Mostly Men at Edinburgh

“But when is it the MEN’s Edinburgh International Festival?”

Lissy Lovett asks the important questions.


I am the comedy and theatre editor at The F-Word, and so I spend much of August commissioning, writing and editing reviews of shows with a feminist bent at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Sometimes this makes me feel like I’m not really spending enough time exploring the male experience (not really) so in an effort to bring some of the men performing at Edinburgh also into the limelight, here are few reviews of some male-led comedy and theatre at this year’s festival.

Mark Watson: I’m Not Here
Until 28 August, Comedy, Pleasance Courtyard

You know where you are with Mark Watson, he’s funny, friendly, and you’re very unlikely to feel properly uncomfortable at one of his gigs. His show goes up late, but while the audience are being seated he is in the auditorium, saying hello to people and attempting to make sure that everyone is ok. When he finally gets to begin, he explains that that it’s only really in Edinburgh during August that he is recognised regularly and that he likes that. He goes on to link this idea with a story about going to Australia on a slightly damaged passport and what it means to be appreciated and acknowledged.

Some of his material is surprisingly old fashioned: he makes a gag about the unhappiness of his marriage, and I think the last time I heard someone make a joke about supermarket substitutions it was 2010, but it doesn’t matter. This is a well put together hour with lots of laughs and a really lovely finale.

James Acaster: Reset
Until 28 August, Comedy, Pleasance Courtyard

James Acaster has put a fair bit of thought into his stage set, but not in such a way that it’s very obvious (Mark Watson has massive illuminated M and W letters); he has a yellow backdrop and a microphone stand that appears to be made out of wood. Acaster kicks off by telling the audience that he’s really pleased that we are all there, and that he’s been waiting his whole life for this specific arrangement of people to happen which is a great riff on comedians’ usual comments on their audiences.

He goes on to make fairly deadpan jokes about starting your life afresh, the innate sexism in the phrase “he or she” and Britain’s colonial past. His comedy is complicated, with callbacks linked to callbacks, and the whole thing taking in politics, observational humour and physicality. The bit I laugh at the most is his description of a deliberately off-putting label on a honey jar, which gives an idea of the whimsy and the specificity of his excellent performance.

Mouse – The Persistence of an Unlikely Thought
Until 28 August, Theatre, Traverse

Daniel Kitson’s latest solo show is very technically complicated and well done, but I’m not sure that it really does anything that he hasn’t done before. However, what he does do is clearly much better than what most people do, so it’s a pleasure to watch.

The story concerns a 38-year-old writer who picks up his phone one evening just as he’s about to leave the storage unit where he does his writing, and begins a conversation with a stranger that goes on all night. The really astounding thing about this is that the voice on the end of the phone is also Kitson’s, and so he’s managing to maintain a believable sounding quickfire conversation with a recording, which is technically brilliant.

From time to time he breaks off from this conversation to comment to the audience on the events that have led the protagonist up to this point. He also uses these moments to speak with individual audience members who he has noticed doing unusual things which manages to stay just on the right side of bullying.

The whole is finally wound up well with all the loose ends neatly tidied, but I think it could probably be 15 minutes shorter. Still this is cavilling about a show which is ambitious, clever, funny and well performed.

My Eyes Went Dark
Until 28 August, Theatre, Traverse

This two hander play by Matthew Wilkinson explores grief and revenge following a terrible air accident in which an Ossetian architect loses his wife and two children. There’s a great deal that’s good here, but I struggle to know why I should take such an interest in this particular flawed man. There is nothing very interesting about how he wallows in his grief, refuses to forgive or takes his revenge, nor in the small twist at the end which goes some way to explain why he’s found it so difficult to move on.

Having said that the actual scenes and dialogue are very well written, and the production as a whole is good. Both actors, Cal MacAninch and Thusitha Jayasundera, give great performances with Jayasundera in particular embodying each of her characters completely and believably. She’s astonishingly good.

1 thought on “Mostly Men at Edinburgh

  1. I saw Watson and Mouse and I approve this message. Except I didn’t want Mouse to end, I could listen to him telling stories or just chatting away for hours and hours.

    Wish I’d seen Acaster too now.

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