The Edinburgh Fringe All Month Long – 2nd August 2023

Edinburgh Fringe 2023I didn’t think I could exceed last year’s mammoth attendance at the Edinburgh Fringe, coming for 25 days and nights and seeing as much as we possibly could. But I realised that I missed out on the Preview Shows that litter the schedules before the Fringe actually opens per se. So this year, we’re doing Edinburgh for a full 28 days and nights! I hope my ailing frame can take the pace.

Unlike in previous years, I’m going to write one blog a day, previewing the shows we will see the next day, uploading it around 10 pm every evening. Then I’ll publish a second blog with a brief review of each show we saw that day, which will probably come at the end of the evening, or possibly the following morning – if they are a little delayed, please forgive me – it can be an exhausting few weeks!

Here’s the schedule for 2nd August. These are all previews, so I will of course take that into account when I give my comments later:

10.50 – Jesus, Jane, Mother & Me, Pleasance Courtyard. From the Edinburgh Fringe website:

Jesus Jane Mother and Me“***** (Stage; Three Weeks; Theatre Weekly; Advertiser, Adelaide). Critics Awards Best Play Winner and Theatre Weekly Awards Best Solo Performance. Meet Daniel Valentine, the ultimate superfan whose life has been devoted to his two favourite things, Jesus… and Jane. Daniel’s mother is a superfan too, but then one day her actions cause it all to go horribly wrong. Playwright Philip Stokes’ (Heroin(e) for Breakfast) critically acclaimed darkly hilarious and heart-wrenching 2022 hit play returns to the fringe following sell-out London and Adelaide seasons. ‘Must-see show’ (Fringe Review UK).”

I decided to see this play on the strength of the reviews it received last year. It sounds both intriguing and hilarious – let’s hope it is!

12.45 – In Loyal Company, Pleasance Courtyard.

In Loyal Company“Returning after sell-out runs in 2018 and 2019, In Loyal Company is the incredible true story of missing WWII soldier Arthur Robinson, written and performed by his great-nephew David William Bryan. May 1941. Hitler’s bombs rain down on Liverpool. Local packer Arthur Robinson joins up, becoming a private in the 18th reconnaissance division. Deployed to Singapore where his ship is destroyed by Japanese dive bombers on arrival, Arthur is declared missing. This extraordinary true story of survival is a one-man tour-de-force war epic. ‘A masterpiece’ ***** (”

Real-life historical dramas are always fascinating, and the personal element of its being performed by Robinson’s great-nephew gives it an added twist. I’m hoping for some tough and meaty drama here!

15.15 – Edmonds, Pleasance Courtyard.

Edmonds“Deal or No Deal meets Doctor Faustus. 22 red boxes. One soul. Edmonds makes a Deal (or No Deal) with the Devil. How far will they go for fame, fortune, and free TV licensing? An audience member is invited to play the game, as the Cosmos decides the fate of the show. The Banker has now come to claim what is owed to them. ‘It is only a soul… what does it matter when the very life blood of mid-to-late afternoon light entertainment is hanging in the balance.’”

This really tickled my fancy, as I used to enjoy watching Deal or No Deal with my mum – and the idea of Noel Edmonds being somewhere on the darker spectrum is also strangely appealing.

16.40 – The Importance of Being… Earnest? Pleasance Courtyard.

Importance of Being Earnest“‘A masterclass in comedic theatre’ ***** ( When a traditional production of Oscar Wilde’s classic play gets underway, everything seems to be going perfectly to plan… that is, until the lead actor fails to arrive on cue. You might think you know this chaotic story of love, mistaken identity and double lives, but you have never seen it like this before. Filled with wicked Wildean wit and bursting with bunburying, join us for a hilarious and unpredictable twist on the world’s favourite comedy classic. ***** (Skinny).”

One of last year’s unexpected hits was the brilliant A Shoddy Detective and the Art of Deception, and this production of Earnest is also giving me similar Shoddy vibes. It comes with lots of great reviews, and I know it has toured as well, so I’m hoping for some anarchic fun.

19.00 – Marcus Brigstocke: Cheese and Whine, Pleasance Courtyard.

Marcus Brigstocke“There are no problems that cannot be improved by eating cheese. Fact. Award-winning comedian and International Cheese Judge Marcus Brigstocke guides you through the subtle art of pairing the best cheeses with a fine whine of your choosing. ‘Devilishly Funny’ ( ‘Charming, hilarious and utterly refreshing. Don’t miss this incredible show’ (Sunday Mirror). ‘Sharpest one-liner merchant’ (Sunday Times). ‘Made us all grateful that comedy is back again at the Fringe’ (”

This will be the first of (at least) two shows this Fringe that combine food/drink tasting with another art form – at least that’s what I’m expecting. I have seen Marcus Brigstocke several times and he has never failed to send me home extremely happy. Should be good!

20.45 – Sigmund the Viking: Valhalla Calling, Underbelly Bristo Square.

