‘Al Murray: Gig For Victory’ (Assembly Square Gardens – Palais du Variete, until AUG 29)

“It is a joy to watch and is even better in the flesh. Go if you have the chance”

Editorial Rating:  5 Stars (Outstanding)

Earlier in the week I’d attended a Fringe show. There were three of us in the audience. Two on stage. I felt for them. I’d guess they felt for me. Audience participation with three audience members his hard yakka for all concerned.

It did seem odd then that my next show was Al Murray, arguably the biggest name at this year’s Fringe. I got there half an hour early and the already the queue for the landlord snaked out of Assembly Gardens and down the roads towards Underbelly. That is the Fringe for you – in all its ridiculous sublimity. If you come to Edinburgh genuinely do try to see as much as you can – from the big names to the small, from the old to the new.

But to our tale… how do you review Al Murray? In a way it is pointless. You don’t analyse our national treasures. You bask. You understand that he is a very British sort of genius – he couldn’t have come into existence anywhere else – and you enjoy.

The crowd was large and boisterous. The circus tent in the gardens crackling in anticipation. And then it began. He ambles in from the back of the venue, gently caressing the bald heads he passes by and bounds on stage. Beer covers the first few rows. Some are surprised. Really?

And there he is before us resplendent in that burgundy blazer, swinging a pint pot, gleaming, celebrating us those that bested Covid, happily throwing crisps at an overweight man that he admits he is surprised made it through the pandemic. The yeoman of all he surveys. A man sure of his opinions but confused with how the world is going: the character is eternal.

The pandemic has been good for the landlord. He has waited all his life for this moment. Covid was as he says ‘’our blitz’’. The moment we stood as one and did our bit for Queen and Country. For the first time we join the ranks of British heroes. We, he tells us, are the survivors and he wants to learn who is in the lifeboat with him: who made it through? So much of Murray’s show is unique to the night itself.

There’s little point telling you what happened or highlight particular gags because there’s just so much audience work. There’s no one better at it. Many try. Many manage for five minutes or so… but for the majority of the show. That isn’t high-wire stuff. How anyone can elicit so many laughs from two questions: ‘’what’s your name? What do you do?’’ I’ll never know. Flitting back and forward, weaving their lives together, Ollie in the corner must know Evelyn the gynaecologist and the jaeger bomb Durham boys. The strokers who go for a wee within ten minutes. None of these people will be there tonight. They won’t happen tonight. Something though will.

Throughout the course of the evening we meet Rod in finance, Dim Dave who ‘works for a solicitor’, a sheep farmer, a slow brick maker, a family lawyer (‘and a cold wind whips through the hall”) and many more. At one point he speaks to Deborah who has a play on at the fringe about WWII. The landlord lets loose a stunning two minute summary of the relatively obscure war story the play is about and then back to the important things of talking to the audience.

Of course, the badinage ends up back to the themes of the pandemic, our leaders, our survival against the odds of Covid and in the end he moves from the audience to the central theme that the last the two years we have had to endure.

Al’s theory of how each generation is perfect for the challenges the world throws at it. Our grandparents fought Nazism singlehandedly without help whilst we rose to the challenge we faced, a challenge only our generation could face: staying in the house watching TV for four months.


Whilst being paid by the government.

Tonight’s show will be similar yet entirely different. Where he goes is entirely dependent on who shows up. Only a handful of comics could pull this sort of show off and fewer still relentlessly hit such heights.

There’s little point dwelling on the technicalities. Murray is one of the cleverest, quickest-witted comics out there. You know that. Everyone knows that. It is like explaining Monty Python or David Attenborough or David Gower’s cover drive. His character allows him to explore areas of life that others shy away from or – if they do – tend to veer to shock or righteousness.

One minor point: for an act so on the button of current affairs and with such an intuitive understanding of what the British public thinks… I was a little surprised that there was no mention (in the show I attended) of that other comedian who plays a character that happens to use the actor’s real name: Jerry Sadowitz. I’d have thought that was ripe material for the landlord particularly given some of the gags early on about the various genders of grandchildren that we might boast about our Covid heroism too.

