Angela Barnes: Fortitude (4 stars) | Alasdair Beckett-King: The Alasdair Beckett-King Mysteries (4 stars) | Ali Brice's Never-Ending Pencil (3 stars)

Marissa Burgess reviews Angela Barnes: Fortitude (4 stars) | Alasdair Beckett-King: The Alasdair Beckett-King Mysteries (4 stars) | Ali Brice's Never-Ending Pencil (3 stars)

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Angela Barnes
Published 12 Aug 2017

It turns out that Angela Barnes's show Fortitude, set in a nuclear bunker, is even more apt this week as Trump and Kim Jong-un poke metaphorical sticks at each other and try and work out who's the most batshit of the pair. That said, after Trump's election last November—the event that inspired much of this show—it was probably only a matter of time before he had us teetering on the brink of a third world war. As Barnes points out, there was something distinctly apocalyptic about the events of 2016.

This is a storming hour of standup from the acclaimed comedian. On the very same day that the news came in that Trump had won the US election Barnes turned 40, but despite the chaos in the world at large, she's feeling pretty together. She's loved up but maintaining her solitude, is child-free and happy, knows where she is in life and what she likes – including a bloody good bunker. The fact that she came to comedy slightly later than many (in her 30s), having lived a life already—she was a nurse—has been one of the secrets to her success – she won the BBC New Comedy Award in 2011. It's provided her with a certain directness, a quality that is in full evidence in some deliciously blunt routines, such as one in which she creates a "fuck it list" rather than a bucket list.

For any Generation X-ers and older who lived through the chill of the Cold War, much of this will hit a chord. Younger readers, you may have all that to look forward to...

Embarking on his debut solo show after winning the prestigious Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year at Leicester Comedy Festival in February is Alasdair Beckett-King. Industry eyes may be on him, but he has nothing to worry about – The Alasdair Beckett-King Mysteries is an assured hour.

Like many inaugural shows at the Fringe, Beckett-King's is a kind of 'introduction to...'. Unless they've got a strong back story, for some acts it can be a touch underwhelming, all "I look a bit like...", "People always say to me...", "In the town where I'm from...". But Beckett-King is already onto a winner as there's something otherworldly about him, even before he opens his mouth, blessed as he is with beautiful long red hair, skin whiter than a BNP rally and natty, 19th-century dandy dress sense. Even the ginger jokes he makes about himself are more inventive than most.

Sensibly he's incorporated visuals and readings to break up the standup and avoid that notorious 40-minute mark lull, using them to showcase his eclectic and unashamedly highbrow tastes. How many Fringe shows boast readings from poet and painter William Blake, representations of Jesus through the ages, and Romanian communist health and safety posters? It all adds to the delightfully idiosyncratic feel of the show. The kind of hour you'd expect from such a distinctive act.

Usually favouring prop and character-heavy shows, Ali Brice is trying a different direction this Fringe following an incident with a Stanley knife creating one of those props back in January – Ali Brice's Never-Ending Pencil sees him embracing straight standup.

Though he's leaving his eccentric alter ego Eric Meat behind for this year, it's not actually that straight a show: he drifts onto the stage in a monk's outfit, anointing all within his reach, then flips back his cowl to reveal his shades, and cranks up the dance beats.

Today's performance is something of a muddle but thoroughly enjoyable nevertheless. Easily distracted, he uses up some of his time on banter with the audience. It's easily done, as with a sprinkling of mates down the front, a verbose Canadian in the second row and "easily pleased Louise" on the far side of the room, the crowd provide ample responses to a flurry of nonsensical questions. Everyone plays along good-naturedly, creating a warm atmosphere in the room. 

Eventually he manages to explain that the pencil of the title is a particularly posh one, the remaining one of a set bought for him by his parents and embossed in gold with his name. It's a thread that's importance becomes clear by the close of the show – he's more on topic than it first appears, it turns out. A little later, a happy pink shower cap perched on his head to diffuse anxiety, he divulges material that's a touch more frank, and pretty dark.

Somehow Brice manages to be silly, heartwarming and moving in one hour. It doesn't quite gel but he's got something of note in there. Maybe it'll come together tomorrow. Or maybe next year. In the meantime, this is an intriguing hour of comedy that's certainly worth your while.