Wonderfully unexpected opportunities can occur at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe; even more so at the 'Free' variety. You can be queuing for Stephen Bailey: Our Kid only to discover that, as he's away 'doing some TV,' his slot in the room is filled by another young, gay standup called James Barr. Curiously, as we shuffle in, none of us seems upset by the news, perhaps because no money has yet changed hands.
Barr clearly knows how to both work an audience, and structure a show.
Either that or a significant proportion of the audience already know Barr from his TV, radio and voiceover work for the likes of MTV, Bauer Radio and Heat magazine (clearly I’m not keeping up with Culture!) and trust him to offer reasonable value. While still relatively new to standup comedy, Barr clearly knows how to both work an audience and structure a show for reasonable narrative impact. If this particular crowd is slightly more inhibited than he's used to, it's likely down to this particular performance starting at 5.15pm rather than 9.50pm, with all the implications regarding inhibitions and alcohol consumption.
Subject-wise, we're on pretty familiar ground; Barr's show is primarily about his (increasingly desperate) search for 'the one' and that perfect, long-term relationship with the man of his dreams. It's a desperation that can be triggered by a Royal Wedding (especially one involving a fellow red-head); it can inspire the fear that he's like an avocado dangerously close to its 'best by' date, ready to be rejected in Waitrose. The costume change involved may not seem particularly necessary, but his riff on being an avocado is a fine example of its kind, delivered with just the right level of innuendo.
There are, of course, obligatory tales of dating apps, but arguably the most interesting moments are with the potential dates – ie, cute audience members – Barr brings up on stage. In at attempt to accelerate the intimacy between them, he asks some of the 36 questions devised by the US psychologist Arthur Aron to bring couples closer together. Despite the risks, this is when Barr proves he can stay absolutely in control, regardless of any weird material the public throws at him.