dances in a pig mask and false boobs shaking maracas, and simulates sex with a blow-up doll dressed as a Hasidic Jew. She talks about poo and dirty sex and does unspeakable things to a real chicken”. This seems to commit the reviewing sin of set-listing, but the important thing is that Smith only does this where it’s genuinely intriguing. And it certainly is with Candy Gigi.

Smith’s matter-of-factness results in some statements that don’t sound like passages on the way to critical approval but in fact are: “Ward has galloping irritable bowel syndrome, severe anxiety and bouts of depression”. “[Christie] begins by constructing a ludicrously grotesque definition of a feminist”; “Christie lengthily, wilfully and deliberately misses the point of Nigel Farage”. It’s a small thing but helps reinforce Smith’s ability to hold a show at arm’s length and to see it before she judges it.

I have a small problem with her comment about This is Your Trial that “Defence lawyer Rachel Parris probably should have laid off the Chardonnay before the performance”. If she was drunk then tell us, but let’s not jump to the conclusion that pretty blonde girls only quaff bimbo juice. Well, not if you’re going to declare an admiration for Bridget Christie.

Are we allowed to say that girls are pretty? Of course we are. Although I did wonder how Candy Gigi’s “lovely skin” was a vital factor next to her pig mask and onion-scoffing. But if such minor improprieties are the price of seeing some old-school professionalism on the Fringe then it’s a price worth paying.

Jemyma C. Noevil

Yasmin Sulaiman

THE LIST

yasmin-sulaimanWe at FringePig often bemoan the lazy reviewer who, either uncertain of their own credibility or unwilling to condemn a show outright, signs off a review with words to the effect that it’s okay if you like that sort of thing. Yasmin Sulaiman, though, is the first reviewer shameless enough to say that precisely. Joanna Neary is apparently “well worth your time – if you like this sort of thing”.

Indeed, throughout this review you’re willing her to have the courage of her convictions. When she says that Neary’s show is “not a surefire crowd-pleaser by a long way” that seems fair enough except that, by day six of the Fringe, Neary will still be finding her crowd. But the next line is just annoying: “But if your humour leans towards the quirky, and your sensibility to this side of vintage, it’s enrapturing”. Whereas she could have said “quirky, anachronistic and enrapturing”, Sulaiman opted to make any potential rapture subject to the dubious possibility that the reader likes quirks or anything ‘vintage’.

This tendency to make her vignettes of praise fight each other like foxes in a bag can be seen in her knowledge of the earlier work of Neary and in her review of Lazy Susan. In both cases, the older stuff was better. Her Lazy Susan review begins: “There’s no doubting the talent of Celeste Dring and Freya Parker”; the word ‘talent’ really requiring italics. There’s no doubting their talent, but Sulaiman is about to explain why it only adds up to three stars, which is pretty much all she’s prepared to give anything; even Matt Forde’s Let’s Get the Political Party Started where she lavishes nothing but unfettered praise.

She complains the Marcus Brigstocke’s monodrama, Fully Committed, is anachronistic because all the women in it are unpleasant and ‘whiny’, as if a play with whiny women was somehow a concrete value statement about ALL women. It’s hilarious that Marcus Brigstock should suffer friendly fire on his PC credentials, and testament to how hungry people are to score points by sticking up for imaginary victims.

Not that Sulaiman ever nails her political colours to the mast. She doesn’t like that sort of thing.

Everything is good IF you like that sort of thing. We understand that. But what we need of Sulaiman is for her to tell us that something (ANYTHING!) is unimpeachably brilliant or irredeemably dire without weaseling around it with ifs and buts and on-the-other-hands. We understand that in a universe of limitless perspectives, tastes and sensibilities a gut response may be open to question and qualification. But for goodness sake, Yasmin, just feel something with your heart.

Ben Shannon

THREE WEEKS

benshannonBen Shannon is a likeable presence whose relaxed hand on the tiller eases the audience into the situation, combining a light-hearted patter and confidence beyond his years. Don’t take my word for it, though. Because those were not my words. They were a reviewer’s words, back when Shannon was in Three Men and a Saucepan in 2013.