Sigmund the Viking“Sigmund The Viking is suffering from a very powerful and sudden spiritual awakening. Changing his Viking ways, he puts down his sword and decides to spread the teachings of peace and love as a yoga teacher. But the past catches up and forces him to find his true purpose… And this fearsome warrior must choose between bloodshed and healing. An epic Norse journey into masculinity, myth, sacrifice (personal) and sacrifice (literal).”

The premise of this show is so utterly silly that it will either be a disaster or one of the funniest things ever. The video trailer convinced me to give him the benefit of the doubt!

Check back later to see how we enjoyed all these shows!

Edinburgh Fringe 2023 Reviews – Jesus Jane Mother and Me, In Loyal Company, Edmonds, The Importance of Being… Earnest? Marcus Brigstocke: Cheese and Whine, and Sigmund the Viking: Valhalla Calling

Jesus, Jane, Mother & Me, Pleasance Courtyard.

Jesus Jane Mother and MeWhat a way to start your day at the Fringe! Philip Stokes’ blistering but delicately written play returns to Edinburgh after a successful 2022 season. In a moving, sensitive, and frequently terrifying play, Jack Stokes plays Daniel Valentine, a troubled young man with severe mental health issues masquerading as fan worship of the one and only Jane MacDonald. He takes us through his difficult journey through childhood and school bullying, with inadequate parenting and a zest for performance. As the play develops, you sense it’s going to have a tragic ending but you can’t quite put your finger on exactly how it will turn out until the final minutes. One of those plays where you laugh out loud and then kick yourself for having been so cruel. I had my hand over my mouth for the final, excruciating scene – truly brilliantly written and performed. An immaculate production.


In Loyal Company, Pleasance Courtyard.

In Loyal CompanyA powerful account of the real-life story of Arthur Robinson, a young man who signed up to join the army in 1941, and how he was eventually captured as a Prisoner of War by the Japanese and just about survived enough to tell the tale. The fact that it’s written and performed by his great-nephew David William Bryan adds to the personal and emotional aspect of the production, which successfully steers away from any sentimentality which could have weakened its impact. Hard-hitting, and with an athletic and intense central performance, this is a strong play that lingers in the mind way after the curtain has come down. A rare opportunity to come face to face with the horrors of war through a genuine personal narrative. Highly recommended.

Edmonds, Pleasance Courtyard.

EdmondsRemember the days when Noel Edmonds ruled the light entertainment roost? With references to Noel’s House Party, The Late Late Breakfast Show, Multi-Coloured Swap Shop and even going back to the days of Radio Luxembourg, the man himself invites us to share a special edition of Deal or No Deal, with a guest player from the audience (in our case, Cameron, who played a blinder) and a very intimidating incarnation of “The Banker” indeed. It’s a very amusing idea, and Edmonds himself is horribly accurately portrayed in all his faux bonhomie and hollow laughter. It is something of a character-assassination of the man, whether you believe he deserves it or not, but there are some very nice appreciations of Mr Blobby, Crinkly Bottom and memories of his experiences on the Tring By-Pass. Whilst it doesn’t overall contribute much to our greater understanding of the human condition, and at times it gets a little underpowered, it’s still an entertaining little show.


The Importance of Being… Earnest? Pleasance Courtyard.

Importance of Being EarnestThe Importance of Being Earnest starts straightforwardly enough, but when Ernest doesn’t make his entrance on cue, all hell breaks loose as a member of the audience is recruited to take his place. Then when Gwendolyne gets a bit squiffy on real bourbon, someone else steps in. And then another… and then another…. and then another. If you like to see members of the audience suddenly catapulted onto the stage to fend for themselves as best they can, you’re in for a field day. It is all done with a lightness of touch and some very funny recurring jokes – my favourite being that the actor playing Algernon cannot improvise for toffee and so when things go wrong all around him he continues to act as if everything is going fine. The cast do a great job of keeping the amateur actors afloat, and there is an abundance of laughter throughout. There are a few moments when the energy saps for some reason, and I couldn’t help but think that, very good as it is, it could have been a little snappier and more dangerous. Of course, no two shows will ever be the same and it does rely on the goodwill and commitment of the audience members to make it go with a swing. Good fun!


Marcus Brigstocke: Cheese and Whine, Pleasance Courtyard.

Marcus BrigstockeAs we queue to get in to see Marcus Brigstocke: Cheese and Whine, the man himself greets us with a pen and a card for us to write down some of our current whines – trivial, personal and massive. And once on stage, the bulk of the show is spent with him taking some of our whines, analysing them for suitability and humour, and then, rather like a wine, choosing a cheese from an extensive and rather delicious-looking selection of fine cheeses on a table next to him, as the perfect accompaniment to that particular whine. A piece of that cheese is then offered to the whiner in question. As he himself admits, it’s a slight premise for a show. Mr Brigstocke is a naturally funny guy and can riff off whatever an audience chucks at him with effortless ease and hilarity. But I did feel this was rather an odd vehicle for him, and one which restricts his comedic abilities rather than releases them. No question, there were lots of laughs, but I still felt a bit underwhelmed by the show; normally Mr B blows me away but this was just very light entertainment.


