Fringe Comedy Reviews: Love and Understanding

We review Joseph Morpurgo's Fosters Award-nominated show Soothing Sounds for Baby, plus Edinburgh Fringe shows from Mae Martin, Luke McQueen and politically-minded trio Sheeps.

Feature by Craig Angus | 27 Aug 2015

Luke McQueen is a brave man, and this is apparent not only from the lack of dress that characterises the multimedia segment of Double Act [★★★★☆]. Nor does it stop with him aggressively calling out reviewers (asking “Is The Skinny here tonight?” before meeting my reluctantly raised wave with two fingers). It’s a theme that runs through the whole show, staring with McQueen ceding control of his show to a random audience member from the off. Tonight, his sparring partner starts off as good sport, but doesn’t quite understand the expression ‘quit while you’re ahead’. McQueen handles the myriad of distractions very well though, deconstructing fame, fortune and success with naked honesty. That he does this through the documentation of a breakdown in a fictional professional relationship with Jack Whitehall doesn't matter – that desperate determination to succeed is a universal one, and if Morrissey was right about anything, it's that we hate it when our friends become successful. Double Act is a white knuckle ride of degradation, but under the showmanship there’s truth.

“I’m beginning to despair we’re not skewering anything”, an exasperated Liam Williams declares halfway into Sheeps Skewer The News [★★★★☆]. This new current affairs angle suits the trio. Even if it’s not quite as sublime as 2014’s Wembley Previews, they pull of a show that’s adventurous and bold, eschewing easy targets in favour of challenging material about TTIP. When they come back to more universal topics, they indeed skewer magnificently. They nail the media coverage of Ed Miliband’s holiday beard, pummel the exit-polls, hammer the Labour leadership contest and also FIFA in one thrillingly brilliant swoop. It’s an hour of topical hilarity that flies by all too quickly. Will someone get a full series of People Time made already?

At the top of his game is Joseph Morpurgo. In Soothing Sounds for Baby [★★★★★], he spins a melancholy tale of romantic woe, in between the scornful interjections of Desert Island Discs host Kirsty Young, and digressions into the minds of those who made his chosen records. The end result is a show of rare majesty, and perfectly realised. Love is at its emotional core, but also the nostalgia and the power of music to awaken old memories. It’s not all heartstrings stuff; Morpurgo's frantic mixed media splicing is a source of constant amusement, and his macabre interpretation of A.A. Milne reading Winnie The Pooh is darkly eccentric, evoking a specific kind of spooky, caricature childhood terror. It’s a one-man offbeat odyssey with a supporting cast of obscure LPs, and equal doses of oddity and euphoria to boot. Triumphant stuff.

Another excellent premise, pulled off with unwavering dedication and impressive physicality, is at the centre of All In Theatre Company’s Love Sick [★★★★☆]. Stephen Sobal and Amalia Vitale play a pair of extraterrestrial ambassadors who – having heard that Roxy Music hit – travel to earth thinking that love could be the pharmaceutical that saves their planet. What makes the show is its interrogation of the indeterminate peculiarities of love. Considering animal mating calls, Romeo and Juliet, and anachronistic gender stereotypes – All In conclude that anyone or anything visiting planet Earth would be baffled by the various rituals of its countless residents. Judging by the preposterous pre-recorded human responses to the question – ‘what is love?’ – humankind is challenged, opting to test the limits of pretentiousness and make bizarre comparisons when pushed for an answer. It’s a mischievous hour by two compelling, first-rate performers, whose hybrid of theatre and sketch is a hidden gem of the festival.

Speaking of hidden, Nick Coyle’s Guided Meditation [★★★☆☆] sees the ‘small Australian guru’ take over an unassuming Jesuit hall, which he pipes full of sweet incense with the goal of bringing you to a relaxed state of consciousness. Full marks for originality, because I don’t think any other comedians of Coyle’s considerable talent are asking audiences to lie on a rug and conjure a spirit animal. His linguistic exactitude is exquisite – at one point he asks us to clench our fists “as if you were carrying a goat under each arm” – and improvising his way through a bucket full of audience members' problems he exudes confidence and wit. As a parody it’s great fun, and even if the jokes wash over you, you can still say it was a relaxing use of your time.

It’s easy to love Mae Martin and warm to her charms, as she tells a sad tale of prejudice in modern London. Unflustered, she opts out of anger and instead stresses the importance of acceptance and understanding. Us [★★★★☆] wraps its arms around the considerably broad topic of identity, and chiefly analyses sexual politics. Martin makes some poignant observations about the pressures of choice, comparing ‘coming out’ to forcing a teenager to choose a type of music for life at 15. If there’s an issue, Martin hits on it herself – saying her show is ‘a bit like a TED talk’. It’s not an inaccurate statement, but the ideas contained within Us are important and worth hearing, and in any case it’s not short on laughs. Martin fluctuates between jittery and composed delivery, meandering through her Canadian upbringing (the material about her family is hysterical) before sobering up to deliver a hard-hitting conclusion. This is both a provocative and wise show.

Luke McQueen: Double Act, Pleasance Courtyard, until 31 Aug, 9:45pm, £8.50-10.50

Sheeps Skewer The News, The Cellar Monkey, until 30 Aug, 2:30pm, free

Joseph Morpurgo: Soothing Sounds for Baby, Pleasance Courtyard, until 31 Aug, 8:15pm, £7-10

Love Sick, Assembly Hall, until 30 Aug, 7pm, £8.50-9.50

Nick Coyle's Guided Meditation, Lauriston Halls, until 30 Aug, 3:30pm, free

Mae Martin: Us, City Cafe, until 30 Aug, 9:15pm, free