Edinburgh Fringe Reviews: Gentlemen

Two lovely shows at Dragonfly feature brilliant takes on archaic characters.

Feature by Stu Black | 12 Aug 2016
  • The Establishment

If you fancy a spot of Wodehousian clowning, it’s well worth while popping into the backroom of the Dragonfly pub for a jolly old hour with The Establishment [★★★★]. These two English toffs wear bowler hats and mismatched summer suits, tottering about as they search for increasingly silly ways to waste everyone’s time. Clear descendants of Monty Python’s upper class twits of the year, they quickly absorb a befuddled audience into their daft world of ping-pong cricket, otter hunting and bug-eyed money-sniffing.

​It’s slightly galling to think that this show is not simply a parody of a bygone era, when posh wallies ruled the waves and put their foot in it at every turn, but also a perfectly-timed takedown of current Tories either still in or just out of the Cabinet. Indeed, you may go mad if you try contemplating this as a state-of-the-nation piece. So perhaps it’s better to enjoy the charming chutzpah of Dan Lees and Neil Frost as they crown a queen, do an arms deal, glug "very expensive wine" and check the stockmarket. When a stray punter wanders in at the climax to find them in robes and antlers, leading a masonic chant, they don’t miss a beat, asking: “Are you here for the sacrifice?”

Over the Airwaves
Over the Airwaves

​In the same venue earlier in the day, you can find similarly old-fashioned character comedy in the form of Peter Fleming and Wilbur Bilb's Over the Airwaves [★★★]. This is an hour split in two, the first half of which sees dusty-haired Fleming, as played by Tom Burgess, taking you back through his distinguished if slightly misguided career in children’s television – all now “accidentally” wiped from the archive. It’s a delightfully unusual character that the young actor does well to tune into considering it must be a bit before his time. The best reference we can think of is Professor Yaffle, the woodpecker from Bagpuss (who was based on Bertram Russell).

Burgess then hands over to Sam Nicoresti, whose Wilbur Bilb is a more familiar type: the hard-boiled gumshoe from American pulp fiction. The character does pall after a while; neither the story he’s telling nor the coercing of an unlucky audience member to participate in not very much makes a case for extending this one beyond half an hour. However, it's a spirited performance with a fine twist – he's supposed to be a wisecracking child with a teddy bear in tow. With ideas like these, it's little wonder Sam and Tom are fast establishing such a stellar reputation.

Peter Fleming and Wilbur Bilb: Over the Airwaves, Heroes @ Dragonfly, 4-28 Aug (not 16), 4pm, £5/PWYW
The Establishment, Heroes @ Dragonfly, 4-28 Aug (not 15 & 22), 10.30pm, £5/PWYW