Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy review: Liam Williams: Bonfire Night, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Jay Richardson
With this overwrought follow-up to last year’s award-nominated Capitalism, Liam Williams is becoming easier to admire than to laugh at. That the self-declared “Pilsner socialist” is racked with self-loathing and hatred of inequality is readily apparent. So too, that he’s an exceptionally intelligent, insightful thinker struggling to express new things in his stand-up.
But wanly strain as he might – and he diversifies into vigorous spoken word here, or “sad lad rap” as he calls it, with less of the knowing irony he displays elsewhere – the unsmiling Yorkshireman can’t prevent his nihilistic angst suffocating the gig, a couple of startling punches at his room’s low ceiling perhaps gag reinforcement, possibly genuine frustration. As a caveat, it’s worth noting that a (free) Williams hour is still more compelling than 90 per cent of the festival. But his self-criticism is irresistible and becomes difficult to overlook.
There’s a thrilling early routine about the Fringe office’s rejection of his initial show title that superbly evokes SNP intransigence in British politics and delights with the snarling fury of his roleplay. Yet even the skit’s clever get-out must acknowledge its similarity to Stewart Lee, comedy for the Guardian-reading cognoscenti that Williams can only stomach by foregrounding, even if he’s adroit in explaining why Champagne socialists are preferable to Champagne capitalists.
Along with, and part of, the raps, which are ultimately delivered with a relaxed, meditative sway, amusingly at odds with his usual pinched sullenness, Williams allows us a glimpse into his romantic life for the first time.
However, the cosy domesticity is characterised by hilarious, ultra-violent assault on a fantastical figure, his angry young man performance still arresting for all of its self-consciously misguided swinging.
Perceptive about political resistance, millennial ennui and the state of British comedy, Bonfire Night has eloquence, pathos, originality, grit and ambition but, unfortunately, fewer laughs than you’d hope for.
Laughing Horse @ The Free Sisters (Venue 272), Until 30 August, 11:30pm / listings
Published in The Scotsman on 8 August
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