Sunday, 10 August 2008

Fringe Review - Richard Herring: The Headmaster's Son, White Belly at the Underbelly, 08/08/2008

It has almost become a tradition now. This is the fifth year in succession I've been to see Richard Herring's solo show in the Fringe, and he seems to get better year on year. I am happy to report that this year is no exception.

For the past few years his shows have been straight, vaguely themed stand-up, as opposed to the rigidly structured shows that went before. This year he's moved back towards those older shows, but the theme remains broadly the same as the one that seems to have obsessed him for a while now, namely that of why he is moving into middle-age without ever having seemed to grow up.

Herring is 41 now, never married, no children, sexually promiscuous, and still seemingly trying to act like a teenager. And he has recognised that a great many people who act inappropriately in their advancing years blame all their problems on their childhood. It has become something of a trend these days to blame your parents for almost anything you do which society frowns on. So he decided to examine whether his parents could be responsible for his behaviour, particularly his father, and his experience of growing up in a school where his dad was also his headmaster.

Of course, he instantly recognises the absurdity of claiming to have suffered psychological trauma from what was, essentially, a nice, happy, middle-class upbringing in the picturesque Somerset town of Cheddar. But he still manages to get easily his hour's worth of mileage out of the situation, often brilliantly, especially the section in which he reads excerpts from his teenage diaries, pricking the pomposity of his former self, and culminating in a conversation between his 16 and 41 year-old selves discussing the way his life has gone against the way he expected it to be.

It's a more rigid and rehearsed performance than we've been used to from Herring of late, and this caused some problems on the night as he had to battle against a large group of Portuguese schoolgirls who sat right at the front, didn't speak much English, and insisted on talking to each other all the way through. But if he was thrown off his stride at all, it didn't show, and the rest of the room seemed to lap up his verbal dexterity and intricate wordplay. It may not be the show that finally breaks him through into the big-time, but if not then it can't be far away.

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