Celia Pacquola: Am I Strange?, The Guilded Balloon

Jonny Sweet: Mostly About Arthur, Pleasance Courtyard

Pete Johansson: Naked Pictures Of My Life, Underbelly

4.00

The most exciting aspect of this year's Fringe is the number of quality debut solo shows. Two of the best come from overseas visitors, the Australian comedian Celia Pacquola and Canadian Pete Johansson, and another from other-worldly Englishman Jonny Sweet.

The gently beguiling Pacquola carries off a "poor me" show of the highest order, weaving some choice lines into her tale of her ex-lover's infidelity. Her show vacillates between moments of almost tender resignation, for instance where Pacquola calls one of the girls her lover has slept with ("I took notes. Obviously, there was no way this conversation was going to be burnt into my memory"), to outright confrontation: "I am not saying you are a slut. I'm thinking it and I may have told a few people."



Each stage of the story is punctuated by the Australian casting a representative image onto a velvet backdrop, "Perspective Man" being one such icon. She also peppers her story with memorable allusions: "So that's what Atlantis looks like," she remarks as she reaches rock bottom in her grief.



While it is hard to believe that someone as together as Pacqola could ever be so wronged, it's equally hard to believe that Jonny Sweet could ever be normal. With a face, voice and charisma tailor-made for comedy, Sweet, soon to appear in a More4 drama as a young David Cameron, carries off a most ludicrous show.

Eulogising his dead fictional brother, Arthur, Sweet takes us through his sibling's rise and fall as a writer of the "blurbs" on the back of books. We're treated to an insight into this excuse for a career and shown how, for example, a negative quote about a book from Mariella Frostrup can be turned into a positive one from Stephen Fry.

Sweet spins a number of plates during the show to keep the comedy moving. While some elements fall, the tics and asides of his buffoonish yet highly strung stage persona constantly amuse. On the voyage around his brother, a number of photos of Arthur's "blurbist" mentors are shown, one of whom owns a posh car: "Saab 900, don't mind if I do," Sweet coyly remarks to much hilarity.

While stand-up Pete Johansson would not claim to be kooky by any measure, his debut show is as refreshing as both Pacquola's and Sweet's. Earthy without being profane and honest without being gratuitous the Canadian comic (and brother of Paul Johansson of One Tree Hill fame) admits that his body is failing him. Horrified to discover that there is fat accumulating on the back of his head he wonders: "What? Am I not agreeing with people enough?"

Aside from one shoe-horned joke that momentarily jars the easy rhythm of his show, Johansson is supremely engaging and seemed to have a lot more in the tank to go past an hour. Not bad for a man concerned about his age and embarrassed that he recently had to explain the concept of a "jack-in-the-jox" to a student crowd he was entertaining.

Celia Pacquola to 31 Aug (0131-622 6552); Jonny Sweet to 30 Aug (0131-556 6550); Pete Johansson to 30 Aug (08445 458 252)

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