One of the lesser-discussed delights of the Fringe is wandering out of a show having inadvertently acquired heaps of new knowledge. Ashley Blaker’s Edinburgh debut features more facts about ultra-orthodox Jewish life than most of us would ever casually come across anywhere else. Even those with an extensive understanding of Blaker’s subject may well emerge with new information, due to a hilarious section involving unfortunate acronyms, late on.
Until recently, Blaker was chiefly known as a TV producer, his biggest success being Little Britain. Matt Lucas features in one of the enlightening passages here, about Blaker’s awkwardness taking TV meetings, while now being strictly forbidden to shake a woman’s hand (Lucas helps by gleefully announcing the issue in advance: “Go on, stick your hand out, see what he does!”)
He wasn’t always so observant, but has an obsessive personality, which previously led him to religiously follow Liverpool Football Club around Europe. Becoming more serious about his actual religion just sort of happened, too. The details of that transformation frequently inform and amuse, from soliciting help with light switches to not being allowed a TV when you work in it.
The show does sag when Blaker veers into more actively comedic routines; factual points with punchlines are his strong suit. But he still has that late trump card, of orthodox institutions accidently using wonderfully rude acronyms. Screening those leaflets and websites elicits a fascinating response from his audience; half howling, the other half whispering awkward explanations to each other. We’ve all learned something today.