Fringe Comedy Reviews: Three Top Newcomers

Feature by Ben Venables | 14 Aug 2015

Jonny Pelham's face was deemed so unsightly the National Health Service staged an intervention. Despite there being no 'physical' health benefits to the surgery on offer and quite a few risks with the procedure – not to mention the country being in recession – sorting out his apparently ugly mug was a high priority for the state. Such is the premise on which Pelham's debut hour Before and After [★★★★☆] rests. His story of a childhood summer at Camp Courage is a particular highlight, as the young Pelham develops the camp leaders' desired strength of character, but not quite in the way they had in mind. The show is really asking if his adolescent anxieties and under-confidence are the result of the cleft palette, webbed feet and additional nipples he was born with – can cosmetic surgery fundamentally change how he feels about himself? What's most interesting about today's performance, however, is the response from the bunch of piss-heads on the front row who probably aren't Pelham's usual demographic. As their laugh rate suggests, his presence and storytelling have them all entranced for the hour. This is an extremely impressive and assured debut.

Still, pouring cups of tea for the front row must take the title of Best Ever Start to a Debut Hour, as Richard Soames demonstrates. He doesn't really need such offerings to have everyone onside from the off though; oozing likability, it's hard to imagine why he feels the need to spend the next hour questioning the ethics of his decisions. But perhaps we shouldn't be taken in by this couple-splitting, text-message dumping, goldfish killer. In Richard Soames Does the Right Thing [★★★★☆] the solo Beta Male explores the difference between the nice and the good, and has his choices monitored by a audience member on a handmade morality compass. The inner monologue voice recording recalls the anxiety levels of Mark Corrigan from Peep Show, but overall this show is imbued with the energy of a sketch performer with plenty of clever twists.

While body-image, anxiety and self-harm underpin Sofie Hagen's debut Bubblewrap, it is her competitiveness and obsession when issued with a challenge that lie at the centre of the show. Whether that challenge is to piss on a man or to be the world's biggest Westlife fan, Hagen draws on an arsenal of digital archives to smack down any pretender to her throne. She has an understated delivery, leaving the power of this performance in the strength of her material, and her circular storytelling has a lovely pay-off. This is a warm, confident show and an incredible debut, but the pull-quote on her posters from some publication (from Hagen's appearance at Rap Battles back in 2013) put it more concisely: Hagen is hilarious [★★★★★].

Sofie Hagen: Bubblewrap, The Liquid Room, until 31 Aug, 7:10pm, free

Jonny Pelham: Before and After, Pleasance Courtyard, until 31 Aug, £7.50-9.50

Richard Soames Does The Right Thing, Underbelly George Square, until 31 Aug, 6:50pm, £9-10