Now here’s an interesting thing. Back in 2004 Michael Legge was given a one-star review by a reviewer who was Probably Not Very Good (I know, I know) and who later decided to be a comedian. The fact that Michael Legge did not make him very welcome whenever the two should meet is one of those stories comedians now tell in the backs of cars.

And now Michael Legge has been reviewed yet again by someone determined to straddle the fence of arsery and artistry while only pissing on one side of it. This time he’s got a four, so there’ll be no stern talkings-to (probably) but you have to ask yourself: where do these people get off? Not just the fence but, you know, generally? How do you SIT THERE, assessing someone doing comedy, write that it wasn’t very good, or it was okay, or it was brilliant but then a bit MEH, and then go and do it yourself, fretting about whether there’s one of those cunt reviewers in?  It’s like Jack the Ripper moonlighting as a prostitute, and hoping he doesn’t end up going home with a wrong’un.

We might shrug if Ben Shannon wasn’t bothered about opinions and that it’s, if I may quote The Wire, “All in the game”. But he tells us very proudly that he got three stars from Three Weeks on the first day of performance back then. Presumably – to misquote Victor Kiam – he liked the review so much, he joined the company. And he provides a quote from that nice Marc Blake, who used to play Helmut the German. So opinions mean a lot to him, as they do to any new comedian. Here’s mine: choose a bloody side.

If he chooses to stick with reviewing he’s by no means bad at it. His sentences are well formed and nicely paced. More importantly he manages to get his passion across in a short space of words. He occasionally tails off into throwaways like “you won’t regret” going, or “Edinburgh will be seeing more” of someone, or, in the case of Ivo Graham, the rather verbose “it would be foolish to ignore the fact that he is one of the circuit’s truly talented wordsmiths, and his skills only continue to improve”. Three Weeks only prints slug reviews, yet you can’t help imagining Shannon’s eye is on the word count and his mind, no doubt, on how many stars he needs to dish out to avoid difficult confrontations with his comedy peers as he goes to new places and meets new people.

This is why moonlighting doesn’t work, and why Mister Kipper doesn’t allow us to give these subterfugees more than one pig. So suck on your single sausage, Mister Shannon, and next year come back as a baddie OR a good guy. You can’t be both at the same time. This isn’t The Wire.

Jemyma C. Noevil

* Note: Ben Shannon is performing with Mike Reed (not, we presume, the dead one who was married to Pat Butcher) at Moriarty’s (Venue 332) for the Free Festival at 4.15pm daily. It’s free. Please donate enough money at the end that he can leave reviewing behind him.

Claire Sawers

THE LIST

clairesawersIf I had to sum up Claire Sawers in one word it would have to be ‘dismissive’. She is airily dismissive of things she finds too insubstantial, like Phil Wang or Rhys James. In James’s review, in fact, she’s trying so hard not to care about what he does that she seems to suggest she doesn’t know what’s going on in the industry: “…the ‘haircut comedians’, presumably a new genre where puppyish, pretty, young, but underwhelming, still undercooked stand-ups get chucked in, and doused in faint praise”. In other words, she doesn’t know what it is, but she’s pretty sure she hates it.

The stuff she gives three stars to doesn’t get any greater respect: Dead Ghost Star is “enjoyably batshit, child-friendly comedy gibberish” and Jo Caulfield is “a professional snide; an acid-tongued, quick-witted moaner”. Susan Calman’s fans are “mostly early-to-bed Radio 4 listeners and ‘the cliterati’.”

Low-starred shows are rarely given itemised pointers by which they may improve themselves, in fact it’s a feature of Sawers that her twos read like threes and her threes may pass without a single admonition. Yet in most of her appraisals there’ll be an airy one-line brush-off that makes it clear just how predictable and tedious and generic most of the treats laid out for Claire Sawers truly are.

She can be just as efficient with her praise. “[David] Trent looks like Goliath, but thinks like David, and his Charlie Brooker-style bashing of pop culture and current politics’ daftest muppets is very deftly done, “ she says. And I would like to reinforce that point with a second example, but I haven’t been able to find one.

Claire Sawers is a deeply ungenerous reviewer, but that’s not to say that she is a bad one. She is sharp as a cat’s claw most of the time, particularly considering the volume of stuff she writes. You just wonder whether she should stop it, and find a job she likes.

Jemyma C Noevil