Josie Long, Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh
Trevor Noah, Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh
Alan Davies, Venue 150 @ EICC, Edinburgh
Jessie Cave, Underbelly, Edinburgh
Back to School, Pleasance at Braidwood Centre, Edinburgh

Stand-up is getting a little bit political again. And we've the unlikely Ms Long to thank for it

To use a bit of Cowellian parlance, Josie Long has been on quite a journey in recent years. I mean, who knew that an act once marginally twee-er than a Bagpuss tea cosy would be the one to rescue political stand-up from its New Labour-era doldrums? However, her latest show, Romance and Adventure, begins with a less metaphorical, more muscle-exerting trip: a mountain climb in Kenya that left her troubled by her penchant for "super aristocratic" pursuits. It's the cue for a vexed life appraisal, fuelled by turning 30, in which feelings of political and personal inadequacy elide. Why, she wonders, does she continue to shop at her corporate bête noire, Tesco? And, as a bona fide leftie, is she destined to "be born, live, fight and die" on the losing team in any case?

Well, no, is the Long and short of it, as her familiar optimism returns via renegade touring, Alasdair Gray quotes, and naming her toilet "Michael Gove". Indeed, though the show may be predicated on insecurity, her smiley subversive shtick is more self-assured than ever. She's always been a wonderfully conversational performer, but here there are great set-pieces, too: you'd have to scour Edinburgh far and wide to find a single skit funnier than her transformation of Ed Miliband into a roughneck revolutionary. And where she's previously apologised for her principled fury, now she gives it gloriously free rein. "If you haven't done anything for charity by the time you're 29," she snaps, "then what you could do is jump off a building – and, by all means, get sponsorship." A slightly pat – and, yes, twee – sign-off leaves a few too many questions hanging. But the main one is: how long can the Foster's Comedy Award continue to escape her now?

As for the newcomers category, buzz would suggest that the South African Trevor Noah is a strong bet. The mixed-race comic's identity angst is the cornerstone of this Edinburgh debut: a substantial topic, given that he was "born as a crime" to an illegally partnered white Swiss father and black Xhosa mother during the apartheid era. The salve, though, is that it has afforded the boyish 28-year-old a privileged perspective on the absurdities of racial demarcations and assumptions in his home country and beyond. His show, The Racist, spins off from an eye-opening trip to the US, where, hoping to be embraced as black, he instead encounters whole new strains of prejudice – for example, the way mixed-race celebrities are recategorised as soon as they become successful. Similar observational jewels stud an hour that benefits from the quiet authority of Noah's deceptively soft-spoken delivery – and whether mimicking Obama or a casually bigoted Kentucky fan, he makes for a deft impressionist to boot.

The doomy title of Alan Davies's new show is Life is Pain, although "Life is a Pain" would better sum up its desultory disgruntlement. Back on stage for the first time in a decade, the fortysomething star uses his return to bore on about the developments of the intervening years. So we get wide-eyed bafflement at social networking, smartphones and internet porn, and misty-eyed nostalgia for student japes, dial phones and the lingerie section of the Freemans catalogue.

At one point, he even, bafflingly, makes a meal out of Facebook poking, an activity and comedic subject that one's maiden aunt would likely consider passé. Suffice to say, it's a plodding, superficial hour, with occasional lurches into crudeness that smack of showboating desperation. There's one good passage, in which Davies imagines the thoughts of his crying baby; it's just a shame that his own psyche remains elusive by comparison.

Allow me to regress a little. Representing Hollywood this year, albeit tangentially, is Jessie Cave, a 25-year-old actress who starred in the Harry Potter franchise. Riffing off her association with childhood fantasy, Bookworm sees Cave hosting the inaugural session of her new book club amid a Play School-style set complete with cardboard Wendy house. However, as she obsesses over The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and freaks out over Fifty Shades of Grey, it becomes clear that literature is providing unhealthy amounts of escapism for this mildly deranged woman-child. It's a curious, compelling fiction, with something of the warped whimsy of a Wes Anderson movie, and its scattily charismatic star is certainly one to watch – as is her teenage sister Bebe, playing the most delightfully gormless comic sidekick since Dame Edna's Madge.

Sillier still is Back to School, an immersive production that transforms a community centre, an outpost of the Pleasance, into the shambolic secondary St Dumbiedykes and provides us, its pupils, with a whistle-stop bad education. The press blurb's claim that the piece is a response to the "psychological experiments of Milgram and Zimbardo" seems a fanciful way to dress up an hour and a half of jolly nostalgia kicks. But, in that respect, it works admirably, with the committedly eccentric performances of the teaching staff provoking committed mischievousness from the student body in return. Though, split into different "forms" as we were, I was sad to have missed out on the sex education class.

Please, sir, can I have some more?

Jessie Cave and "Back to School" to 26 Aug, Josie Long and Trevor Noah to 27 Aug ( all 0131-226 000); Alan Davies begins a UK tour at Venue Cymru, Llandudno, on 5 Sep (0844 844 0444)

Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice