wed 19/06/2024

Edinburgh Fringe: Sarah Millican/ The Phantom Band | reviews, news & interviews

Edinburgh Fringe: Sarah Millican/ The Phantom Band

Edinburgh Fringe: Sarah Millican/ The Phantom Band

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Sarah Millican: Makes the mundane surreal, and has some racy but not crude material

When Sarah Millican won the If.comedy newcomer award two years ago, it was with one of the most accomplished shows I had ever seen at the Fringe - by newbie or veteran - and now the South Shields stand-up has made critics reach for the superlatives again with another hour of superbly crafted comedy.

Sarah Millican, The Stand *****


Entitled Chatterbox (a name she was given at school but a quality that, she slyly tells, she is now making a living from), is on the face of it Millican talking away to the audience about the everyday concerns of her life. But it’s much more than that as makes the seemingly mundane subjects of cakes, cups of tea and warm baths take flight as she ventures towards the surreal, and then finds startlingly fresh ways into some of her racier material.

Millican paints a deft picture of the things that concern her - she’s a cake pigeon, she tells us, because she coos outside bakers’ windows - and is so anal about grammar that she automatically corrects it on the porn channel Babestation, which is the only thing on late at night when she returns home from gigs. Come to think of it, that’s the sort of segue she might use herself, and let the connection make a slow-burn laugh for the more attentive members of the audience...

She tells us she’s debating whether to buy curtains for her bedroom. Some young blokes have moved in opposite and might see her naked, but: “I’m 35. I call that a result.” Much of Millican’s material is naughty, but never crude and that effect is aided by her appearance - as she says, she looks like the woman next door - but mostly it’s because she exudes real warmth and humility. But most of all, she knows how to make an audience laugh, and laugh hard. Until 29 August Veronica Lee

The Phantom Band, Electric Circus ****


If Checkmate Savage, the 2009 debut album from this acclaimed Scottish six-piece, made critics’ hearts flutter wildly, the next - The Wants, due mid-October - is so good it may simply cause them to burst. However, last night’s Edge Festival show wasn’t so much a full unveiling of new glories as a teasing glimpse, an impressive hour-long set that centred around songs from Checkmate Savage, honed by touring into something hard and rather fearsome.

Even more so live than on record, there’s a forbiddingly tribal quality to this music. The dark rhythms of “Throwing Bones” and “Left Hand Wave” drove relentlessly; the folky “Island” was vast and ancient-sounding. The band added an appropriate sense of drama to the proceedings: one guitarist performed throughout with his back to the crowd; another played melodica through a plastic pipe, as though puffing at a musical hookah; singer Rick Anthony tossed a bottle of Famous Grouse into the audience and clattered wood-blocks.

The glory of The Phantom Band is their ability to throw seemingly scattershot influences into the mix to create music that defies critical definition. One of three new tracks aired last night, “Goodnight Arrow” started like The Cars’ “Drive”, passed through a fondue-like section reminiscent of the theme from Tales of the Unexpected, and ended like Orff’s “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana going down in flames. While it’s magisterial on CD, on stage it was the one song that barely hung together. It was left to another new track, “None of One”, to win the night, a perfect marriage of where this thrilling group have been and where they’re heading. Graeme Thomson 

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