Welcome to the start of the Seagull's Fringe coverage: week one of our pop-up Fringe Friday newsletter, bringing you reviews from across the wide range of performances on offer: comedy, theatre, drag and more! Let's get right into it:
Dave Fensome, Dog Eat Dog (WIP)
Caroline of Brunswick, 06/05/22
It felt appropriate that the Seagull's first Fringe outing this year was a WIP show by local comic Dave Fensome at the Caroline of Brunswick. Watching comedians try out their new material ahead of Edinburgh in the tight confines of the Level pub's upper room is, for me, what the season is all about.
While he began by setting expectations that this was a very in-progress show (going so far as to say to any reviewers in the audience would find the experience akin to trying to review a table by looking at a tree), what gaps there were in the performance were smoothed over admirably by Fensome's charisma, stage presence and quickness with audience interactions.
He leaned into the WIP-ness; commenting on bits that did or didn't work as he'd intended, the use of the name "Derek" as a generic name for an invented character—but the sections themselves felt fully-formed, crescendos being built to naturally and masterfully. The material stretched from the broad (dogs eating poo) to the particular (a discussion of Paradise Park in Newhaven—always good to see some local material). Fensome was able to switch register with alacrity.
If all WIP shows were like this, I'd be very happy. If all non-WIP shows were like this, I'd be very happy! Get on this while you can—I'd be down to all of them to see the show develop if I didn't have other reviewing to do.
Fran Kissling and guests, Fran Kissling Presents Entertainment to an Audience
Caroline of Brunswick, 07/05/22
A stoney-faced Fran Kissling approached the stage to the Swiss national anthem holding a small flag, ready to present entertainment to us. Unfortunately, some of the entertainment didn't quite hit the mark. The ever-deadpan comedian, decorated with a plethora of awards over the last three years, had some solid one-liners (only some being about the Swiss being neutral and punctual), and I did appreciate that she had a variety of flag sizes every time she came on stage, culminating in more than there was floor-space for.
I would have been happy to have had her first guest, Bunny Hopkyns, take the place of the others. With his specific stop-start blues-playing shtick, he was clearly a very good musician who brought us less whimsical, more tragic reality comedy. Kissling's survivalist guest, Alpha Wolf, did have a very funny moment where he described himself as an edgy comedian (he was stood near the side of the stage with a bag over his head), but Shannon Crabsticks, a woman dressed as a mermaid left me feeling like it was reference comedy to things that I was completely unfamiliar with, mostly to do with weathermen, and partly to do with talking to a small shark.
Fran Kissling was fun, though, and I'd definitely let her present entertainment to me again.
Geoffrey Mead, London Road Tour
London Road, 07/05/22
This tour is an eye-opening wander through an area which, for as long as I've lived in Brighton, has been a byword for urban decay. Local history expert Geoff Mead charted the area's rise as a fairly well-to-do area, its decline as the richer residents moved further out, its rise again as a major shopping area and subsequent decline after the departure of Marks and Spencer in the 80s. From the 'blues and buffs' of the rows of cottages in Queen's Place to the ornate ammonite curlicues adorning the Regency splendour of Hanover Crescent, from the greenhouses that once occupied the space now taken up by the Salvation Army hall to the mismatched stones colouring on the different sections of St Peter's Church, this tour will change the way you look at an under-appreciated area of great historical interest.
Nathan Cassidy, Observational
The Quadrant, 08/05/22
Nathan Cassidy proves once again that he’s one of the funniest comedians in the game with his show, Observational. Did he want to do observational comedy? Not necessarily. But when your new PT that you can’t shake off asks what you do and says he’ll come and see your show, needs must. And as we all know, there is nothing worse than people watching you do things.
Cassidy takes us on a journey, from watching his PT lift very heavy things for fun on his day off to the ‘shit stag do’ of children’s parties. His wordplay and fast, slick jokes are impeccable, his comic timing superb; he is a comedian who is as good in his rehearsed show as he is the rare bit of ad-libbing. Honestly, the show is worth going to just to see how an expert comedian handles a joke about Michael Jackson—you wonder where all of his anecdotes and jokes are leading until suddenly they culminate in the best ending I’ve seen to a comedy set possibly ever, and suddenly it all makes sense.
