How's this for an endorsement: I laughed more in this show than at any of the other 20 or so shows I reviewed this festival. Kev Orkian The Illegal Tour was, at times, side-splittingly hilarious. I must admit, I entered the show not expecting it to be great - I had heard Kev Orkian had auditioned for Britain's Got Talent but hadn't made it particularly far into the competition, so my expectations were low. The judges clearly missed a winning comedy act here though!
The basic premise is that Kev Orkian is an enthusiastic Armenian immigrant who speaks broken English. He is desperately trying to stay in the UK to fulfill his one love: playing the piano. Orkian is actually from North London, although you wouldn't know it, as he doesn't break out of character once during his hour - not even on the way out at the end as he stands by the door and asks you to put in a good word for him at his next immigration hearing. The show is 50% comedy songs, 50% stand-up, all mixed together with some great audience banter.
Some comedy snobs might say this show was just based on a silly accent and a couple of simple gags based around mispronouncing English words... some of the show is indeed that, but they'd be totally missing the point. Orkian is massively strong when it comes to audience interaction - a sneeze from the audience with result in a carefully executed but very funny wilting glare; the character will inadvertently call someone in the audience hideously ugly, but in such a charming way they laugh along too; and he has such a sweet personality that when he falls in love with a girl in the front row, the audience audibly feel sorry for him when she rejects his enthusiastic proposal.
Despite the room only being quarter full on night of this review (a rainy mid-week night to be fair), the laughter was very loud indeed, and pretty much sustained across the whole hour - a good indication that this show is worthy of being stamped with a 'very funny' tagline. This was also only the second show of the 2010 Fringe in which I witnessed anyone crying with laughter - in this case, a whole row of people who couldn't stop themselves as Orkian pretended to get more and more exasperated that he couldn't start his next musical number because of their noise... which soon set the rest of the audience off too.
The only thing stopping this review being a full five stars is that, in a couple of instances, Orkian lets his genuine musical talent take over from the comedy. For example, he delivers a really impressive medley of classical compositions on his keyboard at one point during the show, and a super-fast musical number later on but, in both cases, these appear to be included simply show off musical talent rather than make the audience laugh.
Overall though, this is a really very strong show ideally suited for a mainstream audience. If Stewart Lee is your thing this show probably isn't going to be for you admittedly, but if you like lots of fun gags and musical numbers you should try and catch Kev Orkian as soon as you get a chance.
The only disclaimer here is that if Orkian decides to return to Edinburgh next year this review can't necessarily be seen as an endorsement of his 2011 show. You see, every single line in this show is milked to its full potential - and I can't see there being another hour of material in the character. I also wonder whether there's enough time left to write another show of the same quality. Clearly a number of years work has gone into honing every inch of The Illegal Tour, but there's only 11 months till the next festival. I really hope Orkain does return and deliver something new for 2011 though - if it's as good as this was, everyone is in for a treat.