Sigmund the Viking: Valhalla Calling, Underbelly Bristo Square.

Sigmund the VikingSigmund the Viking has seen the light and given up a life of plundering and pillaging for the more refined practice of yoga. He takes us through a few poses, including the excellent Business Pose that I think I’ll add to my list of domestic asanas. But will Odin let him get away with that change of lifestyle? A combination of very silly and very funny comedy, Sigmund is a great comic creation with terrific stage presence and warmth. I ended up having a battle to the death with him on stage – I won, but I didn’t kill him, it would have been a very short run otherwise. We were a very small but appreciative audience; it’s one of those shows where you have to completely throw yourself into it, and we enjoyed it very much. Possibly it needs a little more actual content, but it’s still a lot of fun.


The Edinburgh Fringe Full Monty (nearly) – Day 9, 13th August 2022

A heavy day of comedy? Sure looks that way!

Here’s the schedule for 13th August:

13.10 – The Man Who Thought He Knew Too Much, Pleasance Dome. From the Edinburgh Fringe website:

Man Who Thought He Knew Too Much“Wes Anderson meets Hitchcock meets spaghetti western in this multi award-winning, intercontinental, inter-genre, cinematic caper of accusations, accidents and accents. Roger, a Frenchman in 1960’s New York, has followed the same routine for years, until a minor delay saves him from an explosion. Throwing his ordered world into chaos, Roger chases his would-be assassins around the globe. Raucously funny and endlessly inventive, this Lecoq-trained company delights and stuns with live original music and virtuosic acrobatics in this fast-paced, Offies-nominated whodunnit. ‘Razor-sharp’ ***** ( ‘Stunning’ ***** ( Winner: LET/Greenwich Award, 2020.”

I’m expecting some riotous physical comedy with this show, so here’s hoping!

UPDATE: With great plotting, beautifully performed and immaculate choreography, this is a very clever piece of work that tells an amusing espionage tale that really warms the heart of the audience. Loads of brilliant physical theatre make this show something special. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

16.00 – Laura Davis: If This Is It Monkey Barrel Comedy.

Laura Davis“Most Outstanding Show nominee at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2022. Laura Davis is internationally acclaimed as one of the strongest, most distinctive comedy voices around. Bold, hilarious and razor sharp, Davis delivers extraordinary stand-up that subverts expectation at every turn. ‘This is laughter that takes power away from the darkness… **** (Time Out on If This is It). ‘Decidedly defiant and damn funny’ **** (Age on If This Is It). ‘Bold and ambitious and very funny…’ **** ( on If This Is It). ‘Genuinely brilliant stand-up’ (, Recommended Shows 2019). ‘Indescribable’ **** (Fest).”

Laura Davis is a new name to us, but these reviews sing her praises highly, so I’m looking forward to finding our what she’s all about!

UPDATE: Laura Davis has a great attacking style, and with a strong voice like hers, she doesn’t need a microphone. Crammed with very relevant and funny material, Laura assassinates many aspects of modern life, including the farming of stupid people as fodder for populist politicians. Not difficult to see why she’s successful back in Australia! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

17.50 – Crybabies: Bagbeard, Pleasance Dome.

Crybabies“Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the woods… Join James (still tall), Ed (less handsome) and Michael (???) on a sci-fi infected narrative sketch adventure about finding home, forbidden love, monsters, mystery and massive regret. Dave’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards Best Newcomer nominee, 2019. ‘Highly impressive’ **** (Guardian). ‘High concept farce of the first order’ **** (Telegraph). ‘Out-there originality’ **** ( ‘A wave of absurdist wonderment’ **** (Skinny). ‘Clever and genuinely funny’ ***** (

Never come across the Crybabies before, so it’s a bit of a punt, but these reviews do look good!

UPDATE: I don’t know if it’s because I was expecting a sketch show, rather than one long story, but try as I might I just couldn’t get my head into this show. The venue was packed with fans who adored every minute of it; I think their noisy admiration for the performers somehow set me against them, and I found it left me cold, which was really weird. Very very silly, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it just created a universe I couldn’t inhabit. Not for me. ⭐️⭐️

20.00 – Marcus Brigstocke: Absolute Shower, Pleasance Dome.

Marcus Brigstocke“Before launching his huge national tour, multi award-winning comedian Marcus brings this blisteringly funny hour of stand-up to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. ‘Devilishly Funny’ ( This joyful show celebrates the personal triumphs and small victories of the past couple of years… while acknowledging it has, in so many ways, on so many days, for the most part, been an absolute shower of shit. ‘Charming, hilarious and utterly refreshing. Don’t miss this incredible show’ (Sunday Mirror).”