But let’s not dwell too much on this. That is a throwaway thought rather than a criticism.

His character is timeless and needs no introduction: the garrulous British blowhard who almost knows what he is talking about and has a view about everything. It is a joy to watch and is even better in the flesh. Go if you have the chance. Just make sure you know your job and don’t try to claim you are an acrobat.

Come for the crisps being flung at you. Stay for the white wine for the lady. Get your red blazers on and join him in his lifeboat.


‘Bee Story’ (Underbelly Bristo Square Cowbarn, until AUG 28)

“Bee Story is everything you would want in a children’s show. It is charming. It is lovely. It is magical”.

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars (Outstanding)

All good things come to an end and my Edinburgh Fringe 2022 finished with Bee Story. This is an Australian non-verbal circus show… there seems to be a lot of them about this year. Have they given up on beating us at sport? Is there something different in the Vegemite? Who knows? This trend is very welcome.

So yes, I have seen a few similar shows this year. I haven’t though seen a better one. Bee Story is everything you would want in a children’s show. It is charming. It is lovely. It is magical.

I doubt there is a better opening to any Fringe show than that of Bee Story. They may return – or you may see it elsewhere – so mum is the word but the first time you see Queen Bee was a moment of stunned delight. Neither I nor my youngest could believe it nor did we guess immediately how they did it.

It doesn’t stop from there. Over the course of the next hour there are unicycles, clowning (the facial expressions are simply wonderful), juggling, juggling with knives, some astonishing floor work, ballet, physical comedy (there’s a great scene with a snake and another with a net), acrobatics, gymnastic, and buckets of fun. Neither I nor the youngster could take our eyes off it. It was as if a mini-Cirque du Soleil had landed in Bristo Square. We were far from alone: there were spontaneous rounds of applause and whooping and hollering throughout.

The team at Arc Circus – Robbie Curtis and Lizzie McRae are seriously talented. Where else will you see a woman dressed as a Queen Bee being held in a series of bizarre positions whilst playing pop songs on a flute? You know, and I know, the answer is nowhere.

We meet Queen Bee and Worker Bee. Her Royal Highness – usually accompanied by God Save The Queen – wants more honey and poor old Worker Bee is doing his darnedest to get it but can’t quite. Then, from nowhere, the hive is hit by a bushfire.

Queen Bee has to lose her heirs and graces whilst Worker Bee enjoys a new friend as they work together to build a new hive. Of course, that is harder than it looks.

A magical hour with important messages. Teamwork and collaboration matters, friendship is key, that we need to care for our environment and that bees really do matter.

There’s probably some important British-Australian analysis on overcoming class divisions too but leave that to the grown-up reviewers.

The important part was my daughter and I loved this show and she said it was her favourite of the Fringe. She particularly loved it when Queen Bee poked her toy bee with her flute. I mean, that’s the sort of wonder you only get at the Fringe… and the sort of thing that makes children fall in love with theatre. A genuinely lovely little thing that I’d recommend to anyone.

Come for the buzz. Stay for the seizing of the means of production. Get your yellow/black coats on and go see this.

‘The Elephant in the Room’ (Assembly Rooms, Powder Room, until AUG 27)

“Shetty’s vigorous physical style, expressive face, and radioactive eyes draw the audience into the action as she regularly makes direct eye-contact with everyone in the auditorium.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars (Outstanding)

After a very successful tour of the USA including the prestigious Kennedy Centre in Washington DC, this is the Fringe debut for a lively and engaging one-woman play, written and performed by Priyanka Shetty. Here for just the one week in a smallish studio auditorium in a marquee on George Street, be prepared for the driving force of Ms Shetty’s electrifyingly physical performance.

The seemingly autobiographical story tells of what it’s like to grow up in India as a young girl and then defy your family to try and make it as an actress as “a brown girl in Trump’s America”. Shetty’s vigorous physical style, expressive face, and radioactive eyes draw the audience into the action as she regularly makes direct eye-contact with everyone in the auditorium. There is much humour at the expense of the stereotypical features of a female south Asian upbringing: aggressively aspirational parents, judgemental aunts, religion (sometimes in the shape of the elephant-god Ganesha), and Bollywood movies.

