Fringe Comedy Reviews: Two Returnees & Three Nominees

Ahir Shah and Pierre Novellie return to the Edinburgh Fringe, while John Henry Falle, Larry Dean and Tom Ballard are among this year's Foster's Comedy nominees

Feature by Ben Venables | 28 Aug 2015

Perhaps it's the way Ahir Shah is able to convey quite inaccessible topics – such as global political struggles – into stories of every day life that makes it easy to think of George Orwell during his show. Or maybe it's that his set list has Orwell-esque essay topics such as books and cigarettes, or it could even be his keen sense for the impact of those distant political struggles on technology such as the iPhone in his hand. Whatever the reason, it comes as little surprise when Shah cleverly updates the 'boot stamping on a face' line from Nineteen Eighty-Four later on. Distant [★★★★☆] is a show of depth and intelligence, but also one where Shah genuinely has the difficult task of having to caution the audience for "enjoying themselves too much", as the rolling laughter from one segment distractd him during the set-up of the next. The obvious solution there is for Shah to be less funny, but luckily on this show's evidence that doesn't seem his likely trajectory. He'll just have to accommodate himself to the stampede of laughter he's going to face – forever.

Pierre Novellie is another thoughtful Fringe sophomore. His debut last year acted as an excellent calling card to his range and spot-on delivery, but in Anxious Peter [★★★★☆] he mines more distinctive material from his obscure academic interests. This may not sound the most promising topic for a comedy gig, but the Christianisation of Scandinavia and how Jesus was rebranded make for one of the stand-out sections of this year's Fringe. Novellie seems to have come a long way in the last twelve months – and this from a strong starting point. Perhaps his real strength lies (and for all the anxiety that he keeps discreet here, but that underpins his show) is in his reassuring, relaxed and approachable delivery.

John Henry Falle's The Story Beast [★★★★☆] starts with Beowulf. At least we think he does; his words sound like they are from the original text and said in the original dialect. Over the hour, our beast leads us through all kinds of tales and oral traditions. Sometimes it's round-the-campfire theatrics and other times we're watching a literal interpretation of The Teddy Bears Picnic nursery rhyme. A closing Harry Potter song doesn't quite reach the heights of the rest of the show and seems strangely ordinary in comparison, but there is no doubt his drinking from a can of Foster's on the day of his newcomer nomination is well deserved.

Fellow nominee Larry Dean is as personable as John Henry Falle is terrifying – but no less engaging. Out Now! [★★★★☆] is very much a solid Fringe newcomer hour and, with his delivery never leaving a beat out of place, it's easy to see this young comedian heading off into 'big name' success. Though he has a great deal of range both in his background and stories and even in the detail, he has a surprisingly alarming dinosaur impression. There seems to be a real honesty about Dean too, and it isn't a false modesty kind of schtick either – his coming-out story and the one time he had sex with a woman are raw enough to express vulnerability, but actually mark his strengths.

Tom Ballard also received the nod from the Foster's panel and he's already nabbed a Best Newcomer award in Melbourne. His own experiences of coming out are also part of his opening hour and, despite also having an amiable demeanour, he pulls no punches when describing the homophobia of small-town Newcastle, Australia and the sort of thing said to you by a friend's gun-wielding dad. It's that gap between seeming safety and danger that the taxi rides of the title play on, and also what marks Taxis and Rainbows and Hatred [★★★★☆] as an accomplished debut.

Ahir Shah: Distant, The Counting House, until 30 Aug, 7.30pm, free

Pierre Novellie is Anxious Peter, Pleasance Courtyard, until 30 Aug, 9.30pm, £7.50-10

The Story Beast, Pleasance Courtyard, until 31 Aug, 10.30pm, £7-9.50

Larry Dean: Out Now!, Pleasance Courtyard, until 30 Aug, 5.30pm, £10-12

Tom Ballard: Taxis and Rainbows and Hatred, Assembly George Square Studios, until 30 Aug, 9.15pm, £10-11