Mark Steel, Edinburgh Fringe review: Cathartic and sharply funny as ever

His stand-up is typically matey but caustic, ranging across subjects from family to hometowns and football to politics

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The Independent Culture

Mark Steel knows how to soften up an Edinburgh audience – you just let them know you’re glad to be in a country where not everyone voted for the Conservatives. Although a later straw poll will show that a good proportion of the audience are Steel’s fellow Londoners, he probably received the biggest cheer of the night for that one comment. “But no ranting tonight,” he cautioned. Steel is here to discover with us, as the title of the show suggests, ‘Who Do I Think I Am?

By the end of the show we’ll know precisely why there’s more than a bit of irony in Steel’s outspoken left-wing credentials. He’s relaxed about sharing the story of his adoption just after birth, about the pregnant and unmarried 19-year-old Scottish model who lived in the same stair as his auntie and uncle, and her decision to let Steel’s parents take his infant self when it was explained they couldn’t have children of their own. He grew up in the Badlands of Swanley, Kent, but he’s South London through and through; that his place of birth was North London is probably the least surprising revelation here.

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Cathartic and sharply funny as ever, Steel has created a show which is essential viewing for anyone touched by adoption.

He tells a story which many adoptees might relate to, of mild curiosity bordering on disinterest in his genetic heritage when he was young – he was just glad he had a “proper mum”, one who couldn’t stop him getting into all those character-building scrapes. This became an ever-stronger desire to find his birth parents when he hit his thirties and had kids of his own. “It’s quite a big thing, having kids,” he muses, “she (his birth mother) will probably remember it.” Although anyone reading an interview with Steel prior to his Edinburgh Fringe run might have been dismayed to find that it’s been spoilered already, which is a shame.

His stand-up is typically matey but caustic, ranging across subjects from family to hometowns and football to politics (there is a bit of ranting), but it’s in the storytelling that it really shines. We wouldn’t want to ruin it for audiences who haven’t seen those interviews, but his matter-of-fact tone belies just how entertainingly unlikely his story is revealed to be. “He’s run out of towns to write about, he’s made this bollocks up,” he spits at one point, incredulous himself, and the temptation’s there to believe him. Cathartic and sharply funny as ever, Steel has created a show which is essential viewing for anyone touched by adoption.

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