fri 22/09/2017

Edinburgh Fringe 2017 reviews: Hannah Gadsby / Suzi Ruffell / Ivo Graham / Athena Kugblenu | reviews, news & interviews

Edinburgh Fringe 2017 reviews: Hannah Gadsby / Suzi Ruffell / Ivo Graham / Athena Kugblenu

Edinburgh Fringe 2017 reviews: Hannah Gadsby / Suzi Ruffell / Ivo Graham / Athena Kugblenu

A possible valediction, class concerns, feeling the privilege, and millennial politics

Hannah Gadsby's new show is her last, she says

Hannah Gadsby ★★★★

This is Hannah Gadsby's last show, she tells us. Not because she has stopped being funny (she most definitely hasn't, as the laugh count in this show attests), but because making comedy out of her life experience has become toxic for her.

Over the years, Gadsby's shows have had increasingly personal content - about being a lesbian, her depression and growing up gay in a deeply homophobic society. And then last year, when the debate about gay marriage hit the headlines in her home state of Tasmania (it's still not legal), something shifted, and she realised how much anger she had damped down, about rape, internalised homophobia, about not being able to identify with the gay of Pride parades and colourful floats. Nowadays, in the expansive alphabet of human sexuality, she says, she mostly identifies as “tired”.

She has laid herself bare – almost literally – in her shows, including one about body image in which she took off her clothes down to a swimsuit, and has concluded that the kind of comedy she does – self-deprecating – is bad for her. Her killer line: “Humility became humiliation.”

This is an expertly crafted show and, despite the laughs, her anger makes it increasingly uncomfortable to watch – which is, I guess, the point. But towards the end I felt harangued, and I am most definitely not part of the minority of straight, white males – rapists, paedophiles, users of pornography – that Gadsby takes aim at. But it's an astonishing, coruscating and original hour – and I hope the line about Nanette being her last show is another very good gag, this time at our expense.

  • Hannah Gadsby at Assembly George Square until 27 August

Suzi RuffellSuzi Ruffell ★★★★

The examination of class – where along the social scale we're born, where we aspire to be, and where we end up – has lately become Suzi Ruffell's stock in trade. In Keeping it Classy, she revisits territory familiar to her fans – born working class, she's now middle class, a comedian living in hipster east London.

She has lately had cause to re-examine where she is in life, she says, because in April her beloved nan died and her girlfriend dumped her (“I knew I'd get a good show out of it,” she says drily). When things get tough, she says, she goes back to her working-class roots, and long-standing Ruffell fans knows she talks a lot about her unPC but a good-bloke dad, her nan, who was unfazed by Ruffell's sexuality but really didn't get the whole LGBT thing, and her extended family.

As she tells her story, some of the characters who people it don't quite ring true – her posh best friend, Poppy, a couple of ghastly family members – possibly because Ruffell has taken elements of their personalities and heightened them for comedic effect, and lost some authenticity in the process. Regardless, mention of Poppy brings forth some good lines; her friends are called Pandora and Orlando, while the girls Ruffell went to school with (all now pregnant or mothers, unlike her), were called Whitney and Britney. This is a strong hour and Ruffell, an energetic and charming performer, has an interesting take on social mobility.

  • Suzi Ruffell at Pleasance Courtyard until 27 August

Ivo GrahamIvo Graham ★★★

Ivo Graham – fresh-faced, posh and knowingly privileged – gets it out of the way at the top of the show: he went to Eton and, yes, he knows people who will be running the country one way or another in years to come. Some may hold his alma mater against him, but his appealing manner means most won't.

In Educated Guess, Graham, 26, talks about privilege, but not the Eton bit, which is dispensed in a few sentences. More the privilege that comes with being the favourite child – or more precisely, the most available child of three, as his siblings are busy elsewhere living grown-up lives. His availability means he still goes on holiday with his parents, sharing a room with them because his dad won't fork out for a separate room. Cue embarrassing stories about a shared bathroom.

Graham also charts his progress from geeky schoolboy making an unsuccessful appearance on The Weakest Link to being a geeky comedian who for a dare committed to memory all 650 Parliamentary constituencies and MPs' names. The snap election result was as much a shock for him as it was to Theresa May, but at least he has turned that feat into a mildly diverting parlour game in the show. 

The Eton reference, as it turns out, is merely a teaser, and I would have liked Graham to explore his privilege much more than he does. But maybe that's next year's show.

  • Ivo Graham at Pleasance Courtyard until 27 August

Athena KugblenuAthena Kugblenu ★★★

KMT – from the Caribbean expression “Kiss mi teeth”, to show irritation – is the strong debut hour from Athena Kugblenu, who appears to be anything but irritated. She's smiley and positive, and immediately cuts to the chase about her unusual monicker: her first name was the best 1980s shop be named after, she tells us – “It could have been Rumbelows or Radio Rentals.”

She delivers some strong political comedy at the top of her hour, and much of it is presented under cover of less serious concerns; talking about Labour's need to win back Ukip voters, for example, she likens it to a boyfriend going off to have sex with livestock – would you really want him back?

Along the way she talks about mixed-race marriages, apartheid and racial identity. The pace and punch of her material wanes as the hour progresses, and the show meanders to a rather weak conclusion. But Kugblenu is good company and has some strikingly original insights into life as a politically engaged millennial.

  • Athena Kugblenu at Underbelly Med Quad until 27 August

More reviews from the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe on theartsdesk

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