Rob Rouse @ Gilded Balloon Teviot
Edinburgh Fringe veteran and Upstart Crow's Bottom, Rob Rouse returns to Edinburgh with work-in-progress warmth
There’s a deliberately rough and tumble quality to No Refunds. A besequined Rouse opens with a perky number urging us to "lower our expectations", the show can’t make any money because of social distancing and his favourite gig shirt barely squeezes over his new beer belly. But we’re here and we’d better make the most of it.
The belly is just one of lockdown’s ‘gifts’, and that sense of accelerated aging experienced by many during the pandemic – fattening, fading, slumping – is central to the show. Rouse keeps the other lockdown references thankfully brief. There's a quick, enjoyably daft guide to upping your Zoom game, then a segue into a homeschooling observation about the gendering of inanimate objects in French – his children apparently outraged given such things should be ‘completely fluid’. It’s a genial way into a hot button topic, and his ludicrous French persona carries the conceit – although the Benny Hill energy doesn’t always work.
The musical numbers are where Rouse really shines: musical comedy can sometimes feel a bit niche, but the energy (and discreet skill) he throws at his songs gives them a real vitality. The centrepiece to the show is I Feel Old – a litany of aging pains (arthritic toes, nasal hair) sung to the tune of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love. With the volume pumped up, the audience is urged to stand and dance, and it serves as a communal lament for the failing body, but one which is momentarily euphoric.
The final song, a Neil Young parody, is a tale of an unhappy attempt at male grooming, complete with a hilariously freakish mask. Perhaps Neil Young is totemic of a certain kind of aging masculinity, one which chimes with Rouse’s sense of confusion about new norms and expectations – Love Island’s massive shiny male ‘babies’, for example, all radiantly hairless.
Always entertaining, No Refunds is also, in its ramshackle way, rather consoling: there’s not much to be done about feeling old, or indeed, feeling confused, but at least you’re not alone.
Rob Rouse: No Refunds, Gilded Balloon Teviot, run ended. Reviewed on 19 Aug