What have I just seen!? Edy Hurst's War of the Worlds show is absolutely non-stop bonkers. And if you don't believe me then just look at what he's named it.
Edy Hurst's Comedy Version of Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of HG Wells' Literary Version (Via Orson Welles' Radio Version and Steven Spielberg's Film Version) of the War of the Worlds!
He unspools the massive title on a banner around the audience; the hand painted cloth envelops us twice over, like The Mummy's bandage, by the time we get to the exclamation mark. It is an excessive, committed bit to open a show with. Maybe 10 minutes are eaten up with Hurst clambering over chairs and people while politely barking orders through a radio headset. It heralds the shape of things to come.
Hurst rockets through intergalactic warfare, remakes and rock opera with a ramshackle show that will pleasure the uninitiated comedy fan and the sci-fi invasions nerd equally. His passion for detail, research and quirk is infectious. He has the energy, look and geekiness of niche archaeologist / comedian Paul Duncan McGarrity. And this is clearly a labour of love. The sincerity sells the show - don't come for slickness, well honed material or cohesiveness. Come see a man get lost down his own H.G. Wells hole.
He nerdily takes us on a whistle-stop tour of all the variations and re-imaginings of the classic tale. Only the George Pal 1953 movie version, that was a staple in my Generation X household, gets short shrift. Yet I reckon he had multiple Wikipedia tabs open when chaptering up the show. You can't fault his research. The best chapters of his own live remake of the oft told tale is Martian Question Time and live Space Invaders. Both employ homemade props that are juvenile but ornate.
Hurst also has songs to sing that move his narrative forward... while he could give Richard Burton or Liam Neeson a run for their money in the storytelling stakes he can't compete with Jeff Wayne's epic synths. So he goes acoustic. His ditties are catchy and sweet.
What will stick in the mind at the end is the ridiculous amount of effort that has gone into this hour. I'll admit, Hurst gets a little lost in the moment at times; this is intentional jerry-rigged chaos for the most part. A mere hour feels a little crushed for all he is trying to achieve. When he does take the show on tour it will have just a little more room to breathe, I think. But at the Fringe we want and need the skin of their teeth lunatic dreamers and Hurst delivers that special late night Edinburgh feeling like nobody else has this year.
Dusk at the Pleasance Beneath and a dude just inside of Sean McLoughlin's immediate eyeline settles in for the show by taking out a ballpoint pen. Don't worry... it isn't me. I'm down the front, ticket paid for with my own sweet money, ready to enjoy date night with my wife. But that pen clearly keeps catching McLoughlin's attention. 10 minutes in, he addresses the reviewer in the room. The guy denies it. And who knows, maybe he isn't. He has no notepad and it seems like the pen is an unfortunate choice of distraction tool to calm his fidgety fingers. McLoughlin doesn't linger on the weirdness once it has been addressed. But it was the only room slaying, self aware ad libbed instance in the show I could hand on my heart say was unprepared. Every other time he breaks from script I just truly couldn't tell. Organic or ruse?
McLoughlin has been a stand-up man and boy. I've met him in real life a fair few times and I'm not sure there is a massive disconnect between the person off stage and the persona on stage. He has been forged by the spotlight and the mic stand from his teens, doing THIS for almost half his time on Earth. Like Carl Donnelly or Patton Oswalt, you know you are hearing material, but the voice is so bedded in you never doubt its veracity.
Who would he be without comedy? Quitting is a theme that runs unheralded through quite a few bits tonight and I hope he never does as long as he keeps evolving as strongly as this.
Sean McLoughlin: So Be It had me rolling with laughter. It is all gold but McLoughlin has so many airtight bits that he somehow covers more topics than some one-liner comedians manage. Certain juicy concepts other ranty acts would indulge and milk for a quarter of their Fringe shows, but not McLoughlin. He has just chiselled these ideas down, burned off all the puppy fat and he leans into them full pelt.
He has a routine about a horse that might just be the finest bit I've heard this year... and it is just hidden away at the 40 minutes mark between a biographical bit about his wife applying for a visa and the results of a student election. Any other comedian, it would be the showstopper, the mic dropper. Not McLoughlin... he has bigger fish to fry.
If I were to say some of his opening, more observational, subjects were things like WH Smith's, Google searches, his phone brand, bin day... then you might presume his show is going to be middle-of-the-road, as much consumer affairs as stand-up. Yet his takes on these everyday things are paranoid, incredulous and geopolitical. He is adept at turning the universal into the personal, the macro into the neurotic.
That push-and-pull is there throughout the set. He constantly gives the underlying impression the show is going off the rails. An aside about the state of his career here, a mockingly brutal live assessment of the audience there. Has he not eaten all day? These aren't new notes in the underdog comedian's arsenal but he plays them here with a maestro's magic. Turning them into flourishes that make you curious as to how many were predetermined and how many are "in the moment" but seasoned by his well established voice. His own comfort in being awkward on stage.
What I enjoyed most about this current show, horses aside, is McLoughlin's newly embraced physicality. At one point he acts out all the opinions he had as a teenager; it is a brief moment of abandon but it has the room in stitches. Then there's a gambit involving his stool. One he has nicked from his Airbnb, as the Pleasance want to charge him a daily rental rate for any prop furniture. It isn't fit for purpose and every time he returns to it to drink his water the contortions of his body pay off like the jackpot at a Vegas slot machine.
One of the most underrated comedians on the circuit delivers his masterpiece. Surely if he keeps producing hours like this then Sean McLoughlin has to tip over and become a household name. This is a dense hour, full of fertile ideas, self referential malaise, surprising physicality and the finest routine about a horse ever to grace a microphone.
Another act who has figured out the perfect way to pull the rug out from under her audience with constant subversion is Harriet Kemsley. Her best bits play with her high and low status. You want her to pratfall in each interaction she regales us with but you also want her to win. Each new line is a rollercoaster - with her falling from grace and then regaining the upper hand and then right back up and down. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing her give a smug little nod and a smiling grimace as she closes a story on a pyrrhic victory.
Not that this young, well up for it, crowd has any interest in references to ancient Rome. They bop in their seats to fast paced pop during the walk on and they leave on the Venga Boys. There's a carnival atmosphere and Kemsley knows how to keep the party going with her unabashed and sprightly persona.
Honeysuckle Island is a fictional island she invented when she was a child. A paradise with a dark secret waiting in the wings. She also has a new baby she hopes (fingers crossed) might be possessed by the soul of her cat. And her app sourced babysitter is sending her texts that are terrifyingly open to interpretation.
This is a super funny show from one of the most unique voices of the stand-up circuit. She is still as unguarded and outwardly messy as ever, yet between all the confessions and wackiness she slips in some weighty themes by stealth. Every year Kemsley takes on big difficult topics with a deep focus, this year it is motherhood and the beauty industry, but you'll be laughing too much to realise you are also being educated by a very smart cookie.
And comedy-wise that is my Fringe ended on a high. There's nothing left to do but pack up and go home, only I still live here. The Ladyboys will lower their marquee, still in full spangles and feathers. Stuart Laws will think of his next way to bamboozle me on his train journey home. Mat Ewins and Ciarán Dowd will be match fit, ready with their tight club twenties to play the working men's club and golf club circuit. The bin workers of Edinburgh will get the pay they deserve. And in January I'll notice an old cardboard poster, rain faded, still embracing a lamppost in Dalry, bravely advertising a long finished run while the rest of the comedy world begins choosing the title of their next opus and starting up the dream factory all over again,