Cayley James

THE SKINNY

cayleyjamesCayley James is in no doubt that she knows what comedy is, and what must be done to make it better. When she commands that “The Fringe needs more comedians of colour – the overwhelmingly white programme doesn’t lack quality but it does lack perspective,” it surely did not even occur to her that this is of course HER perspective as a white person. Or that, over here, we use the word ‘black’ when we’re talking about black people, rather than some cringing stateside apologia, because we’re all fine with it the way normal people are.

She gets quite angry at times. “Why do some comedians feel like they can waste a platform like the Fringe to hash out dated material?” she storms about Abi Roberts. “Or to make a shallow declaration like: ‘I suppose we’re all just twerking through life?’ Are we? Are we really?”

However, the force of James’s argument is constantly undermined by an insistence on using big words that tubthump like a political manifesto rather than reason like… well, like an appraisal of light entertainment. And the big words are clumsily welded together by some ill-chosen small words, so it’s sometimes like she swallowed a dictionary but coughed it back up in chunks. “It’s almost shocking that he’s playing as big of a venue as he is,” she tells us of Tim Key. “But his ubiquity at the Fringe, as well as on the big and small screen over the past couple of years, has afforded him a dedicated audience willing to be active.” ‘To be active’? Many such twisted and tautologous sentences come crashing to dull and fuzzy conclusions.

Sometimes James is so certain of what she’s saying that she doesn’t stop to consider that the rest of us have no idea at all. Of Tim Key she explains: “As the audience files into the Pleasance Grand Tim Key strolls around the stage, padding about in his sock feet and coveralls. Cheap jazz is playing; the kind of music that you’d expect to score a burgling scene in a slapstick comedy from the 1960s”. Oh, THAT kind of cheap jazz. That’s perfectly clear. Also it’s ‘socked’. SOCKED feet. Don’t tackle the big, cast-iron issues until you’ve taken care of the small, cotton ones.

Even complete non-statements are delivered with a strange sense of portent. “It’s interesting watching someone’s first show” is her opening sentence on Dane Baptiste. To which you want to say “Gosh, is it? IS IT REALLY?”

Michaela Plaidface

 

 

 

Joe Spurgeon

FEST

joespurgeonThere’s not much wrong with Joe Spurgeon. So I’ll start with as much wrong as I can find.

I disagree with his too-frequent two-star allocations. But then, I would. And I wish he would stop mithering on about shows that don’t have a message or a denouement. It’s almost funny when he complains that Chris Dangerfield’s tale of being sexually abused in Sex With Children reaches “no resolution”. Is there any real resolution for a survivor of child abuse? No, but that doesn’t stop Spurgeon wanting his own happy ending. And he only felt dirty for an hour.

But apart from this, Spurgeon has a lot going for him. His reviews are light, pacey and properly highlight snippets of the show he’s talking about. He doesn’t, like so many of his peers, stick his own head in the way of what we wants us to look at: you’ll rarely find Spurgeon using a simile or metaphor that wasn’t provided by the act he’s discussing.

He treads the line between over-explaining the subject matter and the pointless set-listing you’ll find in the likes of Three Weeks, by taking a holistic approach to the jokes and the person: Of Felicity Ward he says: “The theme seems like a bit of a hindrance at times, when in fact Ward’s at her best simply giving us little glimpses of life on Planet Felicity. She re-enacts the three stages of crying to the sound of ‘El Cóndor Pasa’, gorges on German “grief bacon” (look it up) and dreams of a more practical sex line for the over-30s.”

He does a similar thing with Robin Ince: “His major preoccupation this year is science and human biology (specifically, the mind) with some characteristic forays into literature, fatherhood and social convention. Just how do you politely decline a friend’s offer of breastmilk cake?” This sort of zoom-in from generality to a specific picture is the sort of writing device you either know by instinct or have to be taught at journalism school. And how many Fringe hacks went to one of those?

And even though his search for a point can get silly, he does understand the point of silliness. “[Adam] Riches’ carefully selected audience interactions might take a subtextual swipe at male bravado, but that’s to belittle the sheer dumb fun of it all” he says.

