"Welcome to the Banquetting Hall," Andrew O'Neill tells his audience at the start of his free show, "the most inappropriately named venue on the Fringe." He's not kidding. We are in a dank cellar under the South Bridge, with a floor made of loose rubble and water dripping from the ceiling. But somehow it seems an appropriate space for this slighly surreal and unusual looking comic.
O'Neill has been hovering around the edges of the big time for a while now, without ever quite breaking in. With a few low-key TV appearances under his belt, and a whole series of strange but interesting Fringe shows behind him, this year he has decided to perform twice a day. Late at night he does his paying show, the
Totally Spot On History of British Industry. O'Neill is a bit of a history buff, as previous shows have established. But in the afternoon it's just a straight stand-up set, performed as part of the Free Fringe, for donations only.
Nearly everything you need to know about O'Neill before his show starts is summed up by his appearance. The long, jet-black dyed hair and black cut-off tee-shirt showing his collection of tattoos all act as a frame to highlight the face of a nerd. His act veers from the fiercely intelligent to the supremely silly, with bizarre asides that punctuate his set and allow him to move from topic to topic without any forced links.
His star is clearly still in the ascendency, as witnessed by a room bursting at the seams, an unusual occurrence for a Free Fringe show. And he didn't let them down, with strange tales of heterosexual cross-dressing, horrendous night-bus journeys, and his experiences of dealing with American tourists at the Cabinet War Rooms museum which includes the most perfect response to the charge that we'd all be speaking German if it wasn't for the Yanks that you will ever hear.
Not all of the show works, but over the course of an hour the success rate is as good as you will find in many top price shows at the Fringe, and a good deal better than many, and all this for Free. It's a testament to his determination and his work-ethic that he is willing to put in the effort to build his reputation in this way, and a clear signpost that he is surely destined for a long and successful career.