Fringe Comedy

Sophie Willan

Pleasance

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Five stars

Tom Ward

Just The Tonic at The Tron

Five stars

Scott Gibson

Gilded Balloon Teviot

Four stars

Gayle Anderson

IN WHAT has become a signature move, Sophie Willan explodes onstage in a flurry of shimmying cleavage. This year, though it's angry cleavage. She's fed up being labelled, sick of being shoe-horned into convenient stackable boxes. She deftly demonstrates what's ripping her knitting with some good-natured audience stereotyping. Social workers and Radio 4 listeners are picked out with consummate ease. It's all about the footwear, apparently. In an incredibly funny, intelligent, well-crafted,cand brutally honest set Willan squeezes every drop of irony out of the fact that this it is suddenly desirable to be Northern, working-class and female. Condescension-intolerant, she's on a seek-and -destroy mission for the phoney or fake. New Labour, traffic light party dating, Margaret Thatcher, Loose Women and Manc poets are cut down to size in best Bolton style, but it's the personal stories that stay with you. Growing up with a heroin-addict mum, living in and out of the care system and finally, a reveal that's one of the bravest and most moving moments I've seen at a comedy gig. Who runs the world? On this form, it definitely should be Sophie Willan.

Run until August 27.

I WANT to live in Tom Ward's world forever. It's a magical, fuzzy-felt sort of place, even when it's taken up temporary residence in the sticky-floor scuzzy environs of an old-school comedy club. After last year's impressive debut, the hip-haired one is back to expand our minds and the audience chit-chat gets off to a flyer. A slightly stoned man in the front row is asked his name. "Phoenix," he replies. Of course it is. Bosh! Knocked it out the park! The omens are looking good. Like Hayley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, Tom can see dead people. Well, not dead exactly, more settled down, middle-class, and suburban. His descriptions of mates who'll no longer go clubbing and his "3-for-2 at Waterstones" neighbours combine child-like honesty with achingly clever word-smithery. There are snort-out-loud sideways looks at sex, singledom, swearing and serial killers. Laughter levels are then cranked right up to 11 with a musical interlude. Pop tunes are the punctuation in Tom's life. Imagine if you will Prince as parenthesis, Fleetwood Mac as full stops. This man doesn't think outside the box - he is the box. Not just any old box mind, he's a beatbox. What a finish and what a unique and genuinely exciting talent.

Runs until August 27.

IT TAKES a brave man to fire up his Fringe show with five minutes on how much he hates our capital city and its cafes. Especially when that brave man happens to be a Glaswegian. Winner of last year's Best Newcomer award, Gibson is back on fine "ranty-establishment" form as positive parenting and his own weight issues fall under his (non-PC) radar. His story-telling is extra special. The day his grandfather cried and smuggling beetroot to America are stand-out tales that have the crowd in the palm of the big man's hand. Like Father Like Son centres on the comedian's unexpected reunion with his father and the show takes a brief but disappointing dip when his reflections become raw rather than raucous. We learn more about him as a person, but not as a comic. He hauls things back on track though with an unforgettable bakery tale that would probably have Chic Murray tipping his bunnet.

Runs until August 28.