Fest Reviews: Issue 1

                                                       Published in Fest, August 6 2011

Diane Spencer’s All-Pervading Madness
4 stars

Sporting a gingham shirt, meticulously combed long ginger hair, cut-glass accent and an infectiously jolly hockey sticks demeanour, Diane Spencer looks and sounds every inch the pleasant, respectable middle-class girl. Until, that is, she starts telling jokes. The set starts innocently enough with an endearing story about her mother being “carjacked” by a ferret but then delves into fantastically overstated vulgarity, never coming up for air for the rest of the hour.

Ostensibly, she is telling the story of a long and difficult journey back from an unsuccessful gig. Like a hyperactive child, however, she can’t seem to focus on anything for more than a few minutes and so before she gets a mile nearer home, she treats the audience to a series of hilarious tangents, among them the story of a particularly uncomfortable manoeuvre with a cooked sausage. Spencer is enormously skilled at turning the complete strangers she meets into a delightfully grotesque cast: a woman with eight boobs and four mobiles; a vagrant policeman called Sherlock Homeless; the railway stripper, Miss Carriage.

In the hands of a less talented performer, all these individual stories could result in a fractured, confused performance, but in a remarkable last 10 minutes Spencer—in the manner of a magician showing a stunned audience how the trick was done—weaves each of the separate tales into a single brilliant, disgusting whole. The show is so comprehensive, squeezing out every last drop of humour and plumbing every possible depth, that when the hour is up, it feels like you have spent a whole day immersed in her madness.

Dr Apple’s Last Lecture
2 stars

Inspired by the life of American psychologist and LSD enthusiast Dr Timothy Leary, New York theatre company Hole in the Sky have set themselves a lofty aim with Dr Apple’s Last Lecture: to explore “the expansion of consciousness” and to ask whether you can “expand your mind without losing it.” Mark Junek plays Dr Apple, a psychology professor experiencing a career lull who eats some of his students’ drugged biscuits in order to explore the far recesses of his mind.

A dull first 20 minutes spent laying out the premise seems a waste given that the show degenerates into such an unstructured mess thereafter. As the drug takes effect, Apple’s students—dressed now in brightly-coloured Morph suits—swarm onto the stage gibbering away manically, looking and sounding like demented Muppets. Confusing to the point of being impenetrable, the show gets bogged down in a mire of its own making.

Towards the end though, things become clearer as Apple comes out of his trip and the cast does start to explore some of the themes the show claims to deal with. A few profound sound bites stand out starkly and memorably against the blur of the rest of the show. There are also some cute sketches from the obviously talented young cast—a mystic steals Apple’s glasses, to find that he has an endless supply of them in his seemingly bottomless pockets—but ultimately they raise only a wry smile, rather than a laugh.

Andi Osho: All the Single Ladies
3 stars

Andi Osho

Often overshadowed on the TV panel shows through which she is familiar to millions, Andi Osho shines when she has the stage to herself.

Not having had a date for three years, Osho takes us through the rare highs and the many lows of internet dating and paints in intricate and hilarious detail the various stages of a relationship. She holds her audience rapt in admiration with her energetic, effervescent style and often seems to enjoy the experience as much as anyone else in the room.

As well as a number of intelligent, thoughtful observations about being in love, she can do the other end of the scale just as well. References to her vagina as the “executive box” has the audience and fits of laughter, and she even manages a Madeleine McCann joke without the gasp that attempts at such humour usualy elicit. As with her previous shows, she ends with a characteristically clever and creative performance poem—alternately hilarious and thought-provoking—about what makes a good partner, leaving her audience both satisfied and more than a little moved.

Given what she achieved with her exploration of race and national identity in her Fringe debut, Afroblighty, she has sold her self short by choosing such a well-worn topic as the theme of her show. She does a better job than most of covering this very old ground, but in doing so leaves you thinking that you might have seen so much more if only she had been as brave has she has been in the past.

Scott Capurro’s Position
2 stars

Veteran Fringe standup Scott Capurro and newcomer David Mills join forces in a chat show that invites famous names at the Fringe along for an hour of banter about their life and work. The two work in effective, bitchy harmony, catty remarks being batted between the two throughout, working to give it momentum that they fail to generate through the interviews themselves.

Despite a six-week run in London, Capurro is still shaky in his interview style; he seems to want to hear certain answers and won’t stop till he’s got them. He lets the need to get his own laughs interfere, interrupting the flow with a series of unfunny asides and alienating some of the audience with a few inappropriate comments – chief among them a patronising remark about South Africa not being developed enough for comedy.

At times Capurro and Mills seem to forget that they’re not doing late-night standup – for a PG-rated afternoon show, Mills’ opening reference to his talent for autofellatio and the pair’s subsequent crudeness throughout are ill-judged and leave the parents in the audience looking uncomfortable next to their bewildered children.

Today’s show picks up only with the arrival of cabaret act Le Gateau Chocolat. Though dressed in a huge day-glo orange tutu, he moves the audience with a candidsoliloquy on his sexuality and difficulty in reconciling a strict Nigerian upbringing with his career as a drag artist. Hardly requiring prompting by his hosts, Mills and Capurro need not have been there at all.

Kevin Shepherd: Caronicle
3 stars 

Kevin ShepherdYou might not expect to warm to a self-confessed former criminal, but this is what happens after an hour in the company of Kevin Shepherd. He guides the audience through his life via a series of vignettes on the different cars he has owned; his tale of sharing a bottle of water with his overheating car while high on ecstasy exemplifying his warm, endearing and gently amusing storytelling. His nervousness serves only to underline the fact that this is someone plucking up the courage to bear their raw feelings to complete strangers. You might not laugh all that much, but you’ll leave with a smile on your face and maybe a tear in your eye.

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