Sam Simmons | Will Adamsdale | Tom Toal | Andy de la Tour | Spencer Jones | Njambi McGrath
sam simmons

Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy round-up by Kate Copstick

sam simmons
[Sam Simmons]

I AM predisposed to like any show that starts with Nick Cave and this is a Sam Simmons show so I am loosening my ties to reality in preparation as the lights go down. Sam’s character Phil is big in muesli bars, we discover early on, but is lost at sea on a windsurfer. Luckily for us the air/sea rescue services aren’t great wherever it is that he is lost and so we get 19 days inside the head of this Lycra-clad lonely man and things get pretty crazy. He survives on Nando’s towelettes and chapstick, plays I Spy with the voice in his head – which, luckily for us, we can hear too – but by Day 8 he is fantasising about eating the elderly. And makes a fairly persuasive case for it. By the end of the show the stage is littered with cardboard cut-out spaceships and dolphins, sort-of-sea sponges and jellyfish and Simmons is being a horse. This is a loud, lyrical, silly, sad, crazy, clever headrush of a show. I felt it was harder to get into than some of the others but a Simmons performance is like a Dyson on its hard floor setting and everything gets sucked into the vortex eventually. Uniquely tragicomic and his own kind of genius.

There are some people you would happily sit and watch for an hour even if they had no show to perform. This is, in a way, what we do with Will Adamsdale. In a ten-year callback to his Perrier Award-winning show Jackson’s Way, the show is almost entirely about why he didn’t manage to write a show. But although he claims not to have done the sum, as it were, we do get to see his workings out. Anyone who has ever written anything will identify with Adamsdale’s wonderful avoidance tactics and his forays into “researching” his chosen theme of “borders”. Adamsdale is master of the tangential thought and so where other performers take a line through their show, Adamsdale creates a maze leading you to pop up sometimes at a thought he had ten minutes ago and then turn and go off in the opposite direction. The point (pace John Jackson) being that you are never really getting anywhere but rather having fun finding convoluted ways to go round and end up back where you started. We get tales from Adamsdale’s TV heyday as a harpooned teacher in Rosemary And Thyme, we cross borders across space and time and performing genres and a lady from the front row ends up on stage. We get songs and an enchanting tale of Will’s search for the Little People from the bank advert. Best of all we get Adamsdale himself. He is a teller of tales, weaver of word spells and conjurer of laughter from the most unexpected places. With any performer there is a border between good and great and Will Adamsdale crosses it.

As with Sam Simmons’ show, I am cheered by the choice of pre-show music for Tom Toal. A bit of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Have You Ever Seen The Rain is just what we soaked and shivering punters need. This is a warm cuddly show, a family show in every sense of the word. Kev and Ella Toal (the Tom Toal mum and dad) are very much part of the narrative, as is the Tom Toal childhood – not always happy, bullied at his Catholic school, had a disastrous first theatrical experience as the innkeeper in the nativity play, tried public speaking at his grandad’s funeral and misjudged it terribly – and Katriona, the Tom Toal girlfriend, now mother to the Tom Toal tot. This is a delightful hour of precious personal stuff. We forget the misery and cold of the outside as the Tom Toal comedy glow warms us all.

After an absence from the British comedy stand-up stage of 20 years, Andy de la Tour returns with an Edinburgh hour and it is like he is easing on a comfortable pair of slippers. This is more sit-down than stand-up but Andy owns the space and he has a great tale to tell. He left stand-up comedy 24 years ago just after finishing a 100 gig tour with Rik Mayall and, 20 years later, took it up again in New York, doing eight-minute spots in downtown clubs. This is the story of how he did that, together with a chunk of the 2014 version of Andy’s stand-up thrown in for good measure. And it is good and it is measured. We get politics and creationism, Obama and the Twin Towers, small dogs in bootees and fat people in the army. And we get age and death. Make no mistake, young people, you can take the boy out of comedy but you can’t take comedy out of the boy. Go see.

Down in the Hive there is comedy magic in the afternoon. Not as in pulling rabbits out of hats, but as in Spencer Jones pulling a delightful hour of silliness and laughter out of an old suitcase and his own genius. There is more than a hint of Tommy Cooper about him but the rest is entirely Spencer’s own special creation. He is the maestro of the swozzle, the ridiculous visual gag and the well-orchestrated disaster. He is like a comedic idiot savant, pulling unexpected and clever comedy from a heap of random bits and bobs. Who knew Wickes is really a comedy prop store? We get a great 10 minutes from five tubes of pipe lagging, a whole tragic tale about Spencer’s money worries and his wife’s infidelity with a builder (the cast of this poignant tale being Jones, Jones in a plastic hard hat and a vacuum cleaner in a wig), the annihilation of the dinosaurs (epileptics should cover their eyes) and a whole wraparound of gloriously funny play. We had three very young people in the audience and so Spencer has to adapt his ping-pong ball based section about Miaow Miaow and other sorts of “sweets” that older people take when they go out clubbing but it was still punch-you-in-the-gut funny. I desperately didn’t want this hour to come to an end. The real world is a sad place to have to back to when you have spent time with Spencer, or rather The Herbert, which is what he calls this captivating man/child. Possibly the nicest, funniest, silliest, most heart-warming hour you can have this August.

The Mash House is a terrific venue this year and at 5pm a young lady called Njambi McGrath does a show which all Brits should see. It is an odd hour, two halves which do not really fit together but she has a story to tell about her Kenyan family and about the British treatment of the ex-colony in the Fifties and Sixties. Don’t expect to laugh much. Do expect to think about it for the rest of the month.

Sam Simmons, Underbelly, Bristo Square, until 24 Aug, more info
Will Adamsdale, Underbelly, Cowgate, until 24 Aug, more info
Tom Toal Cabaret Voltaire, until Sat, more info
Andy De La Tour, Gilded Balloon, until 25 Aug, more info
Spencer Jones, Heroes@The Hive, until 24 Aug, more info
Njambi McGrath, Just the Tonic at The Mash House, until 22 Aug, more info

Originally published in Scotland on Sunday

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