2022 Edinburgh Fringe

Bobby Carroll's Fringe Diary - Mark Thomas / Jessica Fostekew / Garrett Millerick

Jessica Fostekew

Let's start this one dry...

The Stand sells a mixture of seated and standing tickets, a situation they make quite clear on the show details webpage at time of purchase. All tickets are equal. If you want one of their 70 or so stools, you get there early. Super early. I was there 15 minutes before showtime for Mark Thomas and it was already, rambo, standing room only. Nearly all the punters had white hair. Many with mobility issues. Practically, with the roads from both Leith and the Old Town torn up by roadworks, nobody except the posh New Town-ians could predict how easy or speedy their journey into York Place would be.

There were people it was unfair to make stand (the irony) for an hour. I had a nice patch of wall behind a pillar that gave me a vantage point of 55% of the stage if I craned my neck. I gave up this envious position as an old boy almost fell over from not being able to see. I swapped with him; another pensioner then used me as a resting post. Nobody gave up a chair for a woman with a hip replacement. I don't know if she got a refund, or what heroic efforts she took to get there with diverted public transport all across the city centre.

And I understand why the standing option exists. We all want to see Mark Thomas; The Stand wants to sell as many spots as possible in their bespoke but limited space. Who am I to question the forces of supply and demand? Yet when a show's demographic skews towards the distinctly mature, maybe leave the standing tickets as a last minute, reduced price, on the door sale only so the gig doesn't turn into Logan's Run. Because what I experienced wasn't anywhere near the optimum viewing experience for a sizeable minority of the room.

Luckily, Mark Thomas absolutely rocked.

Mark Thomas. Copyright: Tony Pletts

He's been doing spoken word theatre shows for the past decade. Black & White heralds his return to pure man-and-mic stand-up comedy. It's his natural habitat, and he goes at a gleeful combination of jokes and polemic with his trademark evangelical zeal. Down to earth, angry and playful. From the picket lines of today to the Music Halls of old, this took me right back to my formative teenage years of seeing Thomas play Ealing Studios' long forgotten techies bar comedy club. And when I say "play" I mean storm. He has lost none of the old magic.

We get such rich, conclusive imagery from him; the Queen on strike, what we'll use for burning fuel when the energy pricing cap is moved up again, how nature documentaries might predict how warmth banks will work this Christmas. Why making 'noisy' protests illegal will negate any fear of rioting among the general public. He has an inarguable logic as to what does count and what doesn't count as working class these days.

The show is bookended with updated spins on old school jokes, rewritten to attack the current mob of Tories. Meta and exactly the kinda unabashed slanging that we've all bought a ticket for.

Ten minutes in, he's a lay preacher drenched in sweat. He talks with mock pride of his hard-earned type 2 diabetes... as his shirt and hair begin to drip, you wonder if someone should call a paramedic? Yet he is full of life and activism. He talks with knowledgeable passion of seaside pier acts who stuck it to the authorities in the 1950s. He talks of the unions he's in. The strike actions he is turning up to and being a present ally to even during August. You wish there were more people of working age in. To see his values in action, heed his lived through messages.

With the UK growing more and more right wing in its policies, press and voting patterns it is a relief that Thomas is still out there. Actually physically fighting the good fight rather than those who are just clapping the NHS, adding a fashionable "issues" filter to their Insta and then voting for the party that wants to strip mine the guts from the country for personal profit anyway.

Jessica Fostekew

Jessica Fostekew manages to attract a far more steady-on-their-feet and diverse audience into her weekday afternoon slot. Couples of all persuasions, mums and daughters, groups of young comedy fans of every nationality. And also in the room, a persistent mysterious beeping noise.

Fostekew handled the ongoing disturbance with grace, and in all honesty the venue staff trying to diagnose the electronic whistle caused more of a distraction than the alert itself. Why? Fostekew's latest show, Wench, comes so thick and fast that there ain't no chance some persistent whine could ever drown out her or her audience's rapturous response. Fuck you, beep!

If you buy a ticket for Jess, one thing you can be guaranteed is more enthusiasm than a single human body should ever scientifically or legally be allowed to possess. Big belly laughs follow universal "around the room-ers" with this flawlessly written, flawlessly delivered show about her new found queerness. Expect Wordle, unlikely beer swilling and judgemental cats in this epic follow-up to Hench.

Over the years, I've seen her perform bleak storytelling shows about the cruise ship gig from hell and celebrate body confidence for an entire 90 minutes on tour. She is a consummate stand-up. She clearly knows the jiggery pokery of what makes for an impressive Fringe hour but those mechanics are left very much in the background when she is on stage. Here is an act who seems to love her audience, loves talking to them, loves engaging with them. Hilarity as the purest form of joy.

Some routines are observational, others vulnerable, a few a bit naughtier than the Radio 4 segment of her growing fanbase might expect. As you witness imagery from early routines echo neatly into all future ones you nod respectfully at just how smartly mapped out this has been. But you also understand everyone else is having too much of a whale of a time to notice.

When you leave the Monkey Barrel you'll leave with at least one indelible piece of symbolism in your head. It might be the physicality of a waxing routine, or a game so childish her six year-old refused to play it, or some quite serious thoughts on the changing attitudes towards plastic surgery. For me though it was an evocative impression of her partner's prudish cats. Chef's Kiss!

There are three joys to every Fringe I've missed over the last few years of lockdown:

1. A pub lunch with the nicest man in comedy, Nathaniel Metcalfe.

2. Going to an over earnest theatre show and hearing an audience member rip their guts out with an audible fart during the big whispered monologue.

3. Having Garrett Millerick tell me exactly what kind of cunt I am this year.

Garrett Millerick. Copyright: Ed Moore

There are very few shows that make me this comfortable walking in. I have reached an age where it's 50/50 odds whether I'm going to recognise the pre-show music anymore. Longpigs and John Grant on the speakers though, I might as well slip my pyjamas on and put my feet up. I am at home.

Millerick is an arch contrarian. He travels the path least popular on topics like Scottish Independence, Greta Thunberg and blinkered feminism. There is always a triple lock logic to his Devil's Advocate salvos. And the power and conviction with which he delivers them all might bankrupt another energy giant. The night I saw him he had to cut short a fifth applause break as it was breaking the rhythm of his latest eloquent, thunderous provocation.

A day on Twitter is told with all the drama, twists and turns of someone trying to explain blow-by-blow the plot of Lord Of The Rings. A nostalgia piece about 90s street fighting at the town taxi rank was lyrical and true. Welsh miners are acted out on stage with such largess that you expect the entire room to break out in smudge faced chorus. And his damning indictment of how we used our unexpected gap year of lockdown time is wounding but hilarious. He ain't afraid of cutting right through the bones of his target audience as he is one of us, just brutally honest about all our gaping flaws.

And I laughed like a hyena on whip-its. I'm always scared by my fourth or fifth show of a day I might be fatigued. Too drained to enjoy an act fairly. With Millerick I sat at the front; was resurrected by his wit and his pessimistic exuberance. The show is grumpiness par excellence. It has already been recommended by British Comedy Guide as one of the best shows of 2022 but if I could create a Double Recommendation badge, I bloody would.

Share this page