For his fourth full length Edinburgh show, it is clear from the venue that Rhod Gilbert is moving swiftly up the comedy ladder towards "star attraction" status. It is also clear that it is taking it's toll on him physically, as his always throaty voice is now so raspy it sounds like someone has taken a power sander to it.
And the pace with which this show moves can't help. Those who have experienced Gilbert's brand of "not comedy but misery" will know to expect a slowly building tale in which disaster and disappointment pile on each other with ever increasing frequency until it arrives at a cataclysmic conclusion.
The premise, this year, is that Gilbert has been persuaded by others to move his comedy into the real world, and leave behind the fictional Welsh town of Llanbobl where his previous shows have been set. Doing so, however, has led him inexorably towards a fateful encounter with the staff of an almost deserted Knutsford service station on the M6 at two thirty one morning, where he finds himself buying myriads of useless tat, hoping to catch some form of entertainment show in the toilets, and having a mental breakdown over the titular award-winning mince pie which is the last item left in the cafeteria.
In his incandescent rage at these seemingly minor irritations, Gilbert raises the mundane to the level of Greek tragedy, providing his audience with the catharsis he fails to attain for himself. The pace is relentless, but occasional respite is given to the audience through various sidetracks in which he discusses his relationship with a much younger woman, a trip to Afghanistan to entertain the troops, and an explanation of the difference between "ballroom" and "cabaret" style venue layouts in Ebbw Vale.
It's all wildly entertaining stuff, and when he finally collapses in exhaustion into his service-station bought canvas directors chair to deliver his conclusion, the audience feel like collapsing alongside him. It's been a wild ride and we can feel his fatigue as if it were our own.
Gilbert grows in stature year on year, and could be the perfect Edinburgh Fringe comedian. Where other comics often find difficulty in sustaining an hour long show, he thrives on it, using the time to build the various strands of his tale until it finally explodes into a climax of callbacks. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next year.