mon 22/07/2024

Edinburgh Fringe 2023 reviews: Ed Byrne / Fiona Allen / Kieran Hodgson | reviews, news & interviews

Edinburgh Fringe 2023 reviews: Ed Byrne / Fiona Allen / Kieran Hodgson

Edinburgh Fringe 2023 reviews: Ed Byrne / Fiona Allen / Kieran Hodgson

Bereavement, the daily grind, and reinventing oneself

Ed Byrne

Ed Byrne Assembly Rooms

Ed Byrne has frequently referenced his loved ones in previous shows but this new hour is one he would never wanted to have written, as it was prompted by the death of his younger brother, Paul, last year. Its title, Tragedy Plus Time, is taken from an aphorism attributed to Mark Twain about the definition of humour.

But this is no misery memoir, far from it – Byrne is too talented a comic for that, and it’s a gag-filled hour, albeit one that deals with death and its impact. Byrne also poses some questions about the nature of sibling love and rivalry, and the importance of saying sorry, even when you don’t mean it. And the sad moments – there are a few – are leavened by some big laughs.

Paul was a writer and director of comedy who had a dark sense of humour – his choice of song at his coffin went behind the curtain at the crematorium was “Disco Inferno”, which has the line, “Burn baby burn” – and who would want, perhaps even expect, his older brother to mine the experience for laughs.

Byrne starts the hour by talking about an irritating, but not tragic, incident in his life – having his car broken into. It sets up one of a few neatly dropped callbacks in the show, in which Byrne muses about many things, including finding James Corden annoying, not being the kind of comic who gets invited to Wimbledon (much to his tennis-loving wife’s annoyance), and the pointlessness of arguing with stupid people.

These anecdotes are cleverly threaded through Byrne’s description of the brothers’ relationship – spiky at times – and Paul’s illness. Byrne is clearly still angry at the person who gave his brother Covid but he doesn’t spare himself either, admitting to enjoying winding his brother up, recalling what now seems a silly falling-out or how he played some gloriously inappropriate music – Sebadoh’s indie grunge – as his brother lay dying in a hospital bed. Dark humour indeed.

There’s a large dollop of emotion in the room – at a couple of points there was an audible, collective intake of breath from the audience – but Byrne has written another witty, clever and well constructed show that, having taken us on quite an emotional journey, ends on an upbeat note.


Fiona Allen Pleasance Courtyard

Fiona Allen is best known as one third of Smack the Pony team (alongside Sally Phillips and Doon Mackichan), the excellent sketch comedy series which sadly left our screens in 2003. Since then she has plied her trade as an actress (often cast, she says, as a murderer) and voiceover artist. But now she has decided to do stand-up, and On the Run is her confident debut.

The title, Allen tells us, is because doing stand-up gets her out of the house and gives her cover to take a break from the kind of domesticity which means her husband and three children – plus the dog – expect her to know where their clean hoodie is or what’s for tea. “I feel like Alexa without the fun.”

She talks about the daily grind, of snooty mums at the school gates, having a Northern dad and a Spanish mum, taking a DNA test and living in the same village as convicted paedophile Rolf Harris.

Much of the material has the touch of authenticity, although with other characters Allen introduces – her straight-talking cleaner or a philosophical hairdresser, for instance – the material feels like more like a dip into the surreal. But Allen is a warm presence on stage and has a talent to amuse.


Kieran Hodgson Pleasance Courtyard

Kieran Hodgson is one of the those comics that Fringe regulars know they can depend on to produce a finely wrought hour of comedy, and so it proves again with Big in Scotland, his very funny account of how his life changed in 2020 when he was offered a role in the successful BBC Scotland comedy Two Doors Down, and relocated from London to Glasgow.

Hodgson, who hails from Yorkshire, starts the show by telling us that he’s Scottish. “I know my Kelpies from The Krankies,” he says, listing an increasingly outlandish slew of Scottishisms to prove his claim, even breaking into a bit Gaelic.

We hear how Hodgson threw himself into this new identity not just because of his new job but because he wanted to reinvent himself as a nicer person. He did so because he was becoming self-centred and egotistical, and felt bad about making his best man’s speech at his best friend’s wedding about him rather than the happy couple.

As a framing device it’s not entirely convincing – even less so when Hodgson, a patently nice man, tells us he made some disparaging remarks about a colleague to Elaine C Smith, a star of Two Doors Down, and threw in some fatuous comments about Scottish independence to add insult to injury. That’s a big suspension of disbelief.

That aside, Hodgson, as ever, entertains us by assuming several characters and voices – and running the gamut of Scottish accents – in telling his story of redemption. He pokes goodhearted fun at all peoples of the UK, while making some pertinent points about belonging and identity, and trying to fit in – and the callback that ends the show is a doozy.

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