Rachel Parris last night, Marcus Brigstocke this. How odd! Always enjoy seeing Mr Brigstocke, I’m sure he’ll be as great as always.

UPDATE: Another show where the subject of stupid people comes up! Marcus Brigstocke is on brilliant form, an hour full of political satire and happy lockdown memories. I particularly loved his observation about consent issues for single people today. Extremely funny, always a pleasure. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

22.10 – Raves R Us, Underbelly, Cowgate.

Raves R Us“Naughty Corner Productions’ eighth show promises to be the immersive event of the year. Toys R Us has closed down for good, leaving Charlie and his mates unemployed, depressed and searching for any escape from this rundown bigot-lead society. Charlie’s vision arrives fully formed. They have an abandoned warehouse, an abandoned nation… it’s time to make a sanctuary, an escape… a Rave. Inspired from a true story out of Hounslow, London. Raves R Us will combine your favourite Naughty Corner features along with an immersive setting and atmosphere to create the most energetic, original night of theatre.

They promise immersive comedy – I’m up for that!

UPDATE: This was an odd one! 90% of the audience were expecting a rave and for much of the time, they got what they wanted – and were deliriously happy with the result. Personally, it was one of those shows where I felt 30 years too old – even though I’m most definitely not! – and I would have liked a stronger narrative. Can’t fault the commitment and energy of the incredible performers though. Note: if you hand a supersoaker to an audience member, they’re bound to turn it on someone in the audience who’s annoyed them, so don’t be surprised when Security gets involved during the performance (yeah, that happened!) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2019 – There Will Be Cake, 20th August 2019

There Will Be CakeFrom dark comedy (possibly?) to light-hearted silliness (almost certainly!) It’s Chambers Touring’s There Will Be Cake at the Auditorium, Gilded Balloon at the Museum, at 21:00 on Tuesday 20th. Let’s see what the blurb has to say: “An all-star improv show from award-winning improvisers Marcus Brigstocke (Live at the Apollo, BBC Two), Rachel Parris (The Mash Report, BBC Two), Pippa Evans (Tonight At The Palladium, ITV) and Paul Foxcroft (Cariad & Paul). There Will Be Cake brings together four of the best improvisers in the country to play with your ideas. Each evening will be a brilliant, one-off, never-to-be-repeated, dazzling, hilarious, silly, exciting, dangerous, innovative show featuring real fire (candles). And there will be cake. Actual cake.”

We’re not normally that attuned to improvisational comedy, but the four comedy actors involved meant that this sounded just irresistible. I hope the cake is gluten-free. Check back around 10.15 pm to see how great (or otherwise) it was. By then the next preview blog should be available to read too.

Given we don’t normally care for improv, this was about as good as it gets. Four terrific performers who cram their sketches with brilliant characterisations and as much humour as they can. A winner!

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2019 – The Red, 18th August 2019

The RedAnd now for a play which touches our heart, at least a little. It’s Corduroy Productions and Something for the Weekend’s The Red, at Pleasance Dome, King Dome, at 16:00 on Sunday 18th. This is what it says on the website: “Benedict’s dad loved wine. He loved collecting it, drinking it and sharing it with friends and family was an act of love. Benedict was a teenage alcoholic. He’s been sober now for 25 years. On the day of his father’s funeral, Benedict receives an unsettling final bequest: a bottle of exceptionally fine red wine. Will he drink one final toast to his father? Originally commissioned for BBC Radio 4, Marcus Brigstocke writes and directs this bittersweet drama of family and addiction, based on his own recovery. BBC Audio Drama Award winner 2018 for Best Single Drama.”

I’m very fond of Marcus Brigstocke as both a stand-up comic and comedy/musical actor, and I’m really interested to see how he explores his own addiction in this play; we’re quite partial to the odd Red too. And White. Check back after 5.15 pm to see how it moved us. By then the next preview blog should be available to read too.

A very cleverly written, neatly plotted, deceptively simple play that explores the nature of addiction and the risks of permanent temptation. Beautifully acted by real life father and son Bruce and Sam Alexander. A terrific little play, highly recommended.

Review – Marcus Brigstocke, Devil May Care, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 31st October 2018

 Devil May CareWhat could be a better date to see Marcus Brigstocke’s latest show about The Devil than on Hallowe’en? Hats off, incidentally, to the Derngate staff for their choice of fancy dress at work, and even a few of the audience came dressed for the occasion. Rest assured, Mrs Chrisparkle and I maintained our dignity in our usual clerical grey and hessian sack.

