Fringe Comedy Reviews: A Walk on the Weird Side

Feature by Stu Black | 11 Aug 2015

Beasts' [★★★★☆] new show starts in the most calculating manner, with Owen Roberts quietly setting up a camera to record their sketches so the group can send a sample to Hollywood. The rest of Live DVD’s anarchic hour is spent trying to capture something – anything – that might make them famous, a task that becomes about as elusive as killing Moby Dick, or Free Willy, as they would have it.

The frenetic lunacy that follows is messy, sweaty, yeasty and irresistible. The trio’s characters are nicely drawn: Roberts is the slightly smarter, pretentious one (resplendent in a mustard yellow turtle neck), James McNicholas channels the particular thickness of an Adrian Edmondson character, while Ciarán Dowd is an over-enthusiastic man-child the other two must contain. It’s very well directed by the trio’s long-term mentor Tom Parry, though the carefully calibrated mayhem is marred by some needless references back to Parry’s TV work: namely a climax sung to the strains of Les Mis. It’s a shame because Beasts really don’t need these comedy hand-me-downs; their clowning is clever enough already. A restaurant sketch that evolves out of an everyday pun into an insane piece of performance art is one of the best you’ll see at the Fringe

While Beasts' show goes out of its way to show how hard this comedy business is, Max and Ivan [★★★★] are so good they make it look easy. Armed with not much more than an ear for accents and a bit of arts and crafts know-how, they manage to conjure up the residents of an entire town on the brink of apocalypse by thermo-nuclear meltdown. Sharply written and slickly performed, the depiction of small town life in Sudley-on-Sea is strangely believable no matter how cartoonish the situation makes their expanding cast of characters behave. As doomsday nears, a nurse ends up pretending to be a blind man’s dog, a mouldering couple get their sex life back, while a club of well-spoken gents come out as members of a snake god cult. Terrific characterisations are matched by satisfyingly silly arcs while some seemingly irrelevant audience interplay is folded cleverly into the story’s finale. The ease of the two performers shouldn’t undermine the achievement here: they’ve (almost) managed to create an English version of Springfield. 

There’s more cartoonish world-building in Butt Kapinski [★★★☆☆] a semi-improvised show that centres on a private dick with a hard-boiled attitude and a terrible speech impediment. He’s crossed over from the world of film noir (or ‘nwow’ as he puts it) to investigate multiple homicides that take place in the audience at the beginning of the show. Under a single spotlight (tied to his back) Kapinski rallies the rest of the room – the whores, dope peddlers and crooked cops who together make up a city's worth of prime suspects – to solve the crime and nail the elusive kingpin. Everyone gets involved here, and as the cast grows, so does a vivid sense of the cityscape. It’s huge – and hugely fun – and all cleverly underpinned by an English professor’s understanding of the genre’s seminal (and we do mean seminal) works. It’s not so much character comedy as gender-bending genre studies, in the most fun way. 

Audience participation is also required in Tatterdemalion [★★☆☆☆], though here it’s not quite so enjoyable. Despite having found a great name for the show (it’s a Jacobean term for a vagabond) this one-man clown-about from Flabbergast Theatre doesn’t quite muster an act to match it. Basically, it’s a hairy hipster with a load of second-hand tics playing with a load of second-hand props. He wears a Fez like Tommy Cooper, mumbles like Mr Bean, and waggles his fingers like Wallace waiting for Gromit to bring in his Wensleydale.

Bits of skits emerge as he rummages through his old travel trunk, repurposing the bric-a-brac he finds inside as playthings: an egg becomes a rocket, while a doll turns creepily demonic. None of the routines are particularly imaginative and a segment where our hero gets dressed is frankly interminable. The best bit involves the audience getting up on stage to play a train full of commuters – although, in the end, participation can’t disguise the fact that this also soon palls. We hold out hope though that this is the kind of show that can evolve over the Fringe, so may be worth a revisit further down the line. 

There’s slightly more mature buffoonery in Twonky’s Stinking Bishop [★★☆☆] a wilfully weird show that would probably be best appreciated after taking a crash helmet full of drugs. Mad old avunucular Twonky is some sort of shambolic cross between Harpo Marx, Noddy Holder and Tom Baker as Doctor Who. Perilously close to smashing up his entire set, he sings uncomfortable ditties about sheep dip and haunted cable cars, and also performs incredible feats with the assistance of a menagerie of unsettling puppets. So naturally, a pig escapes from inside a wheel of cheese and some lucky punter gets to experience a Transylvanian finger fantasy. Not for everyone perhaps, Twonky is nevertheless recommended for aficionados of surreal cabaret. 

Beasts: Live DVD, Pleasance Courtyard, until 31 Aug (various dates), 4:45pm, £6-10

Max and Ivan, Pleasance Dome, until 30 Aug (various dates), 8:20pm, £6-12.50

Butt Kapinksi, The Liquid Room, until 30 Aug (various dates), 2:10pm, free

Tatterdemalion, Assembly Roxy, until 31 Aug (various dates), 5:45pm, £10-12

Twonkey's Stinking Bishop, Sweet Grassmarket, until 30 Aug (various dates), 9pm, £5-6