Bridget Christie | Robert Newman | Tony Law

Marissa Burgess reviews: Bridget Christie: Mortal (5 stars) | Robert Newman: The Brain Show (4 stars) | Tony Law: A Law Unto His-elf What Welcome (4 stars)

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Bridget Christie
Published 13 Aug 2016

Given the stressful nature of the current political climate, Bridget Christie has ditched the politics and the feminism, so Mortal is to be an hour about gardening. Her garden is where she feels safe, a lovely place of calm. But what's that? Is there a nasty invasive plant coming to try and strangle her pretty flowers? Perhaps a Virginia creeper? It probably voted to leave the EU too. Yeah, maybe this is a show about Brexit after all.

This is a sublime hour, particularly considering that the vast majority of it would have been written in little more than a month. You can imagine Christie spending much of July stabbing angrily at a bit of paper with her biro. And what a show it is: impassioned, moving and of course extremely funny.

Christie opens with a brilliant metaphor explaining that a South American fuchsia doesn't take up soil that the other, English, plants need. And so begins the Brexit anger as it creeps into Christie's garden. There are fantastic analogies throughout including comparing the country's split opinion on Farage to that of the black and blue/white and gold dress picture that did the rounds on the internet. The inventive surrealism of Christie's earlier work is echoed here too, at one point even found in a true story – the gullibility of the Daily Mail reader is evidenced in the fact that the paper used a picture of Christie dressed as Charles II to illustrate a story in part about the restoration monarch.

Christie occasionally retreats to the safety and zen of her scented garden, only for incredulity to intervene again, hitting a peak when mentioning the appointment of Boris Johnson as foreign secretary.

Yet Mortal also has its poignant moments, pausing to consider what Brexit truly means. Even when she's being jokingly brutal about telling her children how it will affect their future, it has an underlying melancholy. But it's especially in evidence when talking about her own immigrant Irish parents' experience when they moved to England.

Equally informed is Robert Newman. Unless you're a neuro-scientist—or an expert in any of the other topics he has covered in recent years—you're guaranteed to learn something from a Newman show. His commitment to the research involved in his shows these days is incredible. For those who are old enough to remember him as one quarter of The Mary Whitehouse Experience and a half of Newman and Baddiel in the nineties, this might come as a surprise. Though their material was smart and curious, Newman's thirst for knowledge didn't necessarily show. It's only in the last decade or so that he's taken on board weighty topics such as the history of oil and the theory of cooperation in evolution – amongst other things.

The Brain Show begins with Newman volunteering for a study looking into what happens to the brain when experiencing romantic love. He disagrees with the "neurobabble", as he calls it, namely the theory that the workings of the brain are like that of a machine that can be mapped and therefore replicated by a computer. We're animals, he argues, not machines.

Sound heavy? Certainly you have to engage but just as you're beginning to wish you'd brought a notepad, along comes the punchline. Newman's seamless combination of serious and funny is an impressive achievement. Plus, he makes room for two lovely absurdist images created with the use of squid props and a Heath Robinson-esque brain machine.

As it turns out, the neuroscientists might learn something too. Or at least derive inspiration for debate – and a laugh, of course.

Meanwhile, it's possible that growing up on a farm in rural Canada had an affect on Tony Law's brain. For years, he was splitting rooms with his fast-paced nonsense. Then came the awards, nominations and the acclaim. He's still doing pretty much the same brilliantly innovative material – it's just that he finally managed to find his people.

With A Law Unto His-elf What Welcome, he launches himself on to the stage in a flying suit, longish hair rippling softly—something he inevitably gets distracted by on occasion: “Look how soft my hair is!”—and off he goes into tall tales of having escaped Stalin, organised ship convoys during WW2 and invented rhythmic gymnastics. Lies, you might think, but of all the acts at the Fringe, if anyone could time travel, your money would be on Law. Like a Canadian Doctor Who but with soft hair.

Real life intrudes from time to time in the form of the tightness of the gaffer tape circling his belly, holding him and his “newly fat status” in. But back on track with the fantasy, he flies through the show by the seat of his pants – or perhaps in his imaginary stolen Cessna, in which he leaves behind a half-eaten sandwich.

Sure, there are themes of a sort—airplanes, trampolining and the sun—that he dips in and out of. He conjures some beautiful images as he goes, too – a midnight snow mobile ride in the Canadian winter and a tiny moose with the light of the sun for an eye. But, mostly, this is unpredictable, hilarious stuff.