Marcus BrigstockeI’d heard great things about Mr Brigstocke’s new show that was a hit in Edinburgh earlier this year, but I already knew he’d be touring to Northampton later in the year, so we decided to let him come to us rather than vice versa. We’ve seen him in musicals (Spamalot, Barnum) and doing stand-up, and he’s always a treat. He doesn’t shy away from political material, as we first realised when he created his own comedy cabinet in The Brig Society, but it was his Why The Long Face tour in 2016 for which I am truly grateful, because, four months after the EU referendum, he finally gave me the opportunity to laugh my head off about Brexit, which my brain and chuckle muscles sorely needed.

Rob RouseBut I’m running before I can walk. Because Devil May Care is a slightly extended version of his one-hour Edinburgh show, Mr B first of all introduced us to his support act. Rob Rouse came on to a warm reception and instantly addressed the elephant in the room by asking who, if any of us, knew that there would be a support act on and that it wouldn’t be an evening of just Mr Brigstocke? Not one person owned up. So much for that vote of confidence for Mr Rouse. But neither he, nor we, needed to worry, because he’s a very funny and likeable guy who strikes up an instant rapport with the audience. He makes a good contrast with Mr Brigstocke, who tends to specialise in mental agility, whereas Mr Rouse is more at home with his physical comedy, such as when he’s imitating a lost vibrator, getting turned on by a tabard, or taking us through a long but hilarious account of his prostate exam. He got to know a few people in the audience, including the mother and daughter with matching kitten ears, and Mark the Mental Health Support worker who looked like God from the back (and apparently from the front too), which helped the whole show along. Sometimes twenty minutes of a support act can seem quite sufficient, but Mr Rouse gave us a full 45 minutes and left us wanting more. Great stuff.

marcus-brigstocke-devil-may-careAfter the interval, enter Mr Brigstocke, to darkened lights, a bewingéd jacket, red make-up and a couple of horns. I do hope he didn’t come in the train like that. Mind you, if he had, he could have successfully demanded treats all night with menaces. He took one look at God (Mark) in the front row and realised that he could, indeed, have met his maker. But this is The Devil, and he pulls no punches. In a brilliantly crafted, smartly scripted hour plus of truly hilarious material about the world today as the Devil sees it, we forget that it’s Mr Brigstocke on stage; apart from the occasional moments when he comes out of character – mainly to remind us how much better an audience we were than Lancaster.

m-brigstockeIn character he can challenge us. Hell is full, and he’s going to tell us why, and how he’s going to take back control of his borders. He’s also going to implore us not to go to Hell ourselves, as the criteria for entrance have recently changed; for example, being gay is fine, but teabag mismanagement is quite another matter. Along the way he asks us to suggest some famous people who should be in Hell, which led to some fascinating moments when he jiggles (mentally, that is) with the Jimmy Saviles and Rolf Harrises of this world; and though we all detest them, we couldn’t help but sing Two Little Boys all together. He got Andy the Thameslink train driver to make a very intimate revelation; we got inside knowledge on the true story of Adam and Eve. He considered the Hellish elements of the current political climate; and he even got us to confess that we all felt sorry for Theresa May. That’s devilish work.

Marcus BrigstockeThe meshing together of great stand-up material with the persona of Lucifer himself works incredibly well; it’s a superbly satisfying structure for the show and made you see a whole range of subjects from a completely different angle. We absolutely loved it. One of the best stand-up performances we’ve ever seen. His tour continues throughout the rest of November. Unmissable.

Review – Barnum, Menier Chocolate Factory, 4th February 2018

BarnumI had a really bad night’s sleep the night before we saw Barnum. And I know precisely why; even though we go to the theatre a lot (I’m very lucky, gentle reader, and I do try not to take it for granted), I couldn’t sleep simply because I was genuinely so excited to see the show again. I saw the original production of Barnum at the London Palladium with the late Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle back in 1981. Front stalls seats for £8.50… they charged £99.50 for the same seats for Dick Whittington last month. Michael Crawford was always one of my theatrical heroes, and he’s rarely taken to a role with such positivity and enthusiasm as that of Phineas Taylor Barnum. In 1996 Mrs Chrisparkle and I saw a touring production at the Wycombe Swan starring Andrew O’Connor. I remember enjoying it; that’s all I remember.

Barnum and circus typesThen a few years ago, Barnum was revived at Chichester, in a big top tent in the park, whilst the Festival Theatre was being refitted. A perfect use of the space, and a magnificent setting for the revival. PTB was played by Broadway star Christopher Fitzgerald. Comparisons are odious, but he lacked the showbizzy pizzazz of Michael Crawford, and he couldn’t walk the tightrope. He did, however, invest the part with loads of emotion, so his affair with Jenny Lind, and his bereavement when his beloved Charity dies (oops, spoilers, sorry) were really moving.

Barnum and palsSo now we have a brand new Barnum, in that amazingly versatile theatre space, the Menier Chocolate Factory, which has been jiggered around so that it now feels like a proper big top. First thing: the staging is superb. Even just entering the theatre, you might bump into the ringmaster or some of his assistants; the bar/reception area recreates Barnum’s museum, with suitable pictures and artefacts; on the way out, his mermaid even shows up to direct us towards the egress. It all makes absolutely perfect scene-setting. Inside the auditorium, various cast members play card tricks with the audience, or create balloon animals for children of all ages; it was one of those shows where I was absolutely loving it before it had even begun.

