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Just The Tonic at Edinburgh Fringe

5 August 14 words: Jared Wilson
We followed round Nottingham's famous comedy club on their epic first week at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

From L-R Lewis Schaffer, Colin Cloud, The Colour Ham and Henning Wehn

From left to right: Lewis Schaffer, Colin Cloud, The Colour Ham and Henning Wehn

Day One

The first show I catch is Old Folks Telling Jokes at the JTT Community Project. The compere Lewis Schaffer is a cheeky New Yorker, who like many of the performers on these mixed bills is using the opportunity to plug his bigger one man show. After him comes Lynn Ruth Miller, another American who does a great set to say she’s eighty - I’ll be happy if I’m still able to get on a train to Scotland at that age. Then comes Charmian Hughes, who has been likened to Josie Long’s mum, which isn’t far off to be honest – although there’s something slightly more anxious and potentially psychotic about her. In a good way. The final act is Ronnie Golden, who does a medley of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and David Bowie – all singing about their aging years. It’s enough to make a thirty-something like me break into a chorus of “You make me feel so young” after.

A quick dash over to The Caves and we’re in for an hour with ‘Forensic mindreader’ Colin Cloud. He’s been compared to Sherlock Holmes, which he’ll probably love as he’s clearly an avid fan, and offers a new slant on the usual mentalism tricks. It's really well-honed stuff; at times he brings members of the audience out and starts to tell them their pin numbers. I don’t want to give too much more away, other than that this is a strong performance from a potentially very dangerous man.

I follow this up with an hour of The Colour Ham, a threesome of comedy and illusion, which also features the aforementioned Mr Cloud. Now he’s joined by his gang; Kevin McMahon, another talented magician who has trained with Penn and Teller, and Gavin Oattes, a comedian of the Vic Reeves ilk. It’s early in their run of this new performance, but this is clearly destined to be one of the best shows of the festival. It’s a slick show, based almost entirely around the art of misdirection. If there’s any justice, they should have TV execs banging their door down for a pilot rather soon.

Our final act this evening is the big draw for Just The Tonic this fringe, self-styled “German Comedy Ambassador” Henning Wehn. After numerous appearances on TV panel shows like QI, Have I Got News For You and 8 Out of 10 Cats he’s become popular enough to sell out his entire run before he steps out for his first gig. It’s early in his run, so it’s not the most polished show – but the guy just oozes silly funny humour. As well as an obvious smugness that his country won the world cup (again).

From L-R Al Donegan, You're Never Too Old, Mick Ferry and Will Franken

From left to right: Al Donegan, You're Never Too Old, Mick Ferry and Will Franken

Day Two

We start our day at The Caves with Al Donegan's show The Five Worst Things I Ever Did. This is basically a monologue about one man and his misadventures, particularly in the world of sex. He's funny and manages to coast through a few early-run technical mishaps. A good hook for a show too.

After this we head to The Mash House to see two ghosts from comedy past perform together as Ian Lavender (Corporal Pike from Dads Army) and Ruth Madoc (Gladys from Hi-de-Hi) take on You're Never Too Old, a bittersweet comedy written by Anton Benson. It's not particularly funny, but as a piece of theatre it has plenty of merit as we encounter two characters dealing with ageing. I can't help thinking I might be thirty years too young to feel the pathos of certain others in the room though.

Mick Ferry says he's sick of reviews describing him as an overweight northern comedian who plays working mens clubs. His show at The Little Kirk has apects of this, but there's also a bit of an alternative edge to what he does. Either way his show is genuinely funny, warming and well worth seeing.

He's not as alternative as Will Franken though. When asked to describe his style the guys from Just The Tonic described him as a "one man Monty Python." It's not far off at all. His latest show is The Stuff They Put in Sleep in The Caves. It ties together Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles with dialogues about previous centuries and much more besides. It's intelligent without ever being political and poignant without really having a moral. 

It's late now, but we head on back to the Mash House to sample Wil Hodgson's Records In The Roof. This is basically just an excuse for Chippenham's premiere stand-up to play a load of records withother comedians and have a group conversation about them. It's fun though. We witness Rich Wilson enthusing about Level 42, Wild Card Kitty professing her love for Aerosmith and Luke Mallison subjecting us to the, frankly bloody awful, Busted. Overall with a bit more polish and the right pitch, this show idea could get Hodgson a regular radio slot.

From L-R Wanderlust, Dr Neal Portenza, Imaan and The Noise Next Door

From left to right: Wanderlust, Dr Neal Portenza, Imaan and The Noise Next Door

Day Three

My final day began watching home favourites The Gramophones performing their new play Wanderlust at The Mash House. It's something of a departure for them as it's basically a family-friendly fantasy musical with a melancholic edge. The title characher is a spirit trapped on a perpetual journey through various bodies and ages. It's enjoyable and on the whole the music fitted well, although a couple of songs did veer slightly too much towards folk music for my personal taste.

Next up was Rat: Induction at The Tron, which is basically half a sketch comedy and half a situational comedy, performed by two men and one woman. One of those men is the previously mentioned Al Donegan (see day one) and I can't work out who the others are as they've neglected to put details on any of their promo material. Aside from this error, it's really tight and delightfully simple. If the Fringe is known for breaking future TV comedy stars then this and The Colour Ham would be my two tips.

Following on is the beautifully hectic Comedian's Cinema Club, also at The Tron. The brainchild of vaguely famous actor/ comedian Eric Lampaert (I recognised him from as the hypeman in Dizzee Rascal's Bassline Junkie video) , the format is basically that each day he and a group of other fringe performers basically improvise the plot of a famous film. We got Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom and it was all most amusing, even if two of the extra three performers admitted after that they'd never even seen it.

From one hectic show to another, we nip over to The Mash House for Dr Professor Neal Portenza Performs His Own Autopsy Live on Stage. One Night Only. (Obviously). The show itself is intentionally ramshackle, with Portenza getting the crowd to review each skit almost before it's been finished. Disappointingly there's no actual surgery involved, but the definite highlight is at the end when he hands out cheap Gladiators-style pugel-sticks and invites the crowd to beat the crap out of him. Worth going for that alone.

The Evolution of Imaan is basically a show loosely themed around Evolution featuring Australian/ Lebanese comic Imaan Hadchiti. The material can seem a little laboured at times but, despite only being 3'6" tall, Imaan's massive personality pulls it off. 

Our final show of the fest is that old JTT classic, The Midnight Show back at the Community project where we first started. This is basically like a big lucky dip where you get four or more acts at the usual cost of one of them. On the night the two stand-out acts are Rich Wilson, whose laddish comedy makes us warm to him, and The Noise Next Door - who are a frankly bloody amazing musical improv manband (they're just a few too years old to class as a boyband).

Just The Tonic are up in Edinburgh until Sunday 24 August at The Community Project, The Tron, The Caves and The Mash House. Although normal service resumes at home too with their regular Saturday nights at The Forum.

Just The Tonic at Edinburgh Listings

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