Fringe Comedy Reviews: Bowels and Birdwatching

Felicity Ward, Laura Lexx, Chris Stokes and Harriet Kernsley - four stand-up comedians from the outer reaches of the Fringe programme, joined together by the least likely of subject pairings

Feature by Ben Venables | 19 Aug 2015

Irritable bowel syndrome has a prevalence of around 10% in the general population – with some 1,200 comedy shows at the Fringe, perhaps it wasn't so improbable that two shows featuring IBS would appear in the same year.

For Felicity Ward, in What if There is No Toilet? [★★★★☆], there are more problems than elusive lavatories. Not so long ago, Ward was diagnosed with IBS, anxiety and 'evolving depression'. She links these problems up well; for example, illustrating the number of neurones in her gut are about the same number as found in a cat's brain. Then, when she retells an experience of self-harm, she finds the simple prop of loo paper keeps the material firmly in the comedy section. It's a high energy show, with Ward occasionally veering a little into overdrive, but certain risks she takes – such as opening up about her beliefs, and the singalong conclusion – definitely pay-off.

Happiness is a tough nut to crack for any artist looking for material, but it's a subject Laura Lexx tackles head-on in her debut hour Lovely [★★★☆☆]. Not that everything has been lovely, considering she also has IBS, and it's a childhood accident where excitement literally leads her to shit herself that forms the crux of her story. Lexx is incredibly engaging and it's difficult to see what will stop her success beyond this debut. She will perhaps need to look beyond her own 'blessed' life for material to really find her voice – she truly highlights her potential when acting out a scene from a documentary on birds' mating rituals.

Bird behaviour is a topic which gradually increases in significance during Chris Stokes' Altruism in Birds [★★★☆☆] which chronicles his exile from the comedy world. As he waits in vain by a canal for the RSPCA to not actually arrive to attend an injured seagull, it's his melancholy rather than the bird itself that conjures a Chekhovian image. It's a deftly structured hour and one which announces Stokes' re-entry into the comedic cage. It might be that he has more confidence in his alternative career as a van driver than he ever can in the more subjective world of stand-up, but he shouldn't – the loss to van driving is definitely comedy's gain.

Meanwhile, Harriet Kemsley should also have a little more confidence in herself. Though it's par for the course at the Fringe, she does have a stuffy room today and this perhaps affects her timing – several of her punchlines simply don't land, but not always because the material is lacking. Unfortunately with Puppy Fat [★★☆☆☆], it isn't until the last section where we feel the 'real' Kemsley comes through. Her understanding and forgiveness of her partner's transgressions perhaps highlight that Kemsley is a good person, but this also lends a conflicted and uncomfortable side to her material that makes for a much more interesting and stronger end to the show than it previously seemed to have been leading to.

Felicity Ward: What if There is No Toilet?, Pleasance Courtyard, until 31 Aug, 9pm, £9-12

Laura Lexx: Lovely, Underbelly Med Quad, until 30 Aug, 4:05pm, £9-10

Chris Stokes: Alturism in Birds, Pleasance Courtyard, until 30 Aug, 10:45pm, £7.50-9.50

Harriet Kemsley: Puppy Fat, Pleasance Courtyard, until 31 Aug, £6.50-9.50