So, as I say, there’s not much wrong with Spurgeon. He wrote Googlebox instead of Gogglebox. But in the typographic wasteland of the Fringe, that’s just picking holes.

Michaela Plaidface

 

Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert

MUMBLE COMEDY

markdivinecalvertI don’t know why this reviewer has awarded himself divinity.  Perhaps he bears a passing resemblance to John Waters’ favourite drag queen. Perhaps – even more than all the other reviewers – this one believes himself appointed to pass God’s infallible judgment upon Fringe entertainment.

Whatever the reason, it comes as a disappointment that his reviews are in no way transcendent. This is the chap who wrote the review of Adam Riches that so enraged the comedian’s PR company. In fact it was a three star review that read like a three star review. It IS, on the whole, a quite bad review, but not for any criticism of Riches.

“It was a damp and wind-swept night and the welcoming warmth of the Pleasance Dome began to relaxed [sic] me into a state of mind ready for comedy,” he begins, in the desperate sub-NME style of reviewer-on-a-quest hackery. “Tonight it was Adam Riches, a successful comedian with more awards that you can shake a stick at,” he says, being succinct but somewhat clichéd. “Adam humiliated his carefully chosen audience members who were middle class,” he asserts, with the assurance of Pol Pot condemning people with glasses.

Before you know it, his reviews are over. They are rarely much longer than a couple of tweets, and if I was Riches’ PR I’d be most annoyed at the amount of work he did in return for a ticket, irrespective of its quality.

Calvert doesn’t waste time with structured sentences although, to be fair, a lot of reviewers this year have decided that the laws of English can be abandoned as long as you’re discussing Tony Law. “Trombones! A Game of catch with a beach ball, His pet dogs both alive and the ones that have gone to puppy heaven. Love making etiquette and his psychic pooch featured heavily. Reminding me of a past Beau that had a Standard Poodle who shared our bed every time we got it on.” Ugh.

Calvert is either American or, just as likely, accepts WordPress’s spelling corrections without question. He also capitalises at random, adds exclamation marks with impunity, inserts odd word spacings and sticks in quote marks for no apparent reason whatsoever: “Divine Salutes You. For that really was a ‘Good Time!’ ” I’m Sure you’re ‘Very Welcome’, Mark!

Of course, I’m not even the first person to review him. Immediately beneath his review of Adam Riches is a note from the ‘CEO’ of Mumble Comedy who, if it isn’t Calvert, is someone operating under similar delusions of grandeur. The CEO of the Mumble media empire commends “Mark’s  gutsy, honest, & frankly quite entertaining review”. I looked for the review it refers to but couldn’t find it. Just a half-paragraph of vapid cack.

Michaela Plaidface

 

 

David O’Connor

THREE WEEKS

davidoconnorSadly for David O’Connor, clicking on his name takes you to the Three Weeks theatre critic Dave Fargnoli. It’s almost as if Three Weeks is losing track of its million pickpocket street children.

When you’ve read more than a hundred Three Weeks reviews you start to wonder why they even bother recruiting these youngsters anymore. Surely by now they could just write their hack buzzwords and threadbare phrases onto scraps of paper, throw them in the air and see how they land?

It was not surprising, then, to learn that Ian Smith’s room was uncomfortably hot, nor that he conducted his show with “good timing”, “good natured audience participation” and on the whole had a “self-deprecating style of comedy” (seriously if one more reviewer this year uses the term ‘self-deprecating’ I will fucking scream).

That said, O’Connor does alright when he lets go of the novice reviewer’s safety-lexicon saying, for example, “It is easy to imagine Romesh Ranganathan as a substitute teacher, running out of patience with his career, children and society at large”.

He ruins it a bit by adding that Ranganathan “left his career as a frustrated maths teacher”. Was that the actual position he applied for? Did it say: ‘Wanted: Frustrated maths teacher’? Still, I like the line about “maintaining the kind of inoffensive offensiveness that makes this a very easy show to get into”.

