Edinburgh Festival comedy review: The best jokes by a royal mile

Edinburgh guffaws from end to end as four fine acts return with some sparkling new material

Veronica Lee
Saturday 03 August 2013 19:00
Lucy Porter and friend see the joke
Lucy Porter and friend see the joke

A lot has happened to Arthur Smith since his 1990 Fringe offering in which he also sang songs by his hero, Leonard Cohen. Smith nearly died from pancreatitis (he's now teetotal and is a diabetic), his dad has died and his mother has dementia – "But it's not all light-hearted," he deadpans by way of introduction.

The Canadian poet, meanwhile, has survived bankruptcy and experienced a career resurgence – the latter down to Smith, the comedian jokes, who sings (perhaps that should be drawls) Cohen old and new, including "The Stranger Song", "Crazy to Love You" and a hilariously reworked version of "Hallelujah", ably abetted by his pianist and two backing singers in Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen (Volume Too) (Pleasance Courtyard ****). Taking a leaf from Cohen's book, they're all female.

Between songs, Smith tells anecdotes that draw parallels between the two men's lives – although cheating death by an exploding carton of milk isn't one of them. "What a great way for a comic to go," Smith says regretfully of the recent incident. The stories are often hilarious and Smith's ageing mum is a dotty, and delightful presence as the comic shares her philosophy of life: "I don't like mince pies but I rather like people who do." He never allows the show (running until 18 August) to become sentimental, but there are tear-jerking moments.

Lucy Porter is another Fringe favourite, and Northern Soul (The Stand until 25 August ****) is about how geography defines us, and trying to find an interesting identity when you come from a very ordinary background. She's from Croydon, a place that has applied unsuccessfully for city status 13 times, "Which says it all."

Her childhood heroes were Morrissey, David Hockney and Dennis Skinner, and she once tried to pass herself off as a northerner because she thought they were nicer folk, only to be horribly and hilariously found out in a live radio interview.

It's a light confection, but Porter's cheery delivery is deceptive as she can be deliciously cutting; her account of meeting a (now famous) sex pest when she was a young TV producer in Manchester is told with relish.

Sara Pascoe is a fine comedy actress, appearing in shows such as Campus and Twenty Twelve, but she has also been doing stand-up for a few years. Sara Pascoe vs The Truth (Assembly George Square until 26 August ****) deals with her fractious relationships with her mother and boyfriend – she is, she says, using comedy as both therapy and revenge.

Nietzsche is her hero, and she examines existential matters by way of Big Brother and explains the big question of identity by taking us through the morphing of the Sugababes into Mutya Keisha Siobhan (see Simon Price, page 52). Pascoe is a clever writer and an engaging stage presence; this show may deliver the breakthrough she deserves.

The Rubberbandits – Mr Chrome and Blindboy Boat Club (Bob McGlynn and Dave Chambers) – are a spoofster hip-hip duo from Limerick, who first came to fame on YouTube with Horse Outside, about a lovestruck Irish lad and his four-hooved, rather than four-wheeled transport, with which to woo the girls. They stormed the Fringe last year and are back with more perfectly pitched, preening pastiche, which they perform with plastic bags over their heads so that the Social, the IRA – or, who knows, maybe their own mums – won't be able to identify them.

The Rubberbandits' show (Glided Balloon until 26 August ****) is an energetic hour of songs about sex, politics and hanging with their homies, with the videos playing behind them adding superb visual gags. They are also very good on celebrity-baiting, as their song about self-proclaimed hardman Danny Dyer – "Liar, Lair, Danny Dyer" – attests.

McGlynn and Chambers, with Willie O'DJ laying down the beats, more than meet the first rule of musical comedy – that it should pass muster musically as well as making you laugh. Great fun.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe to 26 August, edfringe.com

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