“The Tribute Act To The Act With No Act”has solved a problem that dogs all but the most innovate of performers: why bother making the effort to come up with something new when in all likelihood it’s been done better already? The Bob ‘The Tray’ Blackman Appreciation Society thankfully returns to Edinburgh for another year, bringing with it its unique brand of light entertainment-infused, highbrow silliness.
Deceptively well-written, with a stand-up performing a character performing stand-up, yet never over-eggs the premise
Stoke-on-Trent Variety Clubis the venue for the gig, which we’re told in advance will last approximately 48 minutes and 37 seconds. The show is loosely built around two standup sets, one from Johnny ‘Showaddywaddy’ Sorrow, the second from up-and-comer Trevor Never (both played by the same man). The set from Sorrow is part variety club compere, part homage, part breakdown. The ghosts of ITV’s New Faces and being barred from performing at the Dudley Social Club haunt Sorrow (“I’ve been shunned Missus! Have you ever been shunned? You look like you have.”) It’s deceptively well-written, with a stand-up performing a character performing stand-up, yet never over-eggs the premise, delivering more good old fashioned gags per minute than you’re likely to see anywhere north of Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Trevor Never is considered on the Stoke comedy scene as one of those new, edgy comics, bringing with him a Lenny Bruce-style rage at the bureaucracy that means he is denied any local access to indoor bowling facilities during winter months. Like Johnny Sorrow’s routine, this can be taken at face value or as a parody of Never’s furious parochialism – from either vantage point this section, like all parts of the show, works equally well.
Palate cleansers administered by the balaclava-clad Richard Drake are slotted in between the larger routines. These come in the form of “The Man With No Act” (and his aforementioned tribute) and the man whose act consists only of punchlines (“I’ve never even met Carol Vorderman”), among others. Handily, he’s brought his own canned laughter, just so we’re sure of the right places to laugh. In Fringes past a technician looked after the sound effects – it’s a pity that’s no longer the case as seeing Drake remotely trigger the response to his punchlines a split second before we hear the programmed ‘Oi Oi!’ takes away from it slightly. But only very slightly.
This is one of the most criminally under-attended and under-appreciated shows of this (or any other) year’s Fringe. As Johnny ‘Showaddywaddy’ Sorrow himself says: “You can take your Avalons, you can take your Gilded Balloons, you can take your Copsticks and your bloody Malcolm McIntyres! This is what it’s all about, this is craft!” Amen to that.