Late Show (Pleasance Courtyard, Saturday 8th August 2015) ****


I really enjoy these late shows where you have no idea who will be on the bill. As I usually do, I aimed for the front row, where there were several spaces. This was good luck, I thought, considering that the queue had been so long.

It soon became apparent that the compare was going to start narratives about, and start a conversation with people sitting in the front row and the row behind. There was a constant dialogue with a guy who admitted he was from Orpington and also a group of young people – ‘those young people’. Indeed, the compare was quick witted and smart and did an excellent job at giving an overall coherence to the show.

On the night I went there were four acts. Unfortunately,  I didn’t catch the names two of them. Not that they weren’t very good. The young woman did a great job, especially as she was first on (after the compare). The other guy presented himself as a rather weird guy that you wouldn’t want to be friends with. I found his deadpan style extremely entertaining.

Then came Milton Jones and Reginald D. Hunter. I think I recognised them both because I watch Have I Got News for You, rather than TV comedy shows.

I was impressed with both of Jones and Hunter. Jones’ humour is based on his quirky appearance and one-liners and so is quickly paced. Hunter’s comedy challenges our assumptions and our prejudices and is hard hitting.

..and yes Hunter did pick on me once. I could see him looking and thinking whether he should or not. He made reference to my size, but actually in a polite way. Maybe this was a warning that harsher comments may come in the future if I sit on the front row to watch a comedy show. I must admit though I did love being that close to the acts and to be able to enjoy the performances.

It was a great end to the second day.

My verdict: ****

When Blair had Bush and Bunga (Pleasance Courtyard, Saturday 8th August) ***

This show is funny in parts with some ouch moments. It seemed relevant to go to a show about Bush and Blair on a day I had seen two other show based on political figures as diverse as Boris Johnson and Tony Benn.

The audience is welcomed into the theatre by Heartbeat (Nicola Blackman) and Bijoux (Linda John-Pierre). Their banter put the audience into a good mood. The lights went up and revealed Christopher Staines on stage. He looked so much like Tony Blair that the audience is already laughing and engaged.

This is the story of Tony and Cherie Blair’s holiday on Sir Cliff Richard’s island. Silvio Berlusconi and George Bush turn up. Among the guests are Alastair Campbell and Carole Caplin. Anyway, that mix is the crux of the narrative.

Basically, this is a slapstick comedy, rather than serious political satire. We have confusion and mis-identification, people being hit over the head, and women walking around in their bikinis. Some of it I found amusing, but most of it I felt was a little dated.

The audience clearly enjoyed the production on the evening I went, but I wanted a little bit more nuance and depth.

One bonus was that it was brilliant to see Linda John-Pierre again on stage. I had really enjoyed her performances in the RSC’s A Mad World My Masters.

Further Information

My verdict: ***

I Am Not Myself These Days (Pleasance Courtyard, Saturday 8th August 2015) *****

Tom Stuart is Josh Kilmer-Purcell and this is a love story. John performs as the drag queen Aqua. Josh meets Jack (who is a sex worker), and they move in together.

Stuart is sensational. He portrays both Aqua and Jack, and an array of other characters. However, he is dressed as Aqua and manages to capture her journey of performing, drinking, partying and coping with a crack addicted partner. Stuart is masterful at portraying a gamut of emotions as he tells this extraordinary story. As an audience, we are taken through lots of different moods and experiences, and we just don’t know what to expect next.

I was particularly impressed in the way Stuart brings the performance to a close. At the end I wished I could have walked back in and seen it all over again.

I Am Not Myself These Days was certainly in my top three shows that I saw on my visit to the Fringe this year.

Further Information

My Verdict: *****

Tony's Last Tape (Pleasance Courtyard, 8th August 2015) ****

What a brilliant idea to fuse Beckett and Tony Benn’s writings. Indeed, the title says it all. This is an exploration of the life and writing of the politician Tony Benn, but with a Krapp’s Last Tape theme. The narrative is told with lots of humour. There’s also some sadness as it is clear that the central character is near the end of his life, and what an amazing life it has been. Benn (Philip Bretherton) even eats a banana, listens to his younger self, and finds an interesting array of objects in his desk drawer.

The personal life of Benn and his politics are cleverly woven together in an 80-minute show that kept my attention all the way through.

This Nottingham Playhouse production is really worth seeing.

Things that I had wished I had known

You might be sent down some steps to queue, but the venue is not just inside that door in front of you. Oh no! The odds are that you’ll end up going up about three flights of stairs. There are lots of stairs to climb to this venue!

Further Information

Twitter @TonysLastTape

My verdict: ****