Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy review: Pierre Novellie is Anxious Peter, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Jay Richardson.
Expanding on last year’s strong introductory debut, Pierre Novellie derives tremendous capital from his unlikely background, delivering an erudite, intelligent, scholarly but accessible hour that’s full of wry, self-effacing humour.
His name itself is a gift from the comedy gods, suggestive of an act quite different to this hulking, hairy South African emigré who latterly grew up on the Isle of Man. He relates the hilarious account of how his Italian ancestors were hoodwinked into sailing south.
Yet growing up in Johannesburg did at least gift him the delight of experiencing Spiderman dubbed into Xhosa and the oddity of living in a fortress house. Fitted with astounding levels of security, he recalls his five-year-old scepticism at Father Christmas’s capacity to breach the compound with winning absurdism.
Modifying his accent to reflect whomever he’s trying to outwit, Novellie’s sense of identity has nevertheless suffered from measuring his vocation against that of his comfortable, upwardly mobile sister, eliciting an epiphany that, alongside his food binges, he rationalises with dryly witty perspicacity.
After an unlikely first career, his other great quirk is his degree in Anglo-Saxon and Norse Studies, his greatest passion the introduction of Christianity to Scandinavia.
From this superficially unpromising raw material, he fashions one of the strongest routines I’ve heard this festival, Vikings in conversation with loose-lipped monks, as persuasive in its historical truth as it is uproariously funny, the back-and-forth dialogue executed with wonderful panache.
Delivering vivid observations on what it’s like to date tiny British women, he ties the hour up with a neat, knowingly-stagey drawing together of all his threads. Although he wears his learning and cultural insight lightly, you have to admire the rich comedy Novellie ekes from it.
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33) until 30 August / listings
Published in The Scotsman on 28 August 2015
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