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Edinburgh Festival review – James Acaster

Wednesday, August 10 2011

Never mind the Best Newcomer award, the former support act for Milton Jones and Josie Long could go all the way


James Acaster

WALLOP. Welcome to one of the funniest shows on the Fringe this year. Those who have a penchant for silliness in particular will have a whale of a time at Amongst Other Things.

There's no real overall arc, but boy does it have themes. Hiding is one. The face you might make when presented with a doughnut is another. One more: the bear his mum knitted to replace him when he left home.

In Acaster's world, these are deadly serious subjects, and the material he has on them are full of beautifully worded phrases and pin-point observations, all delivered absolutely straight-faced.

He is an affable, likeable presence, waif-like and vulnerable in his cardigan and sensible trousers. Acaster is a comic you could take home to your Mum and she would thoroughly approve. But if that makes him sound like he will only appeal to wet-behind-the-ears geeky types, think again. That may be his core audience, but Amongst Other Things has a steeliness to it, a commitment to itself, that it would surely crack the hardest arms-folded "tell us a joke" bloke.

His commitment is worth reciprocating, as his longer routines build and flourish as they progress. His doughnut faces material goes on for it must be ten minutes, and it's worth every second. He also asks you to indulge him in a lengthy, silent mime of somebody creeping across a darkened bedroom, and it is a genuine piece of comedy gold that will stay in my head long after the Fringe has finished.

That mime is one demonstration of his knack for physical humour, which gives the show another dimension other than pure stand-up. Many a line is accompanied with a gambol here or a hop there – and it always adds, never detracts. In fact, visually there's pretty much always something going on. I don't mean in an attention-seeking Phil Nichol way, and I don't mean gratuitous props, I mean … oh god, am I really gonna say this … there's some Harold Pinter direction in there (sorry). Acaster is forever leaning, or sitting, or holding court, or doing something. Left, right, up, down – he really uses the stage.

The one concern is his slot – 9.45pm at the Pleasance Courtyard. I wouldn't be surprised if this show, given its spirit of "just go with it", fell a bit flat in front of a pissed-up Saturday night crowd. It may be tricky to enjoy this show to the full if the majority of audience decided he was too quirky and uncool to bother with. I for one find this show a light-hearted joy, and pound for pound, as I said at the start, has to be one of the funniest shows this year. I wonder whether the awards panellists will agree.

5 stars

James Acaster – Amongst Other Things is on at the Pleasance Courtyard at 9.45pm.


Review written by Paul Fleckney

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