Rowena McIntosh

THE LIST

Reading a Rowena McIntosh review is a bit like seeing a social worker or a psychologist who you’re relying on in court. Probably. What I mean is, that she’s all smiles and happy noises but there’s a sense she’s de-escalating and boxing her reviewees up so she can get on with her life.

To demonstrate: you would be hard pushed to extract more positive comments than you’ll find in McIntosh’s review of Ellen Waddell’s It’s Better to Lie Than to Tell the Truth and End Up Alone in a Ditch Crying. Her presentation style “works excellently as a format”, some bits are “absolutely hilarious” in “an hour that’s both comic and insightful”. It’s rather hard to square these words up against the three-star rating, especially when the title McIntosh gives her writeup, “An insightful show about the trouble with truth-telling” seems to succinctly convey that this show achieved what it set out to do.

Indeed, all McIntosh’s reviews this year come with titles that belie the lack of approbation she’s willing to give. Garrett Millerick has “A high-energy set about the things that can really get on your wick”, also a three, and Isla Bonera is encouraged to keep trying, but get out of my office please, with “Intense if patchy debut that still shows potential” (two).

It would be easy to dismiss McIntosh as arch and condescending but that she writes rather well, deftly dealing with a perennial Fringe comedy gripe by writing that one of Millerick’s routines “feels like a problem felt more acutely around England’s capital than by a Fringe audience”. She gives a good sense of the routines in Millerick’s show without hijacking them, and throughout her writing isn’t afraid to say what a comedian “might” be doing or “seems like” they’re doing, rather than taking the tack of some of her List colleagues *COUGHclairesawerCOUGH* and deciding that her own impression is the only one that can possibly exists in the entire universe.

So it seems that McIntosh is much, much too fussy, and a bit mean with it. But she’s still pretty good.

Business Leopard

Dave Coates

THE LIST

davecoatesDave Coates is one of those reviewers who, like a teacher at a long-established school, wants everyone to try their best. And he wants them to be cheerful about it.Jack Barry, for example, “seems self-aware enough that his mis-steps suggest a performer in the middle of a promising learning process”. Coates could have added “Will grow into a fine young man”.

Similarly when Nathan Caton “seemed to run a little haphazardly from one topical skit to the next,” it’s mitigated by the fact his show has a “moral compass”. Coates sees the Fringe as a big classroom where the untutored flock for guidance. He gives the sort of report-card advice (“He doesn’t seem confident of his material or entirely in control of his punchlines and the set meanders, making movement from one passage to the next difficult to follow”) that will be valuable in about two years when the comedian has stopped feeling resentful. But such an approach is perfectly positive.

To adopt Coates’s style, he is clearly a reviewer with a lot to give who will grow and develop as he hones his abilities.

Sadly, Coates lets the comedy school down a bit by continually sticking his oar in wherever his personal politics are challenged. His review of Charles Booth concludes that he is “a talented performer held back by tired and often hateful material.” Hateful is a strong word, and you’d hope to see it justified in the text. But all Coates records is that Booth did some stuff on Rachel Dolezal that he disagreed with.

Similarly Jack Barry is accused of making “unsavoury” gags about suicide, as if this speaks for itself. With Minor Delays he concludes that “Occasionally the bleaker moments come across as slightly mean-spirited,” but again we know nothing of these moments except that Coates found them too bleak. When he lists “numerous grim instances of homophobia, misogyny and cultural essentialism” he starts to sound like a prosecutor in a kangaroo court. And if you’re wondering what ‘cultural essentailism’ is, don’t bother looking it up. You’re not supposed to know what it means and that’s why some people use it. In that moment of not recognising the phrase you unconsciously acquiesce to Coates’ greater knowledge and moral patrimony. If you’re not careful you could be tricked into thinking that his desire to police the boundaries of comedy is perfectly reasonable. And worst of all you’ll be arming yourself with the phrase “cultural essentialism” so you can use it when you want to call people racist but haven’t got quite enough evidence on them yet.

If you regard some things as unsayable, fine. But Coates is a reviewer and I’m just not sure that he wants to feel uncomfortable, or even challenged, for even a moment. If the jokes were poor or the arguments behind them antiquated or illogical then he ought to tell us. But for goodness sake Coates, don’t just shudder and walk away like a dirty skulking reviewer.

That was journalistic essentialism, by the way. It’s a thing.

Edmund Rumania

 

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.

Emma Newlands

THE LIST

emma-newlandsThis tired old Fringepigger started out not liking Emma Newlands. But that’s largely because the term ‘self-deprecating’ winds me up for reasons I have explained to death. So: “Reviewers always describe me as self-deprecating, says Angela Barnes, just as this reviewer had written those very words down.” (WHY? WHY HAD YOU WRITTEN AN OVERUSED BIT OF HACKERY DOWN AS YOUR FIRST CONSTRUCTIVE THOUGHT?) “But it’s hard to think how else to sum up her set” (WELL THEN YOU’RE IN THE WRONG BLEEDING JOB, LOVE).

However it turns out Ms Newlands has reviewed Spencer Jones and actually understood the fellow’s mind-bending clownery. And she doesn’t even get showy-offy about it. Her appreciation is candid, precise and sympathetic of his world “where nonsense rules and the truth regularly cuts through more clearly than in the outside world”. She lightly mentions that his outfit is skimpy, whereas some gibbering arse at Fest Magazine thought it necessary to explain that you could see the shape of his penis. Newlands is not an unpleasant person, and her manners do her credit. So I take back all those shouty capital letters. And the casual sexism at the end. Sorry. I am an older elephant.

I wasn’t so keen on her writeup of Sooz Kempner, however. It starts by making no damn sense. “Like tightrope walking and bomb disposal, character comedy requires precision to achieve its ideal goal: to subvert!” Surely the point of tightrope walking AND bomb disposal is to not die violently? Neither was I certain that a show of four successive character acts is “satire-by-numbers”, because it just isn’t. It’s a show of four successive character acts. Her review of Tobias Persson, though, was fairly sound and reasonable with just enough of the chatty commentary that sometimes gets away from her.

Emma Newlands is a difficult reviewer to assess; by turns drily perceptive and mildly annoying. She has a lucid, natural style to her writing but she needs to stand out of the way and let the thing she’s reviewing speak for itself a little more. And stop telling us that things are something they are not.

Mister Kipper

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