Shetty makes full use of the small stage and basic set to vividly re-enact her story in a number of physical styles, including everything from yoga to Bollywood dance and song. As the show progresses, the emotional tone gradually changes from one of youthful optimism underscored by the heartaches of family life and romance, to the stark realities of the American theatre audition circuit. Shetty’s wry depiction of the serial rejections that can be experienced will raise a rueful smile to any fellow Fringe actors seeing this show. As an Asian woman, she often refers to her “otherness”, sometimes self-deprecatingly, sometimes not. This aspect of her life doubles as a significant factor in her own life story and a revealing perspective on everyone else from the perspective of an outsider.

Single-actor shows are quite common at the Fringe, but this one stuck in the mind for me due to Shetty’s often almost conversational delivery. At no time did it seem like a stagey dramatic monologue; rather someone I’d just met showing me the story of their life. Use of props and time-consuming costume changes are sensibly kept to a minimum to maintain pace and story development.

The phrase from which the show takes its title is a common metaphor for embarrassing problems which everyone knows exist, but are scared to mention. After one or two red herrings along the way, we’re left in no doubt at the end by Shetty’s now angry tone what the identity is of this particularly problematic pachyderm – I won’t spoil things for you by giving it a name. This show is only on until the end of this week, so:

Come for the elephant. Stay for a whirlwind performance. Leave having seen a great Fringe debut. So get your coats on and go see this!


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‘Earwig’ (Assembly Rooms, Front Room, until AUG 27)

“The three energetic performers beetle away to pack a lot of fun into an hour’s traffic on the stage.”

Editorial Rating:  Stars (Outstanding)

Whilst perhaps not the most attractive of titles, this is one of the most unusual and interesting pieces of theatre I’ve seen at this year’s Fringe. After successfully touring throughout the UK, Manchester-based theatre company Time and Again bring us the quirky story of entomologist Marigold Webb, whose deafness excludes her from conversations not directly before her face.

Laura Crow’s script makes much use of insect life as metaphor, with characters being likened to wasps, hornets, golden tiger beetles, and the like. The production by directors Catherine Cowdrey and Samantha Vaughan offers an hour that is both entertaining and informative without taking itself too seriously. Robyn Greeves anchors the show as the protagonist, calmly and wryly narrating the difficulties faced in the 1920s by a woman who is not only deaf, but trying to make her way in the male-dominated scientific world. Adam Martin-Brooks first comes across as a Bertie Woosterish toff, but as the play progresses he mutates into Marigold’s domineering and abusive husband. Beth Nolan gives eye-catching performances as both Marigold’s down-to-earth mother and as Bryony Varden, the very personification of a flighty jazz-age flapper. A projection screen at the back of the set is used very much as if it were another character, with its captions often interacting with both the cast and the audience.

This is also a very visual and physical piece of theatre. One of the high points was a vividly choreographed set piece between Marigold and Bryony supposedly reading quietly in a library. Their exchanged looks, messages, and attempts to ignore each other and do some studying are expressed with increasingly terpsichorean verve and at one stage even break into a Charleston. Along with the screen captions, the pacy action often has the feel of a silent movie of the era in which the play is set. Throughout the action, we are subtly reminded of Marigold’s deafness and the problems it causes in a number of inventive and dramatically effective ways.

Performed in a smallish black-box auditorium in George Street, this is a little gem of a play, with the three energetic performers beetling away to pack a lot of fun into an hour’s traffic on the stage. Come for the entomology. Stay for the Charleston. Leave with ants in your pants and a spring in your step. Get your coats on and beetle along to see this!


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‘Dave Johns: A Comic’s Tale’ (Guilded Balloon Teviot, Wine Bar, until AUG 28)

“His journey from the streets of Byker to the red carpet of the Cannes film festival is beautifully encapsulated in his comment upon encountering a incredulous Meryl Streep at a star-studded buffet: “Hey, Meryl – it’s all free!””

