Edinburgh Fringe sketch and character comedy: Joseph Morpurgo | Max & Ivan | Massive Dad | Lazy Susan | Holly Burn | Adam Riches

Everyone knows the Fringe is a vital testing ground for sketch and character comedy, so who are the stars of this year’s programme? Nick Mitchell samples a variety of shows…

Winning the prize-formerly-known-as-the-Perrier-aka-the-Foster’s-Edinburgh-Comedy Award affords you a certain rarefied status in the flyer-strewn blitz that is the Fringe. But ‘rarefied’ isn’t a word that sits easily with Adam Riches‘ style of gung-ho performance. Four years on from his prize-winning year, he’s as macho and scene-stealing as ever – even if he is surrounded by a cast of younger Fringe comedians who vie for attention. In his latest outing he is Eric Coach, a gum-chewing, high-fiving high school sports – you guessed it – coach.

Coach Coach does take its time to warm up. At first it’s unclear whether it’s an attempt to satirise the classic American high school movie or just use its familiar, hormonal corridors as an easy route to a relatable storyline – before it becomes crystal-clear that it’s the definitely the latter. The basketball (or Volfsball, as it’s renamed) gym setting basically grounds a fairly compelling, knockabout tale of a win-obsessed coach and his under-achieving Centaurs, pitted against their dastardly rivals, the Lizards. Like Eastbound and Down or Dodgeball (either of which may have inspired the larger-than-life central character), it’s hit-and-miss, but when the action builds to the final showdown, we see Riches come into his own, thanks to a pivotal piece of audience interaction that inspires some excellent impromptu departures from the page.

Breaking – or rather, tumbling and panting over – the fourth wall is also a key part in Holly Burn‘s new show, I am Kirsty K (main image). This time Burn is playing a ponytail-twirling, midriff-baring, dungaree-wearing Georgie lass who has gathered the audience to deliver a eulogy for her dear-departed Nan – pinpointing certain punters for especially embarrassing attention. Burn’s commitment to this potentially stereotypical character is complete (according to the press she is spending the entries month of August in character), and she just about saves it from pastiche with some brilliantly bonkers writing and unexpected twists, such as the moment where she is ‘possessed’ by her free-spirited Nan.

lazy susan

While character comedy might have stolen some of its kudos, sketch is still big business at the Fringe. Step into the Mars-station-meets-student-union that is the Pleasance Dome and you can barely move for them. Touching down for their second Edinburgh appearance after being nominated for the Best Newcomer Award last year is Lazy Susan, a duo who demonstrate their own acting chops by flitting between drawling American teenagers forced to make a sex-tape to escape a killer, two Australian friends who recreate Street Fighter through tap dance, and a Scottish motivational guru and her gullible hanger-on – with the latter pairing having the audience in hysterics.

Playing the same room this year is another all-female sketch group, Massive Dad. Their entrance to blaring Daft Punk beats, wearing hoodies with light-up zippers, turns out to be an ingenious way to shift between sketches in this similarly frenetic show. All three members are confident performers with some fizzing interplay, whether it’s auditioning for the PA voice of a dubious laboratory (“access is neither granted nor denied”), trying to infiltrate a children’s book festival with Anonymous-style subversion, or letting a brooch completely dominate a job interview.

Compared to some of their fellow Pleasance Dome residents, Max & Ivan may be relative Fringe veterans, but that doesn’t mean their new show The End is in any way complacent. Or, indeed, the end. Far from it, this duo, last seen as the largely useless Ben and Jerry in BBC satire W1A, have crammed an apocalyptic storyline and a whole town-ful of characters into their latest hour. The standard of their acting is a cut above the average sketch group, and just when it’s getting a little too polished they grab someone from the audience, or Max Olesker makes a knowing reference to the fact that “Ivan wrote this bit” – before the latter emerges on stage in a hilarious costume change that will surely be one of your lasting images of the Fringe (without spoiling it). The characters that populate Sudley-on-Sea are fantastically realised, and while it’s not as wilfully surreal as The League of Gentlemen, it contains frequent moments of brilliance.

Joseph Morpurgo

The same can definitely be said of Joseph Morpurgo (above), whose third Fringe show, Soothing Sounds of Baby, is a journey into his collection of bad vinyl and how it ties in with an imagined personal history, framed by his appearance opposite Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs (he must have spent months cutting up audio clips of her interviews to make the dialogue work so well). It’s an unpredictable, uproarious, enlightening and enlivening hour in the company of one of the most talented performers on the comedy circuit. His reading of A.A. Milne stories as Norman Shelley is deliciously demented (and a superb piece of theatre), his interaction with the audience demonstrates his natural improv skills, and his impression of a grime MC is triumphant. Morpurgo’s style lies somewhere between character, sketch and cross-media, and it’s one of the best things you’ll see this, or any, year.

Adam Riches: Coach Coach, Pleasance Dome, until 30 Aug, 9.45pm / listings
Lazy Susan: Double Act, Pleasance Dome, until 31 Aug, 8.10pm / listings
Massive Dad 2.0: Step Up 2 Massive Dad, Pleasance Dome, until 31 Aug, 6.50pm / listings
Holly Burn: I Am Kirsty K, The Mash House, until 30 Aug, 6.20pm / listings
Joseph Morpurgo: Soothing Sounds of Baby, until 31 Aug, 8.15pm / listings

Main image: Holly Burn as Kirsty K

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