Better yet, his review of Brendon Burns And Colt Cabana Sit In A 150 Seater At 10pm And Provide The Commentary To Bad Wrestling Matches is both lively and succinct. It made me want to go.

Rather than being a let-out for a poor reviewer, Three Weeks’ 120-word limit actually demands a really good one. O’Connor would progress to being a better critic more quickly if the format gave him a little more wiggle room. But his straightforward style suggests that, if he loses the over-worn hackspeak he’ll be solid enough.

Michaela Plaidface

 

Barrie Morgan

CHORTLE

barriemorganFringe veterans – particularly antipodeans – probably remember Barrie Morgan – he was the hero of Barrie Morgan’s World of Organs, the Australian sitcom and Fringe show.

True, we have no evidence that it’s the same Barrie Morgan. In fact we desperately hope it isn’t. Just imagine being in something that creatively bonkers and then turning up (in a thunderstorm, I imagine, dressed in sodden rags) at Steve Bennett’s house, saying “I want to watch stuff and say it’s too creative and excessively bonkers. PLEASE, Steve. You owe me.”

Whoever Barrie is, the pressure’s on him to deliver for Chortle. Jay Richardson is writing for everyone BUT Chortle this year, Bennett’s young striplings have been tossed overboard (because of their low Fringepig ratings, we have no doubt) and he and Julia Chamberlain are up against it, probably fighting back the reviews like Jill and Chris dispatching Zombies in Resident Evil (That’s a game, by the way, Chortle. I thought I should explain as you have no young people left.)

Morgan sets out with a steady hand on the tiller, following a review-by-numbers style. He progresses from a brief biog to the opening to the show progression to the roundup.

So far so normal. Yet there’s something about Morgan that seems to be coming from 20 years ago. First, he complains of the “blurred reason behind the show” that is Simon Munnery Sings Soren Kierkegaard. Morgan doesn’t seem to get that Simon Munnery singing about a Danish philosopher is the entire, perfectly clear, reason for its own existence. And it shouldn’t escape Morgan that Kierkegaard was the first existentialist philosopher. Plus, if Morgan is going to say “Yes but WHY?” at Fringe shows he’s going to be very frustrated before the season is out.

Similarly he explains that Carl Hutchinson supported Chris Ramsey on a big tour. He chides: “Hutchinson must up his game of [sic] he wants to progress beyond being a perennial support act”. Yes, imagine only ever opening for a big star on a big tour. Must be shit. I’m reminded of Mark Steel talking about when teachers used to say “Pull your socks up or you’ll end up driving a van”. Kids today would say: “Wow, really? Is it my VERY OWN van?”

There’s a similar lack of guile when, in another review, he tells us: “The highlight is a longer section about a recent trip to Amsterdam where [Jo] Caulfield recalls the loss of her writer’s notebook, the wealth of random ideas scribbled therein only reinforcing her stature as a prolific and proficient writer.” You do know that not everything comics say on stage is true, Barrie? You half expect him to write “I’m surprised she made it at all – some really strange things happened to her on the way to the show tonight.”

It’s difficult to know what Morgan wants exactly. “Year after year, show after show Jo Caulfield pulls in a crowd and entertains them in her world,” he says, going on to say that her latest opus does just that again. In fact he hardly says a bad word, concluding that “you wouldn’t expect anything else from Caulfield.” The three-star rating suggests that Morgan isn’t a fan of weathered professionalism.

Oddly enough, he likes Angela Barnes because she is just as good as “a comedian in their tenth year”. One has to conclude that Morgan is one of those parental reviewers who give out stars as reward and encouragement, rather than as straightforward assessment. I’m sure they’re both worth a four, but we all know that Caulfield doesn’t need any encouragement.

Although his reviews are plagued with the typographic cack-handedness we have come to expect from Chortle, happily Morgan never takes a flight of fancy – all his reviews are done with both feet firmly on the ground. There’s some bons mots though, such as Munnery being “a seasoned veteran and an assured driver for such a heavy vehicle”.

Morgan is an assured driver himself. He’s already writing reviews that a reviewer in their second year would be proud of.

Michaela Plaidface