Setlist is just a bloody good idea. This much is clear. Forcing well-known stand-ups to squirm as they invent routines based on hilarious audience suggestions is always going to be an amusing watch. However it is perhaps this inevitability that rankles somewhat: that this night did exactly what you might expect of it, which in a show based on improv, is a criticism.
Setlist has changed venue since last year, moving from Just the Tonic to the plush surroundings of the Pleasance Ace Dome. Given these expensive and classy new trappings, it was strange that the actual acts seem to have downscaled. There are now only four performers in the bill each night, and whilst Setlist’s lineups are a mystery based on the vagaries of available stand-up’s calendars, the smaller number means one day’s line-up can seem to be far more high profile than others. It is fair to say (with no offence intended to the listed performers) that this night’s is one of the lesser known.
Ben Norris was our genial and quick-witted opener who rattled through his material with a sharp albeit brief style. A highlight was his ‘big closer’, ‘Explaining Jesus to Jesus’, a fine quip being ‘I don’t want to make light of this topic… and yet I have to’.
We continued with Tim Rabnett, who despite a few amusing lines probably served to prove just how difficult this conceit is for the performers; he raced through his words at a spectacular and panicked pace. Michael Fabbri followed, and also battled with the format, though perhaps more gamely than previous acts. He was at his most successful when employing what is best described as a reckless abandonment approach: brain and mouth disconnected and he railed about albinos with a fervour that took even him aback.
The closer of the night and easily the most successful was Aisling Bea; she even attempted to frame the words as they appeared within typical stand-up liturgy and with a mischievous twist. This was just as well, as the breakneck pace of the earlier acts had evidently left them with some time to fill. As more and more words appeared on the screen, she worked on and even grew a little impatient with the slow rate they appeared, such was her panache, before closing magisterially and fleeing the stage.
It must be said that the technical team were not quite on task throughout, with performers often left awkwardly hanging with a blank screen or presented with the words they had just used. Furthermore, the concept often does half the work for the performers; the words themselves regularly causing such hilarity that any feeble response in the aftermath will seem a success. However, it is nonetheless a brilliant idea that many promoters must be kicking themselves for not having got to first that makes for an amusing, if not enlightening evening.