Edinburgh Fringe Scotsman review: Liam Williams at Just the Tonic at the Tron (venue 51), review by Jay Richardson
Liam Williams’s dyspeptic Fringe debut is deceptively entertaining. As with his sketch group Sheeps, the unsmiling Yorkshireman sports his intelligence on his sleeve. Yet he perennially undercuts all the existential masturbation and pretentious moroseness of his thoughts with self-bludgeoning bluntness.
In a late-night, low-ceilinged student pub slot, he’s an unlikely and grimly poetic performer, detached and seemingly disinterested by the reactions his words provoke, unburdening himself without ceremony.
Outlining the unremarkable facts of his birth and upbringing, he nevertheless renders them with such lyrical and evocative flourishes, such mastery of language and economy of wit, that you have to admire the brutal beauty of the penmanship, bursting forth with gags, despite his measured, meticulous delivery.
There are several great little set-pieces interwoven amidst the stand-up, including poetry, a thinly-disguised rip-off of Catcher in the Rye, reinforcing the mood of adolescent futility, and a spot-on pastiche of a desperate Time Out guide to dating in London.
Directionless and ineffectual, Williams portrays himself as a parasite upon his parents, owing a debt to his recently deceased but ever-present grandfather, struggling as a “semi-professional” comedian but supposedly bringing a number of damnably believable, ludicrous plays to the festival.
A brief assessment of his sex life, which he ruthlessly exploits for its possibilities of enlightenment while more or less overlooking the act itself, wallows too familiarly in the same bleakness as his opening accounts.
But at least it’s of a piece with the rest of the narrative, whereas his stated ambition to present pointless BBC Four documentaries, showcased through his analysis of the confused “Henrietta” period of British history, feels as if it belongs to another hour.
Regardless, smart little asides and threads run everywhere through the show, be they a casual dig at Ricky Gervais’s Twitter pomposity and inconsistency, or an understated but effective marrying of Phillip Larkin and the band Hard-Fi.
For all that you’re impressed by the unstintingly deadpan angst of Williams’s persona, it’s the intimidatingly consistent writing that is the abiding treasure of this hour.
MORE INFO: Until 25 August. Today 10:20pm