Fringe Comedy Reviews: In Harmony

Feature by Ben Venables | 26 Aug 2015

As the third best hip-hop MC from an enclave of Nottingham, Dani Frankenstein [★★★★☆] has outgrown her hometown and done her time participating in medical trials or surveying for the Department of Health. Now, the character creation of Danielle Ward is skyping “all the hip hops” live to South Korea where the evening is in full swing (hence needing to perform at an early lunchtime spot at the Voodoo Rooms). It'd be easy to think from this set-up that comedy will grow from Frankenstein's delusions of fame and the indignities she may put herself through to get there. Instead, Frankenstein delivers a takedown of both the arrogance and ignorance that props up male sexual expectations with songs about relationships gone awry or one night stands. This is never an earnest show though: Frankenstein's lyrics and dance moves make sure of that. Nor is it ever pretentious – this is a brutally down-to-earth and matter of fact riposte to all the shit women get from men every day.

"Does anyone know what this show is about?" asks Mary Bourke to her baffled audience. When one member volunteers they are hoping the show will be about “blue skies” it looks like it'll be a long hour indeed – for Bourke. An Irish housewife using hip-hop as the prism for her show The Notorious Mary Bourke [★★★☆☆] may sound like an incongruity to some, but Bourke more than impresses with her knowledge and application of the Notorious B.I.G's crack commandments. Bourke has some wonderful assistance from a cookbook by Coolio, but it's her steely determination and confidence in her material that powers this show. Going through each law does perhaps becomes a touch repetitive, but whatever the audience were expecting today Bourke leads a quite extraordinary turnaround as row by row she wins everybody round to leading a life by the crack commandments.

Music at home is also how folk duo Gideon and Hubcap like it. They are used to touring in people's living rooms rather than at music venues and it's easy to see why. There is an ‘are you sitting comfortably?’ relaxed, homely atmosphere to The Gideon and Hubcap Show [★★★☆☆]. When Hubcap starts to explain the physical and evolutionary reasons for music, going deep into the prehistory of the human body, it's more like listening to an enthusiastic friend than a TED talk. A recurring idea is music as healer and this is indeed an uplifting show. It's a little too cute in places and the music is interspersed with comedic exchanges intended to offer some kind of arc to the evening – but while these sketches are well observed they come across as episodic vignettes and not as worthy of attention as their music. And it is always a pleasure each time they return to their array of instruments.

Barnie Duncan's South American DJ character Juan Vesuvius returns to the Fringe in some triumph having picked up a best newcomer nominee in Melbourne. Though in a radically different style there's a similarly positive tone to Gideon and Hubcap in the power of music to create something beautiful. And Juan is just as creative in Calypso Nights, Juan Two? [★★★☆☆] leading us into unexpected territory with combinations such as, say, Snoop Dogg and Phil Collins mixed on his turntables. There's something about the character that doesn't always click though. For example, at times he's the wide eyed innocent and at others superbly articulate on colonial history. Maybe tonight these gear changes are a little jumpy when usually there's more of a smooth transition between the different aspects of Vesuvius's personality. Nonetheless, and whatever the case, this is an original, inventive and ultimately rewarding show for anyone who wants to see how new ideas can form from the most unlikely bedfellows.

Late night show Cray Cray Cabaret [★★★☆☆] could not be better housed in the Assembly Rooms, with the glow of the chandelier making for a welcoming atmosphere. Phil Nichol, Bec Hill and Nashville band The Good Company are hopefully on to a winner here as they host and perform with different guests each night. On the evening The Skinny visited, there can be little doubt that Jess Robinson stole the show and seemed in her perfect environment. The band and guests performers don't perhaps harmonise as much as they could do, but then this is early days and there's no reason why this evening shouldn't become a mainstay of the Fringe as Nichol clearly intends.

Piff the Magic Dragon also brings back a guest star from America. Jade Simone makes this show as memorable for music and the showgirl performance as it is for magic, as she puts on a typically raunchy display for the highest bidder of a croissant at Breakfast at Piffany's [★★★★☆]. Piff is back from Las Vegas, and as his fame ascends his annoyance at those who don't like him on twitter, for example, seems beneath him. Then again, perhaps we should expect nothing less from this character. It would be very easy to underestimate just how much inward energy must go in to his downbeat, deadpan and insouciant dragon. He's so consistent with his persona it adds to a subtle subplot for his put-upon assistant Sophie Zucchini. She sets-up the mood right at the beginning of the show and we have to wait until Simone arrives to callback to this moment. But by the end, Zucchini is very much a Cinderella figure to the the 'ugly sisters' of Piff and his chihuahua Mr Piffles – though it's all part of the ambience Piff masterly creates.

Towards the end of the evening at Puddles Pity Party [★★★★☆] it become surprisingly clear just how many audience members have taken part. Very few probably wanted to accompany Puddles the Clown on stage and and much less anticipated they may be asked to provide lead vocals. What we learn is that people comply when under the duress of a 6' 8" clown. However, it's on such discomfort and tension that Puddles thrives, eking out every moment until he releases his baritone voice. And, for those he draws into his performance and initially makes uncomfortable he is never cruel. In other words, it's uncomfortable to be kind. Interestingly, whatever their initial enthusiasm or reluctance, these participants all step-up, enjoy and seem moved by their experience.

Finally, back at the Voodoo Rooms, Laurence Owen doesn't bring in the audience at all and acts as the entire cast of his Cine-musical [★★★★☆]. At some point, Owen must have asked himself how to play this show and his answer seems to have been, 'like a rock god'. He's created an excellent soundtrack and his parodies of different film genres land well. He's perhaps tried to cover too much of the waterfront in film and the story becomes a little less concentrated as he delves into several different genres. However, this is a quibble and hardly matters with such solid stuff, especially when it's all delivered as a tour-de-force performance like this.

Danielle Ward: Dani Frankenstein, The Voodoo Rooms, until 30 Aug, 12.30pm, free
The Notorious Mary Bourke, The Stand 5, until 30 Aug, 2.30pm, £7-8
The Gideon and Hubcap Show, Underbelly George Square, run ended, 10.55pm, £8-10
Barnie Duncan: Calypso Nights, Juan Two? Assembly Roxy, until 30 Aug, 9.30pm, £6-11
Piff the Magic Dragon: Breakfast at Piffany's, Underbelly Circus Hub, until 29 Aug, 10:40pm, £11.50-12.50
Laurence Owen: Cinemusical, The Voodoo Rooms, until 30 Aug, 1.45pm, free
Phil Nichol's Cray Cray Cabaret, The Assembly Rooms, until 30 Aug, 11.10pm, £12.50