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars (Outstanding)

To anyone who follows stand-up comedy closely, the name Dave Johns ought to be familiar: founder of Newcastle’s first comedy club, and as such co-facilitator of several of his contemporaries’ glittering careers; and veteran of both the Fringe and the year-round club circuit. Though not quite – yet – a household name, his face is much more familiar since starring in the title role of I, Daniel Blake, and a subsequent movie career including Fisherman’s Friends.

Johns is on top comic form in this hour-long one-man show, which combines general observational patter with reflections on his rags-to-riches life. As his close relationship with his audiences suggests, he prefers working in small, intimate venues where he can chat with the punters – indeed, there won’t have been a dry seat left in the front row, judging by the helpless laughter of two ladies he focused on. As Johns tells us, no two nights of his show are the same as he tries out slightly different material each night to see what goes down well. Highlights of this particular evening were a surreal shaggy dog story about an orphan midget; audience participation in a chorus of The Pirate King; and the reason why he’ll never be in a Stephen Spielberg film. His journey from the streets of Byker to the red carpet of the Cannes film festival is beautifully encapsulated in his comment upon encountering an incredulous Meryl Streep at a star-studded buffet: “Hey, Meryl – it’s all free!”

For a man who’s spent so many years wielding a microphone, there is inevitably some sage reflection on the nature of what he does. Rightly disparaging the vast, impersonal arenas played by some of his contemporaries, and the slick glitz of Live at the Apollo. Johns champions the unpredictable intimacy of small venues. “I’m at the two-tickets-for-the-price-of-one end of the market”, he notes disparagingly, adding ironically that the more five-star reviews he gets, the fewer the people who come to see him.

I came away from this show not having laughed out loud so much in years. Give me heart and soul stuff like this rather than an arena any day. So come for the authenticity. Stay for the non-stop laughs. Leave with a great big cheeky-chappie smile on your face. This is Geordie humour so, even if it’s baltic out, leave your coats at home and go see this!


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‘Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man’ (Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose, until AUG 28)

“The flamboyant style and innuendo-laden patter had the audience shrieking with laughter from the outset. “

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars (Outstanding)

The programme note “Includes scenes of a sexual nature” is putting it mildly for this hilariously raucous and bawdy romp. Based on a book of the same name by Dan Anderson and Maggie Berman, it comes to the Edinburgh Fringe after productions in Las Vegas and Off-Broadway New York. Not for the shy or straight-laced, the tips of the title are presented as a step-by-step guide to sex in the format of a scholarly presentation that quickly escalates into something like Love Island-style reality TV or an X-rated late-night quiz show.

At the centre of the action is Dan, the “Gay man” of the show’s title, played by Adam Fane, who hosts the evening like Graham Norton on acid and is camper than a field full of tents. His flamboyant style and innuendo-laden patter had the audience shrieking with laughter from the outset. His foil is Robyn, a bookish ingenue who vainly tries to sustain the pretence of an academic seminar amidst an onslaught of dick jokes and phallic symbols. While we’re on the subject of the penis, come prepared to volunteer a nickname for the male pudendum to be used for the rest of the show. I heard the audience propose everything from the workaday “knob” to the exotically suggestive “beef whistle”, but the one we ended up with was “Ever-Ready”. The third cast member is Bradley Allen Meyer, who plays Stefan the stage manager. Something of a stud who clearly excites the interest of Robyn. Stefan is used as a life model and stripper for some of the tips demonstrated.

Things were cranked up another notch when a little more audience participation saw three brave ladies take the stage to mime various arousal techniques under Dan’s instruction. This greatly excited the other women in the audience including my wife – normally a presbyterian sort of lady – who started fondling me in a way she hasn’t for a wee while. Dan whipped things up even further to whooping hysteria when we were invited to mime something – modesty forbids me from saying what – using our rolled-up programmes. At this stage my wife giggled: “This is like a Hen night in Blackpool!” (And she told me she was going to a conference…)

This ribald laugh-out-loud show is an absolute hoot. The large auditorium was nearly full when I was there and I can only imagine things getting even busier as word gets around. So come for the Sex Tips, stay for the laughs, and leave with a few nifty ideas to buck up your love life. Get your sexiest coats on and go see this!


