A disenchanted falconer from Norfolk. A lion numerologist. Bette Midler as a telepathic, transatlantic telephone-using murderer. Sally Phillips and Lily Bevan certainly don’t go for obvious characters. Indeed, the Sherlock Holmeses, UKIP voters and self-help gurus which have infiltrated every other sketch show at the Fringe this year are entirely absent in the Edinburgh leg of
Phillips and Bevan are masters of their trade - and they’ll be damned if they take the easy route in their meticulously absurd show
The wry confidence of the comedians’ performances place the audience firmly (but flirtily) in the palms of their capable hands. They tickle us silly into utter captivation — even when examining the entirely unfamiliar. There’s no Brexit gags here; instead, how about a seven minute monologue from a self-righteous Swede about the hilarity of her haddock-smoking husband’s underachievement? Diversity and originality (and smoked Scandinavian fish) are the allusive ingredients in this delicious hour of fun. And, for the record, the life and times of Johannes the fish smoker had the Assembly seats shaking with unstoppable shrieks of laughter.
From the moment Bevan walked out, setting us at ease with a wonderful introduction to the currently injured Phillips (who is so far soldiering on regardless), we knew we were in for a good night. Apparently Phillips busted her leg in what must have been a particularly exuberant warm-up. I would call Bevan’s bluff on the specifics of this story, except the assured energy with which both women stride, sigh, knowingly nod — or even downward dog — across the stage makes the possibility that Phillips is all untamed vivacity and flailing limbs in the pre-show moments when she is without a character to inhabit really quite believable.
Talking to Strangers gets the entire audience onside with graceful ease; when we weren’t howling with laughter, we were gawping wondrously at the dexterity of Phillips and Bevan’s acting and writing skills. The script is exquisitely rendered, with every pause and every punchline in their perfect place. The bravery and sheer length of each weird, wordy, solo sketch, plus the success with which each character-driven story hits the mark over and over again should give some idea of the irrefutable competence of Phillips and Bevan. Talking to Strangers is utterly original, but never sacrifices edginess for proper, solid laughs. If the question ‘Can women really have it all?’ refers to the often incompatible combination of intricate character comedy and constant, quick-fire gags then Phillips and Bevan can answer with a guffawing yes.