Barnum and CharityInevitably though, with this in the round staging, for every moment when part of the action is right in front of you and you have the best view in the house, there’s another moment when you simply can’t see what’s going on. We sat in seats A 84 & 85, from where you couldn’t see the balcony where Charity often looked down on the action and where (I believe) the blues singer opens the song Black and White. When Tom Thumb’s elephant appears, his right leg completely obliterated the view of the stage so we couldn’t see the final part of Bigger Isn’t Better – and also from that angle, you had no sense of how the theatrical illusion of the elephant worked. So, some friendly and helpful advice: if you haven’t booked yet, and there are still some tickets left for some shows, I’d definitely opt for seats numbers 20 – 36, no matter what row you choose. The Menier is one of the most intimate acting spaces I know, and even if there were a full house for Barnum it can’t seat more than 190 people for one show; so the atmosphere is still magic no matter where you sit.

Barnum castIn the title role is Marcus Brigstocke, whom we’ve seen twice doing stand-up and once in Spamalot, and he’s always a total joy to watch. But what would he make of the iconic role of Barnum, the supreme showman? As you would expect, he makes it his own. Wisely, there’s no attempt to impersonate Crawford, or to go over the top on the pizzazz. Mr Brigstocke’s Barnum is not so much the supreme showman, more the supreme businessman – and I don’t mean that unkindly. Much of the story revolves around Barnum’s building up of his circus/museum empire, assessing the benefits of one act over the next, working out how much they should be paid, going into partnerships with various other businessmen; and also getting his work/life balance right vis-à-vis his good lady wife. In these regards, Mr B is absolutely spot on. For the other aspects of Barnum’s character, I found him perhaps a little staid, a little respectable. I’m not sure he’d ever run away to join the circus, but he’d definitely be their Operations Manager. Credit where it’s due though; on the show we saw, he performed the tightrope trick perfectly, so kudos to him for that, given he’s quite a big bloke!

Barnum Political campaignThe character of Barnum has a lot of singing to do, and I’d say that Mr Brigstocke’s singing voice has come a long way since we saw him in Spamalot. Technically, it’s a really demanding role and challenges the performer’s vocal dexterity. For example, he has to enunciate the Museum Song, a patter song with so many words per minute that most people would need a lie down after it. I couldn’t work out whether it was Mr Brigstocke’s performance, or the Menier’s sound system, but quite a lot of it got, shall we say, lost in action. But I’ve no wish to be mean, I really enjoyed Mr Brigstocke as Barnum, he had an avuncular charm and great interaction with the audience; and we got to shake his hand as part of his political rally.

Barnum - Charity's heard it all beforeThe rest of the cast are outstanding, in all departments. Laura Pitt-Pulford is as splendid as you would imagine as Chairy Barnum, with her beautiful singing voice complimenting perfectly the sentiments of The Colours of My Life, I Like Your Style (by the way, how come it became I liked your style?) and my own favourite, One Brick at a Time. She also teased out all the emotion of the role; you could have heard the legendary pin drop – or indeed, her heart break – when she realised that her Taylor was staying behind to play the jackdaw with the Swedish nightingale. Talking of whom, Celinde Schoemaker is brilliant as Jenny Lind; captivatingly beautiful, an extraordinary voice and really expressing that spoilt, demanding and tiresome character that lurked beneath. The staging of Love Makes Such Fools of us All, within a picture frame, was both beautiful and tragic to witness. Tupele Dorgu is an amusingly young looking Joice Heth – almost throwing Barnum’s humbug in our face to think that she could be 160 years old – and I loved her renditions of Black and White and especially Thank God I’m Old, which I reckon is one of the funniest songs in musical theatre. I remember how when I saw the Palladium production, “Thank God I’m Old” really made the late Dowager laugh her head off; which, if you ever knew her, gentle reader, may well come as quite a surprise.

Barnum - Black and WhiteI was delighted to see one of my favourite performers, Harry Francis, as Tom Thumb; having seen him dance his way through A Chorus Line, Chicago and Fiddler on the Roof, I knew he’d bring something special to this show. I bet no other Tom Thumb has ever performed so many perfect pirouettes, executed brilliantly without travelling from the start position. It was also great to see another fantastic dancer, Danny Collins, so amazing as Dr Jekyll a couple of years ago, as Amos Scudder. Dominic Owen plays the ringmaster more like one of the lads than the boss, which is an interesting way of looking at the role, and his curious Mr Bailey at the end was a picture of awe and wonderment at the wonderful world of circus, rather than the hard-nosed businessman I’ve seen before. The ensemble are vivacious and entertaining, with some great circus performers as well as the musical theatre types. Amongst them I reckon young Ainsley Hall Ricketts is going to be One To Watch for the future! I almost forgot to mention Rebecca Howell’s choreography, which would have been most remiss of me. Funny, exhilarating, inventive, joyful; it matched the music and the story perfectly and was a sheer delight.

