Tim Key: Single White Slut @ Pleasance Grand

Review by Cayley James | 22 Aug 2014
  • Tim Key: Single White Slut

As the audience files into the Pleasance Grand Tim Key strolls around the stage, padding about in his sock feet and coveralls. Cheap jazz is playing; the kind of music that you’d expect to score a burgling scene in a slapstick comedy from the 1960s. Key makes eye contact and smirks awkwardly as people take their seats. On stage there’s a bed (“His real bed from home” he explains throughout) and a filing cabinet with an assortment of beverages on top (tea, water, beer). He tosses about pornographic playing cards. Then the show ‘begins’.

Single White Slut is Key’s fourth full-length show and it is a stealthy performance-art piece with room for laughs. His irrepressible creativity is refreshing in what has been a very strong year for comedy at the Fringe. His coy face has been plastered about Edinburgh in the lead up to his run – but his smirk belies a show steeped in the awkwardness of human sexuality. Slut is three shows rolled into one: absurdist theatre, standup gig and group therapy session.

He’s a comedy alchemist, turning poetry into jokes and transforming uncomfortable anecdotes into tender fables of modern love. It’s not a show for the complacent. Key’s humour is singular and it’s almost shocking that he’s playing as big of a venue as he is. But his ubiquity at the Fringe, as well as on the big and small screen over the past couple of years, has afforded him a dedicated audience willing to be active.

He regales us with confessions of near threesomes, failed hookups and his flirting techniques, which more often than not include putting fingers into the facial orifices of his unsuspecting objects of affection. The jokes are dark, the observations misanthropic and his energy manic. Throughout the hour he gets used to wandering away from the microphone to shout his lines at the audience – but there’s a tenderness to his stories and his strength as a storyteller is on display throughout. His poetry is peppered amid the show, as well as moments of audience interplay, where he asks young women to join him onstage to speak about Russia or be interrogated on their sleep-time habits.

His strength as a performer is in understanding the negative space and the tension of silences. As any creative writing teacher worth his/her salt will tell you, it’s more effective to show than tell. Single White Slut satisfies fans of Key’s previous stage and screen work – his awkward pauses and coy persona are intact – but there’s a weariness and maturity to this that will leave you thinking about it for days; not necessarily because of singular jokes or poems but because of the weight of the in-between moments, and how Key has swirled it all together to make an incredibly erudite rumination on human connection. 

Tim Key: Single White Slut @ Pleasance Grand, 16-25 August, 9:40 pm, £12/£10