The Edinburgh Fringe is unique, full of wonder, magic and people incessantly offering you flyers. Where else can you follow veteran of the Fringe Arthur Smith up the Royal Mile at 2am while he’s dressed as an old-fashioned British bobby? There’s also a cat café just up from the flat where you can pay £12 to sit with them for an hour, or just keep staring at them through the window for nothing like a cat-stalking weirdo. And I saw Su Pollard in Sainsbury’s last night.
For the performers who head north with a box full of posters and a head full of dreams, it can offer the promise of a TV contract, an award nomination or a full-on messy, nervous breakdown.
This is my 15th year up here comedian-bothering, or reviewing as it’s officially called. Given the wealth of home-grown comedy talent we have in Manchester, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of acts here who either call Manchester or nearby home, who were brought up in the city, or are still an integral part of the Mancunian comedy circuit.
This year the likes of Hayley Ellis, Martin Mor (five in fact), Justin Moorhouse, Kiri Pritchard McLean, Rachel Fairburn, Stephen Bailey, Bethany Black, Phil Ellis and Dan Nightingale are all performing solo shows.
Brennan Reece’s third solo show Evermore roughly follows on from his Edinburgh Comedy Award-nominated Everglow, and Everlong its follow-up. Evermore is a truly beautiful show that explores the joy and heartache of love and loss. Given that Reece has been acting since the womb (well almost), it’s no surprise that he knows his sense of theatre, blending a finely structured stand-up hour with ethereal backdrop melodies by a pair of musicians. It’s an effective and evocative mix even making the self-deprecating tales of the ridiculous exploits of his teen self into poetry. Lovely, heartrending and of course extremely funny.
Also digging deep into his psyche this year is James Meehan with his show Gaz. It’s a lovely, emotional piece about depression and the messy split with his comedian ex-partner, as well as his hard working class upbringing by a heroic single mum and her abuse at the hands of the men in her life. Though there are big laughs to be had, elsewhere in the show Meehan chooses to signpost the ‘sad bits’ and, leaving some small sections within it without cracking a joke for a few beats to instead speak frankly, makes it particularly hard-hitting.
Manchester’s own alternative to the alternative comedian Jack Evans has created a fascinating and incredibly informed polemic on the notion of Work. Focused on a far-left perspective, he convincingly argues that working for a boss in most jobs is worthless and, what’s more, it’s not actually doing us any good. He goes on to debunk the idea that not working is lazy, or at least not in the way that is expected of us these days. There’s much food for thought here as well as sharp gags aplenty.
To round off on something gloriously silly there’s The Delightful Sausage, aka Amy Gledhill (in a wonderfully never-explained hotdog outfit) and Chris Cantrill, who used to run a monthly gig in Manchester. They haven’t had time of late as they’ve been too busy moulding their off-the-wall silliness into a full hour of insanity. Their first was a great success at 2017’s Fringe and this year they’re back with a meeting of P.W.I.C.S. (Precinct of Wider Ickleton Community Saviours) and of course we are those P.W.I.C.S. as Gledhill and Cantrill guide us through their brilliantly studied nonsense peppered liberally with quirky drawings and daft outfits – and Chris gets lost in the woods. Huge fun and a lot of laughs.
By Marissa Burgess, Comedy Editor
(Main image: James Meehan, image courtesy of Martin Cogley)