Barnum - Jenny LindIt wasn’t until the final song – Join The Circus – was starting up that I remembered quite how much significance and emotion I, personally, invest in Barnum the show. Basically, I’d forgotten how much it reminded me of my old mum; she who was an enormous Michael Crawford fan, she who found the character of Joice Heth so hilarious. Never underestimate the power of the theatre to stir the emotions and trigger the nostalgia button; nor ever underestimate the power of a show tune to get the old waterworks flowing. By the time we were putting our coats on to brave the Southwark winter, I found the tears were fair coursin’ down my cheeks, so they were. Now I wasn’t expecting that!

Barnum - Tom ThumbIt wasn’t perfect; few things are. But I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it. No wonder I couldn’t sleep the night before. If you ever dreamed of running away and joining a troupe of acrobats and clowns, this is the show for you. If you love immersive theatre where the action comes up right close to you, this is also the show for you. It runs until 3rd March and I’d be thrilled to go again, if you’ve got a spare ticket.

Production photos by Nobby Clark

Review – Marcus Brigstocke, Why the Long Face, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 20th October 2016

m-brigstockeWe last saw Marcus Brigstocke four years ago in the very same theatre when he was giving us his views on The Brig Society, a first rate comedy diatribe on David Cameron’s Britain. Now he’s back with a reflection on why the long face; in other words, why, given that he has a privileged existence, do so many things annoy or upset him. Rather like the Ancient Mariner – a sadder and a wiser man – Mr Brigstocke has gone through a few upheavals since we last saw him. Thus he digs into some of his personal recollections and confessions to excavate some painfully touching observations and create one of the most open and honest comedy shows (and funniest) I’ve ever seen. He really lays himself bare for our consideration and reaction – in fact, slightly barer than one might expect, come the end of the show.

Marcus BrigstockeThe EU referendum is something of a gift for Mr Brigstocke. Not the result, far from it; but it gives him a raft of brilliant material which dominates the first half of the show. For staunch, moaning, metropolitan elite remainers like Mrs Chrisparkle and me, his wallowing in sheer rage and his deft destruction of Brexit’s immense stupidity was like therapy. At (very) long last, I felt empowered to laugh at the result and not merely be miserable or disgusted by it. It was like popping a champagne bottle of pent-up frustrations and letting it overflow out into the stalls. It has to be said: if you are a proud Brexiteer, you are going to hate this show. I really couldn’t recommend it to you, because you will feel attacked, humiliated, shamed and probably in a woeful minority. For those of us who take the opposite point of view, for one magical evening we were allowed to share in blissful mockery. It was heavenly.

marcus-bThere’s a lot of audience participation but none of it is scary. He achieves this in a number of ways, for example, ascertaining who the teenagers are and making sure they’re enjoying their lives – then identifying everyone else by their age, decade by decade, peaking at the 60+ bracket. A lot of his material bounces off the fact that he is a straight white male (all the SWMs have to cheer to identify themselves) but nevertheless he likes musical theatre (another cheer to prove that, yes, we do exist). He asks us to shout out our favourite stage musicals – Les Miserables, Rocky Horror and A Chorus Line (my contribution) proved to him that we were camper than we looked. He asks the audience how many of us are the happiest we’ve ever been – which creates some rewarding and funny responses; he discovers how many of us have been on a speed driving awareness course – so many! There’s a cringe-inducingly brilliant sequence where he describes being accosted by a non-empathetic Geordie, the reason why Ed Miliband lost the last election and his take on a girl’s reaction to her first period – which not many male comics would be able to get away with. So there’s a lot more than just post-Brexit angst to enjoy.

Marcus BrigstockeMr Brigstocke was absolutely on fire last night. His rapport is instant, his confidence reassuring. He’s not afraid to speak his mind, but you sense he would be respectful in debate (not that anyone was disagreeing with him). He really lets you into his own private world and makes you welcome. His material is fresh, original and very funny. Two hours in his company was a tonic for the soul. (Does not apply if you are pro-Brexit!) His tour continues into December and I couldn’t recommend him more strongly!

Review – Marcus Brigstocke, The Brig Society, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 4th October 2012

The Brig SocietyThe old Royal Theatre in Northampton is a great place to fill with a comic act that is too big for Screaming Blue Murder but maybe not big enough for the Derngate. In the last twelve months it’s hosted Jeremy Hardy, Shappi Khorsandi and now Marcus Brigstocke. You get all the benefits of a full house – great atmosphere, loud laughter – but in an intimate setting which brings you not only closer to the “act” on stage but also to their “victims” dotted around the theatre. Marcus Brigstocke creates a number of “victims” in this show – but rest assured, it’s all done very unthreateningly. To fill out the cabinet of his “Brig Society” government, he’s looking for ministers to fit the tasks ahead. Mrs Chrisparkle very nearly volunteered to be the Chancellor. Instead, the job went to Mr Brigstocke’s mate Shaun who he apparently met on the way to the theatre from the railway station. In any case, it’s a really clever way of involving the audience and gives rise to lots of unpredictable laughs.

