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Edinburgh Festival review – Tim Key: Masterslut

Monday, August 15 2011

So what's the verdict on probably the most-anticipated show of this year's Fringe ...?

Tim Key

I wrote a couple of weeks back about how Tim Key might follow up Sultcracker, and Key told of how his 2009 award-winning show was casting a mighty shadow over his prospective new one. Well I'm happy to say that Masterslut steps out of that shadow and is its own beast.

It is similar to its predecessor, with a mix of pithy poetry, hypnotic video, idiosyncratic soundtrack and stunts. Gone are the props and bric-a-brac littered across the stage – this year he's got a bath full of water and plenty of bubbles. There is also a a touch more chit-chat with the audience – something he excels at – and a few stories that border on stand-up.

It feels lighter than Slutcracker, too. At all times he speaks at a higher register than I've known before and with an odd kind of tenderness. He is still an enigmatic presence, but instead of playing the intense oddball, Key seems more open and unthreatening. Vulnerable, even.

But let's stop comparing and enjoy on its own terms what is a beautifully written and constructed show. His poems provide some of the biggest laughs, my favourite being his fishing trip told from different sides of the story. Another highlight is his audience interaction, either when he is MCing a word game he gets them to play, or quizzing a boy on his taste in baths (Key's love for baths is a recurring theme). He gently teases his crowd, prodding them with his conductor's baton, coquettishly thumbing his mic lead. And his entrance and exit finds him in stuntman mode.

Most memorable, though, are his videos, which are stunningly directed by J Van Tulleken and Steve Jamison and woven into the show in a manner that literally gives it another dimension. And without wanting to give much away, they allow Key to perform some audacious feats you won't have seen before in a comedy show.

It's not totally consistent, with a few of his longer tales lacking a certain something, and a detailed account of laminating his playing cards that I'm sure had a punchier ending when I saw this in preview. Still, this is a show that sticks in the brain and the heart. It's funny, delicate, full of surprises and gratifying. Given the number of threads that need tying, and the number of different ideas coming from all over the place, it's a remarkable achievement to have made it into a unified whole. And it will continue to evolve throughout the Fringe and beyond.

If Slutcracker just didn't grab you – and there are plenty out there who remain ungrabbed by Key – it's unlikely you'll be swayed by Masterslut, but if you count yourself as a fan, then you absolutely must see this as Key remains at the top of his game. He isn't hard to find, with his bits and pieces on TV/radio and headline slots on the circuit, but for me the full hour is the only satisfactory way to consume what he does, and Masterslut illustrates that perfectly.

5 stars

Tim Key: Masterslut is on at 9.40pm at the Pleasance Dome.

Review written by Paul Fleckney


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