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‘Horse Country’ (Assembly George Square Studios, until AUG 29)

“A dazzling series of verbal loops, covering fishing, trained seals and sea lions, the usefulness of horses and children (once both are broken in) and ‘freedom’.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars (Outstanding)

There’s a long and honourable tradition of shows with two protagonists (usually male) trapped together in an unusual situation. ‘The Dumb Waiter’, ‘The Zoo Story’, ‘Steptoe and Son’, most of Laurel and Hardy, ‘Waiting for Godot’ and Rick and Ade in ‘Bottom’ to name a few. To that list, we can now add Horse Country, CJ Hopkins’s just over 60-minute play, first seen at Edinburgh in 2002.

This time it’s Flying Bridge Theatre Company, based in Newport, to bring Sam and Bob to life. And in the form of Daniel Llewelyn-Williams and Michael Edwards, they are in very safe hands. As the audience enters, both actors are onstage, slippers on, seemingly channelling their inner Laurel and Hardy (also playing as the front of House music), in particular Edward’s nervous grinning and waving to members of the crowd embodying the spirit of Mr Laurel.

However, the cosiness does not last long as the play begins in a blizzard of words, images and ideas which shake us out of any complacency. Sam and Bob, our protagonists, take us through a dazzling series of verbal loops, covering fishing, trained seals and sea lions, the usefulness of horses and children (once both are broken in) and ‘freedom’. And here’s the nub, for all Sam and Bob’s talk and dreams of freedom, they are essentially trapped in a system they cannot control and from which they seemingly cannot escape. The search for the lost nine of diamonds from their deck of cards is as futile as their quest to go “out there”, we get an occasional glimpse and then it disappears.

I was reminded at times of watching Twin Peaks, accept everything you see and hear, then work out your own meaning later.

Both actors show superb verbal and physical dexterity throughout the performance and their onstage chemistry is perfectly aligned. They invite us into their world and we willingly take the trip, which makes the one moment of real violence all the more shocking.

It’s a strong performance for Flying Bridge Theatre and hopefully will have a life beyond Edinburgh.

Come for the slapstick. Stay for the verbal gymnastics. Leave with a free carrot (maybe). Get your riding coats on and go see this.


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‘Chris McGlade: Forgiveness’ (Frankenstein’s, until AUG 24)

“He is serious, powerful talent.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars (Outstanding)

Would you laugh at jokes about a pensioner being murdered?

Even when the pensioner in question is the comedian’s father?

I did. And you would.

In the basement of Frankenstein’s pub, we met Chris McGlade, the Smoggie James Nesbitt. From the off he was prowling the audience, slapping us on the back, getting in our faces, and joking about us all with a glint in the eye.

McGlade told us at the start it was a long show (2 hours) and we were to get comfy: go to the toilet, get a pint, come and go… you just aren’t allowed to leave’.

The first hour of the show has been called elsewhere a cri de cœur against the metropolitan liberal elite. It is in part.

It is more than that though and to view it as such misunderstands the show. The first hour is McGlade not only telling us about who his dad was but also explaining the culture that he, and his father, grew up in. A culture that shaped them. A culture that was rough but kind. A culture where you mocked others but with a smile.. and with the expectation you would be mocked back. The culture he feels his now ignored, belittled or denied. A culture that has roared both here and in the USA.

This show is an English ”Hillbilly Elegy”. To see it is to understand why so many Northern working-class voters voted Tory in 2019 and voted for Brexit a few years earlier.

There were a few folk younger in the crowd and whilst there are moments of genuine shock in that first hour the moment they bristled was when he announced he’d voted Tory. That interested me – some of the language and themes will likely offend some people but it was a working-class man who announced he’d voted Tory that brought silence. The use of racial language, the on the edge jokes… they got laughs.