But I’m running before I can walk with this review. A nicely edited sequence of soundbites concerning David Cameron’s Big Society and how the PM defines it is used to introduce Mr Brigstocke onto the stage; and we know straight away we’re in for an evening of intelligent and very funny left of centre comedy. He instantly gets a great rapport with the audience. He doesn’t seem to put on an act in any way; you feel that the person speaking to you is absolutely for real and saying precisely what he would say in the pub, or the privacy of his living room.

Marcus BrigstockeThe “Brig” Society is a very creative idea for a stand-up assessment of the current government and the people who run it, but I particularly liked the fact that the whole evening wasn’t chained to that concept. There were plenty of times when he could take us away from it and talk about subjects like racism (which was hilarious and without the slightest hint of offensiveness), the Olympics, and The Sun for example; all of which he made relevant but which could also be taken as “stand-alone humour modules” in their own right. He’s at his savage best though when making a mockery of the “we’re all in this together” aspects of David Camoron (sic) and Gideon Osborne (also sic) and reflecting on the benefits of Eton College’s charitable status. I also liked his assessment of Jeremy Hunt’s (careful) legacy as Minister for Culture.

Without giving away all his material, there’s also some great observations about Smokers Outside Hospitals – which gets huge laughs of recognition, and a witty and hard-hitting lesson on banking and bankers which involves the movement of an alarming amount of cash around the theatre. Mr Brigstocke obviously had some fans in, as he was presented with a rather splendid oversized silk £10 note at this point, which was funnier than it sounds.

King ArthurWe saw Mr Brigstocke playing King Arthur when Spamalot came to Northampton in 2010 and indeed he came third in the category Best Performance by an Actor in a Musical in the much-coveted 2010 Chrisparkle Awards. On the strength of this stand-up he could well be in line for another award this year. An intelligent, thought-provoking and very funny show that reveals some truly ludicrous things about our beloved nation. All that, and a great selection of 70s Reggae classics played before and after to which Mrs C and I sang along. This tour is carrying on round England and Wales right up till Christmas. A must-see!

Review – Spamalot, Derngate, Northampton, September 29th – Stick with the Quest!

When we saw Talent at the Menier last autumn, we really hated it. And that was because I quickly realised that it was only fun if it was performed by Victoria Wood and Julie Walters. Anyone else stepping into their parts, no matter how good they were, just didn’t cut it. And I seriously wondered if Spamalot would suffer in the same way. Could the Pythons be replaced?

Yes they can!

Marcus BrigstockeTo be fair, one Python remains, Eric Idle in the role of video-wall-God, turning crotchety in His old age at the obsequiousness of mankind in its attitude to Him. But Marcus Brigstocke is perfect casting as King Arthur – tall, majestic (to an extent), looking down on ordinary humans with the natural loftiness of royalty. He is also a wonderful corpser to the delight of the audience. Todd Carty is also very entertaining as the long-suffering and largely invisible Patsy, the King’s backpacker, horse and general dogsbody. Todd CartyHayley Tamaddon was a surprise as the Lady of the Lake, as I have only seen her in Dancing on Ice (where she was jolly good it must be said), and I originally booked hoping to see Jodie Prenger in the role (but alas she had previous commitments for the Northampton week). Ms Tamaddon looks and sings beautifully and brings out all the comedy in the role.

Graham MacDuff There isn’t a weak spot in the cast at all, and of the noble Knights that support the king, I particularly enjoyed the wry performance of Graham MacDuff as Sir Lancelot (and also the French Taunter and the Knight of Ni), partly I think because his appearance reminded me of Derren Brown, and you don’t think of him as being a Knight of the Round Table.

Hayley Tamaddon Stick with the Quest, because the first half did for me get a little bogged down in following the film of MP & the HG. I’ve not watched that film for over twenty years but I still found myself able to recite half the script before the interval. So it didn’t quite work for me, not because comparisons are odious, but simply because I knew what they were going to say. In the second half however, it becomes much more of its own show, with the wonderful “You Won’t Succeed in Showbiz” as Sir Robin advises on how to mount a musical that would satisfy even the most pernickety of Northampton critics; and The Diva’s Lament where the Lady of the Lake rues her own lack of a role.

Suffice to say, they find the Grail in the most unlikely of places, and everyone ends up happy ever after.

It’s a jolly good production, and everyone seemed to go home content. In fact the lady to my left guffawed so much that I thought she was watching another show. Few things are that funny!