This is an evening comprising of two preview comedy shows for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I haven’t heard of either act, so I don’t know what to expect.

First up is Gein’s Family Gift Shop, a trio of sketch comedians. Apart from the usual black drapes, the stage has a few props on it: a table, some chairs and laid out on the floor, three school PE kits. There are only fifty people in the audience, so everyone is asked to move forward. Most do, some don’t; as it’s a comedy so you might get picked on. The lights go down and the three cast members come bounding out… In their underwear… Two men and a woman. They quickly dress in their identical PE kits and introduce themselves; “Kath is the woman, so she will play the women in the sketches; Jim is the man, so he will play the men, while Ed is the tall one, so he will play any tall people.” They are immediately immensely likeable and fun.

The sketches are generally short and snappy, but with macabre overtones, such as the use of fake blood, plenty of darkness and a sinister element. (Check out their website for plenty of photographs of three people who look like they’ve just murdered someone.) There is a generous helping of the League of Gentlemen black humour about them.

The cast turn out to be very funny and very talented. Ed has a great line in playing awkward, nervous and gawky; at times he morphs dangerously close to Alan Partridge, which can only be a good thing. One sketch involves him miming a fight with the Devil, with him playing both parts, and it is both hilarious and incredibly well executed, with a killer punchline.

By the end of the show I’m really enjoying them and hope they have a great future in comedy because their timing, affability and actual acting abilities are excellent. Where I felt the show possibly fell slightly flat on occasions was in some of the content, as the macabre nature isn’t for everyone, but conversely it will really appeal to some. An enjoyable show and deserving a larger audience, but hats off to them for entertaining the relatively small crowd with such gusto and professionalism.

The second act tonight is Alfie Brown, who is replacing the originally advertised Alex Edelman, but we’re not told why. Alfie comes out onto the stage, immediately likeable and easy going; he talks confidently and shamelessly about liking McFly… I don’t know anything about McFly but I’m happy to listen because he is initially quite engaging.

He does various accents and he does them very well and his general delivery is interesting and engaging. He goes on to tell us about his life; a one night stand that resulted in the conception of his son, leading on to the birth of his son and various aspects of being a father. He’s honest about his parental responsibility and his feelings and, as such, doesn’t always come across in a good light… but you have to commend his honesty. It’s all still quite amusing, until a bit of banter with a willing member of the audience results in the audience member revealing he suffers from Cerebral Palsy; this seems to be the point at which the confidence is kicked from underneath Alfie and he’s left dangling there. He seems to struggle to keep on track with his script and it doesn’t string together very well from here on; there are awkward silences and him repeatedly returning to his notes.

The show must go on… and to his credit he carries on… and on and on… But I’m afraid no matter how he tries to jump start the routine, the energy he started with has gone for good. The latter section is quite politically heavy, but it’s Politics with a capital “P” and is, in my opinion, rather too heavyweight for an evening of comedy. I hear the news but I stopped listening a long time ago, when I realised they keep putting on the same show with different actors.

Alfie then reveals he doesn’t actually have an ending… the set limps on for a while until he actually asks the audience for suggestions as to how he should finish his Edinburgh show.

I have to stress this is a preview show, testing out new material. It’s aimed at an Edinburgh Fringe crowd with pint in hand, not a small, sober audience at the Lowry on a Sunday night; consequently some of the set doesn’t make the mark, but that’s to be expected; it’s a work in progress and I think Alfie has enough character to make this work in future.

Unfortunately, I went home feeling bad, because I thought Alfie would be stewing all night in a hotel room, listening repeatedly to a Dictaphone recording of his show, absolutely pulling himself apart. Maybe too little preparation time (because he was covering for someone else) led to the show stalling towards the end. It certainly wouldn’t put me off seeing Alfie again, it’s just that on this occasion things could have been slicker; his set ended with him not being the same young, confident performer that opened it.

Reviewed on: 26th July 2015.

Reviewed by: John Wood

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