Fringe Comedy Reviews: Through different eyes

Adam Hills, Caroline Mabey, Sy Thomas, Brendan Murphy, Neel Kolhatkar and Gerry Howell offer their idiosyncratic perspectives to the comedy stage at the Edinburgh Fringe

Feature by Ben Venables | 31 Aug 2015

It’s not advised to have plans immediately after an Adam Hills show – as he proves once again in Clown Heart [★★★★☆], it is the generous nature of his comedy and the lengths he will go to that make his shows. Clown Heart maintains the nature of his previous material with an uplifting, cross-continental closing number, but it has its low moments too. He weaves together tales of death but with an upside and ultimately encourages us all to view life a little bit more like his four-year old.

How we cope with a child makes for much of the subject of Caroline Mabey's Chaos is a Friend of Mind [★★★☆☆]. While mostly the material revolves around the conflict between mother vs daughter, it can sometimes be difficult to anticipate the direction Mabey is taking us in. Song- and sausage roll-based interludes are pleasingly daft and idiosyncratic, but perhaps seem removed from the overall tone. However, for anyone who has found their well-being and outlook deteriorating following the birth of a child – or shared the same household – this is a show rich in detail. These details range from the minor (lack of personal grooming) to the major (trying to bring up a child to be academic, focused, sporty, musical and all the rest, while your own ability to cope has fled). Interestingly, Mabey hasn't gone for pathos or sentiment and by doing so perhaps speaks with a greater honestly about motherhood. However, it takes until the very end for the show to pay off, and a couple of earlier turning points might help create greater tension throughout the hour. There can be no doubt this is a strong show, it just hasn't quite coalesced to its potential. But, Mabey's full return this year – also including Two Stupids, her collaboration with Michael Legge – will be remembered for the fact that no-one has made us laugh as much at this Fringe.

Also resisting sentiment is Sy Thomas in his first full length show Jumper [★★★☆☆]. An experienced comedian, Thomas is acutely aware that he's only waited this long to bring a show to Edinburgh because anxiety freezes him just when he needs to take the plunge – or to jump. Unfortunately there seems to be a further resistance to really allow himself to fully let go and write the 'Edinburgh show' – possibly due to the persistent and commonly held idea that such a show must come with obligatory 'sad bits' and cobbled together homilies. Thomas makes good material from rubbing against this and also his multimedia sections. Yet he could clearly write a show that holds the attention for the hour with his natural storytelling ability and strong delivery. Maybe straightforwardly sticking to that, rather than thinking about what's expected in Edinburgh, could have made Jumper seem more his own. Nonetheless, it's a very warm, likeable show from a comedian with all the right instincts.

Brendan Murphy is also taking the plunge with Bagman [★★★★☆]. Here, a man in charge of a cloakroom gives us new staff members in the audience a tutorial on cloakrooms. The contents of the carry-alls then offer Murphy the props and costume changes to give us an hour of different characters. Even with a fairly stereotypical character, Murphy has a flair for imbuing his creation with plenty of fresh perspective. The titular Bagman is a recognisably neurotic type whose traits would normally be associated with, say, a health and safety inspector. Yet in Murphy's hands there's a maniac glint in his eye that keeps him incredibly engaging. Though the other characters show Murphy's range, we'd have like to have seen more of Bagman and his cloakroom tutorial than the others. But this is a very imaginative hour.

Neel Kolhatkar also has an imagination which can keenly characterises the rest of the world. Delivering his stand-up with such passion it's to see the world through his eyes. As a young, smart Australian he can't help but be fascinated by different countries and their cultures when it comes to how his homeland interacts with and sometimes sucks up to to them. In Truth be Told [★★★★☆], he has a mature reflection on the contemporary world which belies his 21 years, whether it be on politics and equality or social media.

Meanwhile, Gerry Howell has written a full one-man play for his Edinburgh show based on a novel he hasn't published. In The Sixth Nonsense [★★★☆☆] Howell's private detective hunts down a man with the name Gerry Howell. It immediately made us think of Paul Auster's New York Trilogy, which has similar plot loops and characterisation – it is refreshing to see a comedian use the Fringe to put on something ambitious in a different sense rather than use the Fringe as a platform to attract 'industry' types and TV companies. There are technical difficulties today – no fault of Howell's – that compel him to rush through the script, so we perhaps don't see a representative performance; however, he still condenses a complex, well-written storyline into a short hour. It may need a longer running time to put across the breadth of the original novel.

With thanks to Emma Ainley-Walker and Shannon Dymond.

Caroline Mabey: Chaos is a Friend of Mine, Opium, run ended

Gerry Howell: The Sixth Nonsense, Cabaret Voltaire, run ended

Bagman, Pleasance Courtyard, run ended

Neel Kolhatkar: Truth be Told, Gilded Balloon, until 31 Aug, 9:15pm, £8-10

Adam Hills: Clown Heart, Assembly Hall, run ended