Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy review: Mark Steel: Who Do I Think I Am?, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Jay Richardson
There’s always something appealing about the capriciousness of fate forcing principled curmudgeons into becoming the thing they detest. Mark Steel used to be sneeringly disdainful of the vogue for tracing one’s family tree, imagining his South London upbringing was the main reason for his left-wing views and hatred of billionaire capitalists and North London. Sanguine about being adopted, he knew his birth name was Phillip Anderson and his birth father was French but it never preoccupied him. Yet the arrival of his son in his mid-thirties prompted a change of heart, and he set about trying to find his natural mother.
A tediously slow detective process, the trail took him to Scotland via Italy, uncovering a series of destabilising revelations that shook him out of his indifference, incredulity at aspects of his genetic inheritance supplemented by strong evidence that nature was contributing to his make-up as much as nurture. To reveal more would spoil a warm, surprising, enthralling show that ought to have Steel’s usual home of Radio 4 lining up an adaptation already.
With less of the selective editing and sense of satisfying closure that usually accompanies Who Do You Think You Are?, Steel sardonically affects to do everything in his power not to draw glib conclusions and arrive at happy endings. Yet even through loss and failure, his cynicism about the enterprise cannot wholly endure, his life’s path seemingly determined by a higher power with a stand-up’s relish of irony. Indeed, this is a show that supports the notion of a disproportionate number of comedians being adopted, advancing Robert Newman’s theory that they grow up seeing the world one way, but knowing it could be otherwise. Frank, dryly funny and moving, it’s subtly thought-provoking too.
Assembly George Square Studios (Venue 17), until 30 August. Today 8:15pm.
Published in The Scotsman on 25 August 2015
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