There was a time when the Fringe was a fixed point on every comic’s calendar, but over the past decade or so television and, increasingly, the stage and film, have provided a more enticing career trajectory. But there’s something about Edinburgh in August that still has its lure.
And so, despite a recent CV that includes West End runs, Marcus Brigstocke is here again with Devil May Care (4 stars) in which he is in character as Lucifer.
Its central premise is that as modern society is becoming more atomised—we throw words such as snowflake, Remoaner, Brextremist and feminazi around without thought or care—we end up marginalising ourselves. So having divided each other up into these unpleasant categories, maybe it's time to establish who is good and who is bad, he says.
It’s a wonderful conceit that allows the Radio 4 favourite more latitude in guying the audience than if he were appearing as himself, delving into our consciences. You use plastic straws or are a manspreader? You have direct entry to a fiery eternity. While Marcus Brigstocke lecturing us about morality may grate, you can't really argue with the Prince of Darkness, can you?
The idea is that Hell is full, so he's appearing on Earth to tell us what proper sinning is. Brigstocke covers a lot of territory – Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, Brexit, tax-avoiding comedians, Rupert Murdoch all get a kicking. But he reserves one of the best for himself, referencing his recent TV advertisements: “It was a fuck of a lot of money” for what he admits was selling his soul.
Brigstocke wears his learning lightly and there are some wonderfully subtle lines. When he asks who in the audience is a person of faith, only a few people put their hands up. “You only have two more times to deny me,” he says, as the very fine joke goes undiscerned by a large section of the audience.
A grounding in Christian mythology really does help to appreciate some of the gags as Lucifer talks about how his relationship with God is ever evolving, and how humans owe their sex drive to him. He introduced Adam and Eve to the Tree of Knowledge, remember. There's also some terrific crowd work that runs through the show and Brigstocke is more playful than I have seen him in some years – it's as if the character has freed him up as a performer. A devilishly funny hour.
Helen Lederer, who is returning to the Fringe after 14 years, has done a lot in the intervening period, including appearances in fine television comedies including Naked Video, Bottom and Absolutely Fabulous. More recently she has become a regular in reality shows such as Splash! and Celebrity Big Brother.
She has a lot of stories to tell, and in I Might as Well Say It (3 stars) there are the beginnings of many promising anecdotes, but she has a scattergun approach. Just as you think she's going to deliver the goods on the many people in the industry she has worked with, she's on to another tale.
She does, though, tell us that the producers on Splash! wanted her to be “frightened but funny”, and wouldn't let her wear a more modest swimsuit.
She talks about being on her second marriage. At 63 she's “too old for Donald Trump and too young for Harry Styles”, and about the naïve girl she once was, taking a job as a masseuse without realising what it entailed. The material about having to hustle for work when she was a single mother is poignant, too, and reveals a side of an industry that spits out talent when it's no longer young or flavour of the month.
Lederer is an appealing presenter and there are some very good lines here, but the hour would have benefited from a more focused approach.
Jim Tavaré was last at the Fringe 20 years ago, when his shtick was performing deadpan comedy with a double bass as a prop. He was part of the acclaimed The Sketch Show and more recently he has been in the Harry Potter films. He may never have come back to Edinburgh but for a major life event in 2017, which prompted From Deadpan to Bedpan (2 stars). In it he describes the serious road accident he was involved in early last year, and his subsequent recovery.
Tavaré moved to Los Angeles several years ago, and it's not a place to be ill. His medical bills totalled $652,000 (about half a million pounds). Not surprisingly, he hymns the NHS and US medical insurance which, by a fluke, he had bought just a few days before his accident.
He talks about his life in LA with his wife, their dog and three chickens—Nuggets, Barbecue and Soup (actually they keep them just for the eggs)—and how it was building a new coop for them that landed him in hospital. Popping out to get some building materials, his sporty Mazda was no match for a Dodge Ram on a blind bend.
You might think that such a story would be gripping, but there’s no jeopardy here, as we can see Tavaré alive and well before us (albeit with his right foot in a surgical boot), and Tavaré’s determinedly dry presentation doesn’t help. There are some laughs, though, and it’s good to see him back.