It feels like a record year for Manchester comedy acts at the Edinburgh Fringe. So many have headed up to the Scottish capital that we could probably take Grassmarket, in the shadow of the castle, and declare it the People’s Republic of Mancunia. Sadly, Northern Soul didn’t get to see all the acts, but did manage to catch this little lot.
Phil Ellis‘s solo show Phil Ellis Has Been On Ice may or may not be autobiographical. Since he won the panel prize at the Fringe in 2014, he’s been cryogenically frozen until a cure was found for his terminal illness (it’s why you’ve not seen him on TV, apparently). Having been woken up, before he’s unleashed on the world, he has to perform a series of tasks as guided by his assigned assistant robot TK Maxx.
As anyone who has seen Ellis in Manchester would expect, there’s a lot of wonderfully silly mucking about as he flies by the seat of his excessively tight shorts through a series of daft experiments aided by hapless members of the audience. It’s a hilarious romp, but the stand-out moment is when they download the big news events of the last few years into his head and, to keep him occupied, TK Maxx gives Ellis some Status Quo to dance to.
Lou Conran has been a gloriously-bawdy presence on the Manchester comedy scene for some years now. She’s the kind of person who always seems cheery both on and off stage. But last year something happened to her that threatened to take that shine off. Having been single for a while and told at 40 that she was running out of time to have children, she’d finally given up on the idea. Then, after a one-night stand with someone who turned out to be something of a misogynist, she found out she was pregnant. Heart-breakingly, at the five-month mark she was told the baby wasn’t forming properly, wouldn’t survive and the pregnancy would have to be terminated. Realising losing a baby during pregnancy is something that isn’t often talked about, Conran set about raising awareness and money for Saying Goodbye. Of course, the natural way for Conran as a comedian to do so was to write a comedy show, I Love Lou C, where Conran manages to be both her wonderfully smutty self while not taking away from the weight of the subject matter. Although she’s a great comedian eliciting some big laughs, the moments where there is no punchline are also incredibly powerful.
Tony Burgess is up at the Fringe performing a show, Crimbo, he’s waited a long time to do. Well-known and loved in the comedy clubs, a star of BBC’s Ideal and an experienced writer for other folk (Johnny Vegas, Steve Coogan and John Bishop) he’s decided it’s time to tell the tale. This beautiful show centres on a family Christmas in 2003, the result of which was Burgess having to adopt his autistic nephew. Burgess vividly depicts the scene with everyone sitting around the dinner table. As they share banter, memories of Christmas past and their unusual presents, as well as the food they are tucking into. As Burgess relates the story, the audience becomes increasingly aware that there’s something unsaid. Though the show is poignant in handling the sadness, Burgess skilfully weaves solid gags into the show, creating a finely-tuned balance between pathos and laughter.
Fellow Manchester legend Smug Roberts is also making a long-awaited return to the Fringe. Famous for his antics on screen in Ken Loach’s Looking for Eric, Mrs Brown’s Boys and on stage – he once took an entire audience on the tram to his mate’s club in North Manchester – Roberts last performed a full run at the Fringe in 1999. Just Me finds Roberts twice divorced with three kids, and living alone in a flat above a beautician’s. So, he’s decided it’s time to look at his life, as well as his diet.
Roberts evocatively leads us through his life from his young son’s reaction to him playing dead, and taking advice from the family dog. It’s a heart-warming, uplifting hour of stand up served up with Roberts’ trademark cheeky style and full of hearty chortles of course.
In her latest Fringe show, Her Majesty, Harpurhey’s own Rachel Fairburn takes us on a journey through her heroes, from McCartney circa 1965 to Oasis, and her family members – fearsome Gran, Dad who invented Facebook (in his way) and Mum who likes a march. Known for her co-hosting and creating the All Killa No Filla podcast with Kiri Pritchard McLean and her dark mischievous stand-up style, this doesn’t disappoint. She opens getting laughs with a confession about her issues with OCD, and she doesn’t just mean washing her hands a couple of times – if there’s an odd number of people in her audience she’s likely to be half-inching one of us through the door. She goes on to skewer unicorn notepads and beach-body-ready ads and proffers advice on how to get away with cheating – by immediately penning a song everyone likes.
A little way into Stephen Bailey‘s Can’t Think Straight, Bailey bemoans the fact that he’s always described in reviews as camp and flamboyant, but it’s easy to see why as he does indeed exhibit these qualities. What bugs him most about this description is that as a gay man he feels it unnecessarily pigeon holes him. He doesn’t believe in labelling people, like his common-sense dad who takes folk as he finds them.
If this all sounds a bit serious the show is far from it, as his message is delivered in a breezy bitchfest, full of astonishingly fast-paced funnies. Along the way, Bailey divulges juicy details about his love life – or rather the lack of it – his love of his working class, down-to-earth family and a warmly vivid portrayal of the women who worked with him in Sainsbury’s in East Manchester.
There are plenty others here that we didn’t manage to get along to including Dead Cat Comedy’s Red Redmond as Scarlet SoHandsome, the Funz and Gamez gang and gang members Will Duggan and James Meehan solo shows, and the folk at The Delightful Sausage. Plus, Mike Newall, Kiri Pritchard McLean, Gein’s Family Giftshop, Brennan Reece, Harriet Dyer and Edy Hurst.
And big congratulations to Bolton’s Sophie Willan with Branded for being nominated for the main Edinburgh Comedy Award, and Wigan’s Chris Washington who was nominated for Newcomer with Dream Big (Within Reason).
By Marissa Burgess, Comedy Editor