Fringe Comedy Reviews: Characters

From sketches to to cabaret to impressions: Zoe Coombs Marr, Diane Chorley, Emma Sidi and Katia Kvinge bring character comedy to the Fringe.

Feature by Tony Makos | 20 Aug 2015

The best character comedy comes from a satisfying mix of writing and performance, but unfortunately the gulf between the two is wide when watching young Katia Kvinge. On stage Kvinge is confident but over-energetic and initially the seemingly ridiculous idea of attempting to portray 140 characters in one hour has potential. However, what should be fast, light and peppy regularly grinds to a halt under the weight of material that struggles to raise much more than a smile. Each new character is clumsily set up in advance, and subsequently disappoints as each is then delivered with the flattest of one-liners or directionless half-story. A whistle stop tour of UK accents is woefully outdated and some sub-par celebrity impressions appears more like an audition for New Faces circa 1986. Katia Kvinge may be a capable enough physical performer, but 140 Karakters [★☆☆☆☆] is ultimately less than the sum of its many parts.

It's a compliment to Emma Sidi's voice talent that by the end of the hour it’s difficult to establish what her real accent might sound like. A mix of extended solo pieces, each featuring one of five characters, Sidi is energetic, vivacious and convincingly offbeat as she breaks into spontaneous dancing and lip-syncing to mark the boundaries between sketches. Once again, however, the writing here could be much stronger – and many of these individual segments in Character Breakdown [★★☆☆☆] go nowhere. Despite efforts to cross-pollinate each sketch with a token reference or two to other characters, there’s little attempt to piece together an overall narrative. While this might not be the intention, Sidi’s characters are unusually well drawn and would shine brighter in a broader context. However, the final sketch is a highpoint – an innovative feminist critique of the Harry Potter books delivered entirely in Spanish.

Flame-haired Diane Chorley: The Duchess of Canvey [★★★☆☆] is a beautifully precise creation – not your average cabaret drag-act, Chorley comes across as far from a caricature due to a specifically British origin story and some wonderfully understated character traits. As she sidles into the spotlight with her band, The Buffet, each with their own background and nom-de-plume, the stage is set for an evening of hushed stories of the Essex nightclub scene, 80s celebrity name dropping and a handful of well-delivered original tunes. Chorley puts her all into bringing the songs to life – far from novelty comedy ditties, many of them come across as authentically constructed pop numbers from an era gone by, and while not packed with jokes they’re delivered with feeling. The anecdotes Chorley tells (of her old nightclub past and spending time in prison) are rich in pathos and period detail, and while her performance is perfectly pitched between nostalgic and weary, it’s always with an optimistic nod to the future.

Zoe Coombs Marr inhabits the character of Dave [★★★☆☆], a boorish Australian male stand-up, with unnerving conviction. It would be straightforward enough to use Dave to poke easy fun at gender and national stereotypes, and sure, these boxes get ticked as Marr uses him to make fun of the expected sexist tropes. However, it’s quite clear from the start that Marr also has something else in mind. As Dave attempts his woeful crowdwork and fails to connect in any meaningful way, the audience witness the character’s full comedic and personal breakdown on stage, making the show more uncomfortable yet strangely more compelling to watch. However, with the fourth wall tested to its limits, it's Marr's show rather than Dave's that starts to fracture. Without spoiling events this is a surprising, off-kilter show that commits to pushing a crowd further and further away – one poor audience member easily has the most uneasy five minutes they will experience at this year’s Fringe. It isn’t easy to watch or be a part of, and ultimately isn’t completely satisfactory as the uplifting tonally conflicted finale doesn't really pay off, but perhaps Marr doesn’t actually want it that way.

Katia Kvinge: 140 Karakters, The Caves, until 29 Aug, 7:45pm, free

Emma Sidi: Character Breakdown, until 31 Aug, 8pm, £6.50-9

Diane Chorley: The Duchess of Canvey, Underbelly Potterow, until 31 Aug, 10:30pm, £9.50-12.50

Zoe Coombs Marr: Dave, Underbelly Cowgate, until 30 Aug, 9:20pm, £9-11