He might have a spare room (fancy), but he’s as grounded and down-to-earth as ever and the most earnestly grateful for positive feedback I’ve ever seen a comedian be. We said this last year and we’ll say it again: run, don’t walk to see Cassidy. He is a true talent, a genuinely naturally funny man, and to not see him is to miss out on something very special.
Anoushka Rava, Melting Pot
The Quadrant, 08/05/22
While maintaining an admirably high level of energy with a small Sunday evening audience, Anoushka Rava unfortunately wasn’t able to bring a similar level of laughter. Following every formulaic setup and weak punchline with “man, that’s crazy” or an explanation of the preceding joke was, unfortunately, not a winning strategy. The somewhat raucous register of the delivery and jokes about men's inability to find the clitoris would probably meet with a rapturous reception at a hen party, but it didn't really vibe with the Fringe audience. Ten minutes in, one of the audience of five left—I assumed to the bar, but he did not, in fact, return. Rava had enthusiasm in spades, but this did not substitute for the deficits of the material.
The Big Drag Pageant 2022
Brighton Spiegeltent, 9/5/22
This year’s Fringe saw the fourth Big Drag Pageant, in which Drag Kings, Queens, Things and Creatures perform their wackiest, funniest and most eccentric acts to be crowned this year’s winner. Brighton Spiegeltent played host to the 21 drag artists, a tent full of people eager to witness the velocity of queer talent Brighton Fringe has to offer.
In an unprecedented move, the performers were so talented and the competition too close that the judges chose three, instead of two, to go through to the final: aerobatic, singing, Jessica Rabbitesque Ophelia Payne, the drag hag who waxed her privates in a comedic skit Alpha Bites, and Vlad Von Kitsch who goes from beautifully lip-syncing to pulling their guts out and eating human organs. It was a close competition, but Vlad Von Kitsch got the title!
The night was a complete celebration of queerness through the diversity of both artist and act. The camp, quirky and wonderful performances in the Pageant ticked all the boxes of an entertaining evening, and it even ticked more. It gave a spotlight to sides of Drag that mainstream media do not showcase and recognized the individualism and creativity in all kinds of Drag. On top of that, the artists were given a platform to talk about issues that both they have faced individually, and the community have faced as a whole. Representations of racism, grief, bullying, homophobia, mental illness, capitalism and the ridiculous gender binaries and heteronormative ideologies society place on people. We were left compelled, teary eyed and full of queer pride.
Maisie Adam, Buzzed (WIP)
Caroline of Brunswick, 09/05/22
Maisie Adam began her show with touching surprise at the Caroline of Brunswick's upper room being full to capacity. She seemed down-to-earth and grounded; her recent Have I Got News for You appearance certainly not having gone to her head. Perhaps not helped by the fact that Ian Hislop couldn’t remember her name, or that people get her mixed up with Maisie Williams, but alas.
Her work-in-progress show touched on Covid a bit too much for my liking, though she's far from the only comedian leaning on The Shared Experience we all have. She took us from moving into her new posher-than-expected neighbourhood to accidentally joining an LGBT+ football team, through her recent proposal that she didn’t see coming to encouraging her mum to be more active like Bruce Forsyth (who, her mum correctly rebutted, is dead).
What I certainly came away with was the feeling that what matters to her is community and connection; it’s much easier to feel that in-person than over Zoom shows, and you really feel how grateful she is to be included: by other comedians, by her fellow footballers, and by the audience. As much as the phrase ‘one to watch’ is overused, she really is one to watch—a bit of polishing ahead of Edinburgh and her show will be sparkling.
