Edinburgh Festival `98: Hearing voices at the Festival

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The Independent Culture
SOMETIMES, IF not very often, you get real value for money at the Festival: two comedians for the price of one. Crammed into the Queen's Hall, the audience was first treated to the kind of understudy who should, really, have a show of his own.

Milton Jones' very personal and quirky brand of humour may not be everybody's Full Monty, but some of his jokes are so silly, you have to laugh: "One month before my grandfather passed away, my grandmother covered his back in lard. He went down-hill very quickly from there." Simply switch your brain to totally zany mode, sit back and don't try to fight it. Silly can be funny.

Rory Bremner needs no introduction, and neither do his impressions. "I don't know how he manages to slip from one character to the next with such ease," whispered my neighbour after a few minutes. From Donald Dewar, to Tony Blair, Martin Bell, Murray Walker or Jeremy Paxman, Bremner creates his own, instantly recognisable celebrity world. And that's his great strength. Rather than simply performing a series of random impressions, he carefully leads up to each sequence, before linking the character with a topical news item. You get the impression that every character, once mastered, is like a puppet. Bremner is inside pulling the strings, showing us the vulnerable, human side of our politicians and stars.

The highlight of the evening is Bill Clinton's address to the Nation. In it, he admits having a sexual relationship with Miss Lewinsky, but insists: "I did not inhale."

Bremner effortlessly guides you through a series of pastiches that are perfect caricatures of his victims. You feel it should also be a little nastier, a little bit more punchy. When my neighbour turned to me again (this time during the interval) to tell me Bremner "has a way with words", I agreed. Then again, if anyone should know about vowels and consonants, it is Richard Whiteley.

Ladies and gentlemen, Rory Bremner has left the festival.