Did I agree with everything McGlade said about working-class culture? No. There was plenty to challenge but I think he’d welcome that with a joke, a wink, and craic. There was plenty of truth there and plenty to think about. There were moments that made me think deeply and moments that made me laugh out loud. There were moments throughout where I swore out loud in shock only to find myself laughing.

This is a comedian who has been brought up in the tough world of working men’s clubs. There is much disdain of this. I’d guess many comedians on the circuit couldn’t shine there and at Edinburgh. McGlade does. He is a serious, powerful talent. He notes he is an outlier – a 50-something, white, working class, heavily accented guy who hasn’t been to University. It is a long way from the all too frequent liberal university grad tell a bunch of liberal university grad jokes that make them feel smug.

His skit of walking around the audience telling the sorts of jokes he’d tell there – all the expense of audience members – was very good. Whilst I am sure he shines in those venues he shone here because of his fleetness of foot – there are times when you think a joke is going one way and he totally wrongfoots you. His gag about middle-class people peppering their speech with French only to do so himself was very clever. Gags about heroin addiction and being a good Catholic were laugh-out-loud.

The first half is integral to the second. He wants you to understand his dad, and the world they lived in, and the second half focuses more on the relationship with his father, his family, and his now estranged wife and how those relationships (and their endings) have shaped him.

The second half just wouldn’t work without the first. There are jokes aplenty still but it is more thoughtful, more poignant, more beautiful. He tells us of his anger, his rage, his tears. He tells us of the jokes he told to the Police when they explained his father had been murdered. He tells us of the moments in court where people fell about laughing. He makes the audience laugh when he tells us of a bizarre suicide attempt where he is saved by a mobster’s daughter. His point throughout is what unites working class people is that they find humour everywhere.

There are moments of beauty here. I enjoyed his occasional diversions into poetry. His joking with the crowd was phenomenal (at one point it looked like he was going to do a Sadowitz by unbuttoning his trousers but stopped and laughed it off). The political message in the first half will make many uncomfortable but it will make more laugh.

Ultimately though it all builds to forgiveness. Here is a man who has forgiven the man who brutally murdered his father. A man who understands how the relationship with his father has shaped him. His language at points is astonishingly un-PC. If he can speak so eloquently about forgiving a man who strangled his father perhaps the Edinburgh Fringe crowd can forgive him that?

Come for the insight. Stay for the laugh-out-loud moments. Get your heavily accented coats on and go see this.


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‘Jack Docherty: Nothing But’ (Gilded Balloon at the Museum, until AUG 26)

“Docherty leads us effortlessly through the story, with some nicely observed characters and an impressive bit of lip-syncing, plus a few Scottish references (a cheer for mention of The Blue Nile!).”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars (Outstanding)

Jack Docherty has always been a class act. From his early double act with Moray Hunter, through the years of Absolutely, through now to the self-aggrandising Chief Cameron Miekelson in Scot Squad, Docherty has been an engaging and fascinating performer.

I’m glad to say this trend continues with ‘Nothing But’, a time-shifting story of love, anticipation and disappointment, spread over 40 plus years but chiefly focused on a brief affair between two people at the Edinburgh Fringe in the late 80s that is rekindled many years later and how that relationship came to destroy a marriage and affect the subsequent relationship with his daughter. Docherty has an easy charm and is a natural storyteller, starting with his lifelong disappointment in the ‘clown’ at a friend’s fifth birthday party and running through his life. Although presented as a true story, how much of it actually happened is left to the audience to decide.

With a couple of poster-covered blocks and a few projections, Docherty leads us effortlessly through the story, with some nicely observed characters and an impressive bit of lip-syncing, plus a few Scottish references (a cheer for mention of The Blue Nile!). At no point does the story feel forced or staged although, at one point he notes,  the situation gets to a point of such clichéd romance where even Richard Curtis would say “hang on a minute…”

Having ‘retired’ from live performance for a few years, it’s very good to see such a wonderful performer back in front of an audience. There are only a couple of performances left, so don’t miss out, because as the man himself says “it’s the Edinburgh Fringe, and all bets are off.”

Come for a top professional at the top of his professional powers. Stay for the story well told. Leave knowing you got to see the unicorn before it vanished from the glade. Get your coats on (quickly) and go see this!

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‘Laurel and Chaplin: Before They Were Famous’ (theSpaceTriplex, until AUG 13)

“One of the best examples of audience participation in the known universe.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars (Outstanding)

In his 300-page autobiography, Charlie Chaplin never mentions Stan Laurel. Why not? Both were Brits who built their careers up from vaudeville and into the early era of moving pictures thus achieving immortality. They are iconic figures about whom so much is known, except that they started their journies to the top together, in the same company. What went wrong? Why did they never speak again?

We enter to find ourselves greeted by the show’s author, THE Jon Conway, introducing his latest script which is born of his quest to chart the section of Chaplin’s biography marked “here there be dragons.” Jon is a legendary producer, a veteran of campaigns in the West End, the silver screen, and BIG arena shows such as ‘Elf’ the supersized Christmas spectacular based on the Will Ferrell movie. Jon has an instinctive, professional’s feel for the pioneering age of Holywood when everything was an innovation. What follows is 45mins of laugh-out-loud knockabout with just enough tragedy to tug the heartstrings and add a bittersweet note to the custard pie mix hurtling towards your face.

Two on-screen legends merit two legendary performances. As Stan Laurel, Matt Knight shows off some of the party tricks that wowed the judges on BBC TV’s ‘Let It Shine’ where if memory serves (or rather if The Current Mrs Dan’s memory serves) he reached the semi-finals. There’s a depth to his portrait work on Laurel, a melancholy and personal uncertainty, the shadows of the limelight. Matt is a physical wonderworker, but he’s also a chuffing good character actor and one to watch in the coming years.

Watching Jordan (son of Jon) Conway play Chaplin is like having high tea at the Ritz astride a Harley-Davidson FXDR 114 (0-60 in approximately 2.5 seconds). The first thing I do when I’m back outside is message Angela Pearson of the ‘Talking Bottom’ podcast to ask if anyone is filming a Rik Mayall biopic and in need of a star. Jordan shares Mayall’s timing, his precision, his manic determination simply to be as funny as he can possibly be – in fact, funnier than anyone else could possibly be. Jordan matches Matt’s physicality (although no one could equal it). Their on-stage chemistry is as lively as things would get if you were caught deliberately puncturing the bouncy castle at Vinny Jones’ kid’s birthday party.

As Chaplin’s troubled mother, Hannah, Kelly Banlaki brings the drama of alcohol dependency and incarceration. Kelly and Jordan share some really lovely moments as the proud mother gazing with a broken heart at the superstar apple of her eye. Hannah the most complex and contradictory of the several roles Kelly plays. As the nurse – I dread to think where they bought that THAT costume – as the nurse she is [For your own protection, the remainder of this sentence has been automatically deleted by a woke algorithm.]

The supporting cast of Joel Hatton as, among others, musical hall impresario Fred Karno as well as Joe Speare as our narrator, Wilbur, provide more flying buttressing than is to be found on a medieval cathedral. It’s essential because this is a jack-in-the-box script ready to jump out of its tiny time slot and make some serious mischief. There’s a bit with a cucumber, Joel and Jordan that doesn’t leave a dry seat in the house. For me, and for everyone else, the absolute highlight of the night’s madcappery was the demonstration of how simplistic was the process of making movies back in the day – when pictures were shot in less time than it takes Howard Berg to get through Terry Pratchett’s ‘Moving Pictures’ cover to cover. This was done via one of the best examples of audience participation in the known universe.

This little run in theSpaceTriplex – Big is obviously a teaser for the full-length mega hit coming our way. It leaves us wanting more and asking a fair few questions like why Joe isn’t also appearing in an EdFringe showcase of Nat King Cole classics doing duets with Richard Shelton as Sinatra. BTW Joe’s got a chuffing superb singing voice, did I not mention that already?

Come for the names you know. Stay for brilliant performances by names you’re about to know. Leave wanting more. Get your Bermans and Nathans tailcoats on and go see this.


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