Elf Lyons: Swan

After 2016’s slightly disappointing Pelican, Elf Lyons returns to the Fringe this year with a comic masterpiece that elucidates her status as a master of the alternative form. Based on Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, her retelling involves shambolic props and costumes, audience participation, left-wing ideologies and a purposefully dodgy French/English hybrid accent/language which logically should have been grating but instead added to the charm, especially in the few instances when she briefly broke character to deliver the odd cheeky line.

A truly personal yet absurd and relatable hour

Clearly Lyons’ time at the Ecole Philippe Gaulier was not wasted. The physicality of her show is mesmerising, and her inventive use of objects as characters is bewildering; a lip-synced song by a crocodile hand-puppet almost moves one to tears despite the lighthearted nature of the show, and her use of short witticisms and thoughts to illustrate the dimensions of her characters succeeds in fleshing them out both quickly and recognisably. All her characters seem to come from somewhere personal, indeed witnesses to her past shows will recognise distinct personalities among them. The Black Swan is used by the comedian as an opportunity to describe a past lover at length, a nice private interlude in a show which combines both high culture and silliness to create something alienating to no-one.

The show is incredibly directed; Lyons takes advantage of all the space available to her on-stage, and the tech cues, consisting of a discerningly curated playlist of songs and well-thought out lighting effects, are honed to perfection. Indeed, the curious juxtaposition of the clearly heavily-considered performative aspects and the tchotchke nature of the props and costumes creates a fantastical contrapposto which serves to highlight the show’s fanciful nature, an aspect consistently put into focus as she takes pot-shots at Tchaikovsky’s more whimsical imaginings despite taking far more artistic liberties herself.

Swan is esoteric comedy at its finest, and seems to be as enjoyable to watch as it is to perform, with Lyons occasionally breaking character to give the infectious wide, beaming smile of an indulged child. Though her family may want her to continue her PhD, when something of this calibre is her diversion there seems little point. It’s rare to see an intellectual comedian demonstrate their smarts in such a passive, unassuming way, and makes a refreshing change to the many, especially male, comedians at the Fringe who prefer to aggressively flaunt their intellect, as if nobody else has heard of or seen Stewart Lee. A truly personal yet absurd and relatable hour that will make you think, laugh and cry, what feels like a magnum opus is only her third Edinburgh show. 

Reviews by Chris Shapiro

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The Blurb

The giraffe-limbed clown and raconteur is back with her most exciting stand-up show yet. Think big. Think weird. Mathew Bourne would be proud. It's going to be fun. And sexy. Yeah, let's throw that word in there too. Graduate of L'Ecole Philippe Gaulier. BBC New Talent Hot List 2017. ‘Hilariously brave… Top twenty names of now' (Vogue). ‘Endearingly eccentric on so many levels’ (Fest). ‘A fast-talking, smart-thinking stand-up for whom the adjective "kooky" could have been invented for’ (Guardian). ‘Enthusiastically peculiar... showing sexy, nerdy and funny aren't mutually incompatible’ (Chortle.co.uk).