Stella Graham, Porcupine
Caroline of Brunswick, 09/05/22
Stella Graham began by refusing to call her show a work-in-progress as 'that would imply that there might be some kind of progress'. Graham is a tremendously likeable performer with a good deal of charm and comic timing, and on the occasion we saw her was battling a limited Monday night audience—but also against material that was, unfortunately, heavy on gurning and silly voices.
Her ad-libs, revealing her to have a quick, sharp wit, were in the main both sharper and funnier than her prepared material, and it seems a shame that her act didn't highlight her best qualities. She did, however, furnish our editor with a Jakemans for her sore throat, so she's definitely a very lovely person.
Dian Cathal, Generation Why
Caroline of Brunswick, 09/05/22
Dian Cathal is an aspirant cannibal who runs a dogfighting ring and wants to remake Stonewall from the cop's perspective. These sound like outlandish claims and yet those statements and more were revealed to us over the course of his show. The small late-night Monday audience size meant that the show became more a dialogue than a monologue, and at some point he tasked me with getting him cancelled; the above is my attempt to so do.
How was the show? I found it tremendously enjoyable, and Cathal a natural performer. A good deal of this show was Remembering The 90s And Early 2000s, like Peter Kay for millenials—I don't know how this would strike you if you weren't already familiar with Pokémon, Captain Planet, Tamagotchis, The Sims etc—but I think the buoyancy of the performance would carry you right along.
Brighton Little Theatre, Anne Boleyn
Brighton Little Theatre, 11/05/22
This sympathetic portrayal of Anne Boleyn’s influence on changing the future of England and its state religion was an absolute delight to watch. The impressively accurate celebration of the last few years of her life shows the executed queen not as a manipulator, nor as a pawn of her family seeking more power, but as a woman in love who knows what she wants and how she wants to get it.
Something I often feel is missing from portrayals of Boleyn, surprisingly, is talk of religion and just how she related to the country's divorce from the Pope and his influence. Against the frame of uncivilised, uncouth James I and his own reworking of religion and the Bible once he took the English throne, it was fascinating to watch his 'religionists', somewhat unwillingly, battle it out, and to see the parallels between the two royals.
Chris Berry shone as Robert Cecil, James I's long-suffering chief advisor, and Kez Price does a wonderful job of portraying the meddling, devious Thomas Cromwell. Anne's well-meaning but gossip-prone ladies-in-waiting added levity and scandal in equal parts, while Kemi Greene excelled in portraying a Boleyn you could sympathise with; a Boleyn who was somewhat childish, who saw perseverence as a virtue, and who held enough power over Henry VIII to change the country even after her death, a martyr for the Reformation.
This play and its cast brought such life to the historical figures that many of us have heard about but haven't necessarily delved into the pasts of. The arrest of Boleyn is heartbreaking, as is the reaction of the court's staff—as was so poignantly said, '[they] were all in love with her', and in that moment you see Boleyn as she was: a manipulated woman who lived for love.
Carly Smallman, Noise Pig
Caroline of Brunswick, 12/05/22
Carly Smallman began her set by chatting with the audience—not even really making jokes, just Having A Chat. Her air of garrolousness and likeability set everyone at ease, and she proceeded through some broad, relatable but thoroughly entertaining material about Aldi/Lidl middle aisles and dating during lockdown, before moving into very niche material about UK garage (which pleased our editor, a huge Craig David fan, no end). A mention of So Solid Crew made me think the last time I'd heard them mentioned in a comedic context was by Stewart Lee.
As it progressed, later stage led to it concluding with a song called "Dick Museum", which I will confess to being apprehensive about, but ended up being both quite amusing and remarkably well-sung. It was the comedic equivalent of a warm bath: chill, bubbly, good vibes.
Coming up over the weekend, we've got standup from Sam Nicoresti and Alice India, a Radical History Tour, a ghost tour 👻 plus friends of the Seagull Biscuit Barrel with their hyperactive sketch show and Real Positive Poles with their improvised Twilight Zone! That's all for this Fringe Friday,we'll be back with all the week's news as usual on Monday—and keep an eye out for our upcoming Great Escape roundup!