thu 29/02/2024

Edinburgh Fringe: Greg Davies/ Apples/ Carl Donnelly | reviews, news & interviews

Edinburgh Fringe: Greg Davies/ Apples/ Carl Donnelly

Edinburgh Fringe: Greg Davies/ Apples/ Carl Donnelly

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Greg Davies tells the story of his life so far in diverting and inventive ways

Comic Greg Davies has made us wait for his solo debut - he’s in his early forties, appeared at the Fringe as part of sketch group We Are Klang for a few years and more latterly has been starring in The Inbetweeners on Channel 4 as Mr Gilbert. Before that he was a drama teacher in a secondary school for 13 years. But boy, was it worth the wait.

Greg Davies, Pleasance *****

Firing Cheeseballs at a Dog is a run-through of his life so far, done as a sort of classroom lecture, complete with blackboard and chalk, and a book with short stories he dips into from time to time, including one about how the show’s title came about. They are, he disarmingly tells us, a few episodes from his life but which don’t fit into the narrative of the show - including possibly the best fart joke, ever - but they provide some its biggest laughs, in an hour when one is rarely not laughing.

For Davies is one of those people who infect you with their energy and joie de vivre, but there’s just enough cynicism in the mix to remind you that life isn’t a bowl of clichés. The comic is wonderfully self-deprecating, too; he’s a big bloke (6ft 8in) but his penis is “surprisingly average for a man my size”. He tells his story with lovely, inventive devices - his school years are told entirely through descriptions of the nicknames he and his schoolmates gave each other, and his university years are rendered in a wonderful visual gag as he writes the words Drunk, Pathetic and Single on his blackboard.

Stories about his slightly barmy family form the backbone to the hour, and a tale about Davies’s parents is as touching as it is funny - and provides another huge, but wholly unexpected, gag to end the show. I can give no higher praise than to say that this is a show I didn’t want to end, and which I wanted to see again immediately it did. Until 29 August

Apples, Traverse @ St Stephen’s ****

When Richard Milward’s debut novel, a rollicking read about the sex-and-drugs lifestyle among youths on a Middlesbrough housing estate, was published in 2007 (when the author was only 19), Irvine Welsh hailed it as one of the best books he had ever read about being young and working class in Britain today - and the author of Trainspotting should know. Director John Retallack has adapted Apples, now a cult book, into a vibrant, witty and - strange to tell, you may think - heartwarming piece of theatre.

The story concerns six teenagers at the same secondary school and centres on Adam (Scott Turnbull), a shy boy with OCD, a violent father and a state of virginity he’s desperate to end, and Eve (Therase Neve), seemingly confident but touchingly vulnerable and unable to tell her mates that her mother has lung cancer. All the teenagers, with the exception of Adam, have lots of casual underage sex, take drugs and get drunk every weekend and we see the chaos of their lives, including bullying, rape and teenage pregnancy. The terrific young cast all play various adults and parents as well, but they are peripheral to the action, and the story is told mostly in monologues addressed directly to the audience, with each teenager strikingly defined in the writing.

Milward calls his novel “an anti-macho fairy story” - Adam thinks Eve is gorgeous but out of his league; Eve thinks he’s a nice lad, different from the others, and smiles at him as they pass in the school corridor one day - and slowly we see the tantalising possibility that Adam and Eve may find each other among the madness going on around them.

Apples is beautifully, energetically directed by Retallack, much aided by sound by Rob Brown and Katie Warwick, and movement by Harriet Plewis. This co-production between Northern stage and Company of Angel is unmissable. Until 28 August

Carl Donnelly, Underbelly ***

You may not think being nominated for the prestigious Edinburgh Comedy Award (formerly the Perrier) would cause upset in your life, but that’s the premise of Carl Donnelly’s follow-up show, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Carl Donnelly?

The problem alluded to is that this nicest of blokes was in danger of becoming a bit of a tit as success went to his head. He knows all about titdom, we learn, because Donnelly was a real pain as a teenager before he came to his senses, and his show is an amusing collection of tales from his life, including getting married recently.

The laidback Donnelly weaves a bunch of anecdotes together; as he says in the show’s preamble, there are few big punchlines but he can certainly find an amusing story in the unlikeliest of material - including one about having to drive his car at a minimum of 50mph to avoid the engine failing as he was rushing to catch a ferry. It sounds like the storyline of Speed, he says, but it ended not in mayhem but him and his wife having a nice cup of tea when they got home. An engaging hour. Until 29 August

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