Ensemble shows with an ever changing line-up can be a bit of a hit and miss affair at the Fringe. The "Best of Irish" and "Best of Scottish" shows at the Stand can some days feature some of the biggest and best in the business, and the next you can be treated to four complete unknowns. On this day, however, the bill featured two of the old stalwarts of the Irish comedy scene, so disappointment was unlikely to feature.
Opening the show and acting as compere was Bernard O'Shea, a new name to me but clearly a very experienced and natural performer. A chirpy chappy from Northern Ireland, he made great play over the complete lack of sexiness in both his appearance and his name, entertains us with a shaggy dog story in the form of a song, and makes a lengthy plea for more global warming so that he can improve his tan. There isn't much audience interaction, but he doesn't need it as he is great fun and gets the room nicely warmed up.
Elaine Malcolmson may, however, have been slightly put out by the fact that he introduced her as Elaine Williamson, and repeated the error later in the show, which is something he should maybe sort out, as it is disrespectful at best. I am an unashamed fan of Malcolmson's dry deadpan humour, but have to admit that she struggled a little at this show. I think maybe the early hour in the evening did her no favours, with an audience in from work or from shopping, looking for easy laughs and not in the mood for clever wordplay. Her "I'll do anything for a biscuit" material went down well, but some of the more intricate jokes seemed to fall on deaf ears.
Owen O'Neill is such an experienced old hand at the stand-up game, and such an instantly recognisable face to anyone who has spent any time in Ireland from his appearances in various TV shows and movies like The General and Michael Collins, that it is something of a surprise that he is not the headline act, although an indication of the quality of performers The Stand can attract. His laid-back but incisive humour holds the audience from the word go, from comparisons between expensive hairdressers and old-fashioned barbers, to tales of growing up in a family of 16 children, all punctuated with trademark bizarre facial expressions.
Headline act Michael Redmond is equally recognisable, as evidenced by the fact that the moment he took the stage an audience member shouted out "you were electrocuted in Father Ted!" But Redmond's style is the antithesis of O'Neill's carefully constructed anecdotes, as he shambles around the stage seeming to make his act up as he goes along. Much of his time is spent talking randomly to audience members, especially a front row South African whose beer he quickly appropriates. But Redmond makes it all look effortless, and he is one of those comedians blessed with the ability to get as big a laugh from a simple hangdog expression as he can from any of his gags.
Of course this is a show with a line-up that changes day by day. But with a roster this strong, it is a clear indication that the quality on offer is never likely to disappoint.