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John Robertson – Edinburgh Festival review

Saturday, August 11 2012

Aussie storytelling comic John Robertson has a stinker

John Robertson

John Robertson is smiling devilishly, but there's an apathetic hush in the room. The sort of silence that comedians must have bad dreams about. Robertson is telling a story about a confrontation he has with a well-to-do older fellow in a Cardiff shopping mall, and his chosen method of defending himself against accusations of racism. However, there is absolutely no connection between audience and comedian whatsoever.

Consequently, when Robertson picks apart the details of the story and subjects them to close scrutiny, or takes a detour into a side-story, the room listens, but it doesn't appear to care. I've been to Chicken Cottages with more atmosphere.

Robertson's show title "The Old Whore" and brochure blurb are sufficiently dark and mysterious to prepare people for this show, but their reaction is one of boredom. It's not an easy style of comedy to pull off. He's relying less on punchlines and more on deriving humour from taking people on a journey, buying them into the story, but he fails to charm anyone into the car tonight. Turning storytelling into comedy takes considerable skill, and on this evidence Robertson doesn't have that. Billed simply as a storytelling show, I would have enjoyed his more.

His surgical inspection of tiny moments and definitions is reminiscent of Daniel Kitson, but he doesn't come across anything satisfying or interesting, so you wonder if it's worth the effort. Two such fruitless endeavours are his interrogations of the concept of a "United Kingdom", and Australia's national identity (he's an Aussie).

There's no doubting Robertson's gift for the monologue. He reminds me of his compatriot Michael Workman, only with a dark heart in the ribcage and a top hat in the wardrobe. He is able to weave together the real-life and the fantastical impressively, spin out threads then tie them together again, and his delivery is fluent.

But he has a considerable hurdle to overcome, in that his demonic persona is very hard to like. His fiendish smile presumably works its magic on other audiences, but tonight it fails him. And dropping in that he'd performed a "playful assault" on someone and stolen from a mental hospital, and his worryingly comprehensive revenge after being cheated on, are maybe meant to make him look thrilling and dangerous, but they don't.

2 stars

• John Robertson – The Old Whore is on at Assembly Hall at 10.15pm

Review written by Paul Fleckney


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