Friday, 8 August 2008

Fringe Review - Jason Byrne: Cats Under Mats Having Chats With Bats, Assembly Hall, 07/08/2008

At this point in his career, it appears, Jason Byrne has given up any pretence at having a theme to his shows, thus the nonsensical titles which grace each year's offering, (last year it was "Pigs With Wigs Hiding in the Twigs.) This is a good thing, because the only thing you are guaranteed with Byrne is that on any given night there is no telling what he will decide to talk about.

By all accounts, there are nights when he ad-libs entire shows, and this is probably a good thing as generally his rehearsed material is the weakest part of his performance. But this year he seems to have upped his game a little in this respect, and tales of moving his family to the countryside or fixing a television bracket in his son's bedroom are well worked out and often pant-wettingly funny.

As usual, his long-suffering wife is the butt of much of his humour as he prowls the stage screaming in frustrated rage at this impossible harridan. But of course the audience is always in on the joke, well aware that in reality she is most likely a nice and normal woman merely driven demented by years of having to live with him.

But of course it is in the audience interaction that Byrne really shines. It is his ability to think on his feet which moves him out of the category of competent comedian and into the super-league of comics able to sell out huge venues.

Tonight he has plenty to work with. There is the couple who have brought their twelve year-old son and sat in the front row. "There goes half the show," he says, "you're going to learn a lot tonight kid!" Then there was the man trapped somewhere inside the middle of his body, the doctor who makes models out of poo, and the man who, on being asked questions, merely shouts out random words.

Byrne makes great play with all of them, continually returning to them as characters in a narrative he is constructing in his head. Everything seems to be clicking in this year's show. Even his closing set piece, often a disappointment after what has gone before, is this year suitably barking mad to provide a fitting climax to the show.

Brilliant and possibly borderline insane, it's always a banker at any Fringe that Jason Byrne is going to give value for money.

No comments: