Festival Comedy

MARK THOMAS A spontaneous manifesto crafted with perfection ●●●●●

If there is a serious side to comedy, then Mark Thomas is standing at its edge. Over the years, he has used his persona of cheeky scamp to write, rally and demonstrate against global injustices, balancing the sincere imperatives with the bonhomie of his live performances. This year’s show is radical, but not because of Thomas’ well-developed sense of indignation; this time it’s the audience’s chance to get political. In the large queue outside the venue, notes are being furiously scribbled on new policies for a better Britain. Which one of these scraps of half-baked ideas, witty one-liners and pearls of wisdom will be added to the Thomas ‘manifesto’ is up for debate (using a democratic voting system of cheering). A tattered ‘polling station’ sign is suspended above the stage and a fissure of excitement hangs in the air; this is a fresh and spontaneous show, created by the beliefs of the audience. If only Question Time was this electrifying.

As a performer, Thomas is the undeniable leader of this lunatics’ asylum. Here is a slick and suited man, with a PowerPoint presentation and a mic head-set strapped to the jaw, allowing for more dramatic hand gestures. It’s a bit of a showbiz touch, but has the positive effect of softening the ‘angry man shouts into microphone’ aesthetic. Thomas retains his schoolboy mischievousness, revelling in his latest pranks at the expense of the rich and infamous. But the ingenuity of others is centrefold here, which is why Thomas will present the Edinburgh manifesto publicly to MSPs at the end of the run. Thomas’ comedy often has a cause. This time it’s democracy. (Emma Lennox) The Stand, 558 7272, until 18 Aug, 6.15pm, £12.


Telephone Booking Fringe 0131 226 0000 International Festival 0131 473 2000 Book Festival 0845 373 5888 Art Festival 0777 169 3470 ALAN FRANCIS & BARNABY POWER Satisfying stings and filthy finales ●●●●●

Two blokes delivering a series of sketches stitched together with a bit of banter might make for a fairly conventional act, but the delivery is pitch perfect and the timing spot on here, both of which makes this comedian-actor duo’s show well worth catching. Coming across like a bit of Fry and Laurie combined with a dash of The League of Gentlemen, Alan Francis (a stocky amiable comic) and Barnaby Power (a scrawny wannabe thespian) present a dozen or so ‘playlets’ (as the latter rather pretentiously calls them).

On paper, the set-ups might not appear to be particularly promising: a Glaswegian club singer who suffers from Tourette’s; a posh Englishman who tries to set his chum up with his wife; a Victorian gent who employs a medium to put him in touch with his beloved Nan-Nan. But the ‘playlets’ prove to be wicked little things with surprising and satisfying stings in their tales. The proof, as Power might say, is in the pudding, with the show generating plenty of guffaws. And, lying in bed the following morning, this critic found himself laughing out loud on recalling the final, filthy gag. (Miles Fielder) The Stand, 558 7272, until 30 Aug (not 17), 5.20pm, £8 (£7).

TREVOR LOCK Mischievous, circuitous, bumbling affair ●●●●● This Thunderbird lookalike doesn’t like to tell a story from A to B. He leads the crowd via the rest of the alphabet first,


like an untethered helium balloon making its way through a labyrinth, bouncing off banana-eating monkeys and ‘wallets full of foreskins’ along the way. It’s a bumbling, bizarre, highly surreal set, and sometimes his wide- eyed innocence wearies the crowd into submission as he repeats the same gag 20 or 30 times, tweaking one or two words at a time. Although his made-up back-stories

about audience members are inspired, his circuitous approach grows tiring roughly halfway, when it’s apparent that a bit of structure would help rein in his random firings, and keep the crowd’s bamboozled attention in one place. But despite the daft, relentless detouring, when his jokes finally reach their destination (his ‘coconut shy’ girlfriend who was ‘more confident around peanuts’, or the idea of actually winning bread as the family breadwinner) it’s a charming, tongue- twisting tale from what seems like a compulsive liar, with a drug-taker’s visions and a five-year-old’s sense of mischief. (Claire Sawers) The GRV, 226 0000, until 30 Aug, 8pm, £5

ASHLEY HAMES The queasy confessions of a sex reporter ●●●●●

At the top of the show, journalist and TV presenter Ashley Hames (possibly best known as the News Bunny on Live TV!) warns that he’s not a stand- up comedian; certainly his command of the script and PowerPoint presentation is endearingly shambling in parts. But not to worry, as his is an amiable persona that easily carries his tale about how he fell foul of Ofcom after making the documentary series Sin Cities which featured all manner of sadomasochistic practices. Those of a queasy stomach may

want to stay away, or at least take a cushion, as the resulting show has many graphic clips of nails in scrotum and red wine enemas (both undergone by Hames himself in the name of journalism) and descriptions of a madam who specialises in scatological concerns. But what is ultimately fascinating about this project is the small insight it gives into what makes some people tick and the wide ranging and apparently extreme sexual quirks that we have as human beings. All good, semi-clean fun. (Marissa Burgess) Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, until 31 Aug (not 17), 11pm, £9.50–£12.50 (£8–£11).