sat 21/10/2017

John Kearns/ Alex Edelman/ This Is Ceilidh | reviews, news & interviews

John Kearns/ Alex Edelman/ This Is Ceilidh

John Kearns/ Alex Edelman/ This Is Ceilidh

Winning shows at the Edinburgh Fringe

John Kearns after winning the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy AwardGeraint Lewis

John Kearns: Shtick, Voodoo Rooms ****

London comic John Kearns made history at the weekend, when he became the first comic to win the main prize at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards after winning best newcomer gong, which he did last year That's some achievement.

Shtick is in much the same vein as last year's show – lo-fi observational comedy about the mundanities of life given an absurdist twist. But this hour feels a lot more structured and rooted in reality, even if Kearns is again dressed in monk's tonsure wig and ill-fitting false teeth. I suspect, though, that last element of his act may soon disappear, as he describes it as “a gag that's gone a bit too far” – as if he feels slightly trapped by his own creation.

There aren't many gags in the hour, but much to make us laugh. Kearns says he would like to appear on Desert Island Discs – “I'd play the theme tune eight times so people would think there was something wrong with their radio" – and talks about how much he likes going to his nan's house, where he is comforted by seeing her ceramic frog soap-holder still holding court in the bathroom, or the pleasure of going down the pub with his mates. It's all very gentle, save for one waspish anecdote about leading a tour group around the Palace of Westminster (his previous job, which he gave up only last November) and bumping into Russell Brand.

 

Alex Edelman: Millennial, Pleasance Courtyard ****

Alex Edelman nails his colours to the mast from the start of his show in a tiny garret: “I'm the Jew in the Attic,” he says, full of youthful energy, American East Coast confidence and a healthy dose of self-awareness. He was educated at New York University, which has cost his family nearly $200,000, he tells us, and look where he is now – telling jokes for a living. But he did win best newcomer in the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Awards for Millennial, so...

The show is ostensibly about being part of the generation that came after the baby boomers and generation X, but Edelman is essentially just riffing on his life. He talks about volunteering for Barack Obama, places in America where people address him as “hey Jew”, working at KFC when he was student, trying and failing to shock his family by coming out at a Thanksgiving dinner (he's not gay), meeting Neil Armstrong, and arguing with shop assistants – “I've got a mouth on me,” the Bostonian says. Yes he has, but it's a whipcrack-smart one.

Millennial occasionally rambles and Edelman's finale is underwhelming, but this is a very accomplished debut from a comic we'll be hearing a lot more of.

 

This Is Ceilidh, Assembly George Square and London Wonderground *****

This show was being lauded across Edinburgh during the Fringe, but I was too busy to see it before the final weekend. I could kick myself as it was the most fun I had all month.

A ceilidh, common across the Celtic world and its diaspora, is an evening of music, poetry and dance – and here the age-old form of gathering is given a wonderfully modern makeover as a piece of immersive theatre. (Another production is also currently in London, along with a family version – Ready, Steady, Ceilidh: I urge you to see either.)

This Is Ceilidh uses the framework of Romeo and Juliet, and the warring houses here are two feuding clans; the audience are given red or yellow colours to participate as clan members, as they witness a story involving forbidden love and family strife. What follows is part theatre, part poetry (including Robert Burns) and part musical gig (with a cracking band and pipers), led by storytellers Lesley Harcourt and Ewan Donald (pictured above in red by Richard Davenport) – and some riotous mass dancing of Strip the Willow and other old favourites that is not for the faint-hearted, nor indeed the unfit.

Owen Lewis directs with a real feel for the subject, and he welds the show's many elements into a superb performance.

  • This Is Ceilidh and Ready, Steady, Ceilidh are at London Wonderground, SE1 until 27 August
Lo-fi observational comedy about the mundanities of life given an absurdist twist

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