Even in comedy, the graveyard shift ain’t an easy one. Midnight at the Fringe is a strange place, and it’s difficult to be sure how many people you’ll get to turn out, or what sort of state they’ll be in when they do. When Ro Campbell rolled out his Midnight Meltdown tonight it was for ‘twelve people sitting in a hot cupboard’ and what he delivered was a hour of comedy that started out full of promise but just lost its way a little as the night grew older.
Campbell’s material is rooted in digressions, tangents and stories within stories. His opening gambit was to chat to a member of the audience and when it turned out she was a Fringe performer he moved into some jokes on the woes of flyering, in turn leading to an anecdote of an encounter on the Royal Mile with a man bearing an unfortunate tattoo, which then led to stories about Ro’s own tattoos obtained on his travels and so on. One gets the feeling Campbell doesn’t so much have a planned set as a cloud of material in his head from which he picks and chooses at will. This theory is lent some credence, first by the fact that at one point he asked the audience which particular anecdote he was on, second the fact that he overran. The show starts at 11:40pm and is slated to last an hour. By my watch, the audience unsteadily emerged at around 12:50.
This is where the problems are with the Midnight Meltdown, at least the performance I saw: it just starts to run out of steam. After the promising opening, with a high gag rate and some real laughs eked out of the small audience, things started to wobble around the halfway point. The number of jokes that died ignominious deaths began to climb and a couple of long stories were all buildup and little or no payoff. Campbell moved to tackle some slightly heavier subjects, not a bad move in and of itself but a risky one when faced with a small audience who are beginning to flag. There’s a unique kind of bracing oneself that one does when a comedian opens a bit with “So you know that torturing they’re doing at Guantanamo Bay…”
Ro Campbell’s show came flying off the starting blocks, but stumbled before the finish. It is a shame, because he is a naturally funny man who on another day might have held the audience’s favour rather better. A little more structure could really allow the Midnight Meltdown to become something special. At the moment it’s just that bit too loose for its own good.