Spoken word review: The Tobolowsky Files
Spoken word review: The Tobolowsky Files

Edinburgh Festival Fringe spoken word review: The Tobolowsky Files, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Paul Whitelaw. ★★★★ You may not recognise the name, but you’ll almost certainly know Stephen Tobolowsky from his numerous film and TV roles. Bilko-bald and bespectacled, this redoubtable American character actor has amassed more than 200 screen credits, including Memento, Deadwood, Glee …

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Edinburgh Festival

Edinburgh Festival Fringe spoken word review: The Tobolowsky Files, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Paul Whitelaw.

★★★★

You may not recognise the name, but you’ll almost certainly know Stephen Tobolowsky from his numerous film and TV roles. Bilko-bald and bespectacled, this redoubtable American character actor has amassed more than 200 screen credits, including Memento, Deadwood, Glee and Groundhog Day (he’s the unctuous insurance man who plagues Bill Murray).

However, aside from an amusing introductory anecdote – he tells a different one every night – he’s not here to discuss his screen career. He wants to tell us instead about pivotal events from his private life. That would be disappointing were they not so staggering and eloquently told.

His stories revolve around Beth and Ann, the two great loves of his life. Beth was his first serious girlfriend, Ann his beloved wife of 26 years. Alternate performances are devoted to just one of them, so as to focus fully on the differences between what he calls “young love and enduring love.” Tonight his subject was Beth.

By way of vouching for the mind-boggling revelations to come, he declares that his motto is “true always trumps clever”. It’s an important disclaimer; without it you’d doubt his more extraordinary twists. And they are extraordinary.

Avuncular, droll and self-deprecating, Tobolowsky weaves, with an actor’s poise, through an eventful saga of touching romance, absurd farce, gentle wisdom and occasional horror.

The only bum note in this otherwise charming tale is his perplexing, irony-free claim that he once had psychic powers. You keep expecting a rug-pulling punchline; it never arrives. He’s an intelligent man, but he sounds like a nut on this subject. However, it does trigger the gloriously circuitous chain of coincidences which cap the show in grin-inducing style. Psychic diversions aside, it’s an utterly delightful hour.

Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33) until 31 August

Published in The Scotsman on 22 August 2015

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