FRINGE REVIEW – Russell Kane, Smokescreens and Castles


8-30 Aug (not 11, 18) 9.10pm  @ Pleasance Courtyard

Russell Kane is back, in a much larger and slightly hotter venue than last year (hotter than the sun, that is). The increased size of Kane’s Pleasance room is reflected in his performance: he’s slicker, with more confidence.
For those who have seen his shows before, the familiar themes play throughout – his family, particularly his dad and their relationship, and the difficulties he has in reconciling his intellectualism and artistry with his council-house upbringing.
There is the sense that the extended metaphor that this year’s show centres on – the impenetrable castle vs. the warm hearth within – applies equally to Kane as his stand-up career goes from strength to strength. The slight swagger he didn’t have before slips off throughout the show, as the therapy-comedy he has made his own so effectively gives glimpses of true vulnerability. It’s good to see it go – Kane is at his best exploiting this vulnerability and the difficulties of his past for unexpected laughs. Just when you feel he’s pushing the pathos – one of his favourite words – just up to the edge of awkwardness, he cracks the tension open, mixing genuine humour with a touch of relief.
Social, political and personal analysis and commentary make this a show for the ‘hummus, wines and cheeses’ brigade he loves so much to pastiche. His very identity, and therefore his comic material, is inextricably interwoven with his identification with middle-class intellectuals, and the simultaneous insecurity that he doesn’t quite fit in the club. ‘Post-modern’ ‘ironic’ and ‘metaphysical’ are favoured adjectives, and customarily delivered in his best ‘posh boy’ accent. Used so often it now comes naturally, this appears to surface whenever he feels he might look intellectually above himself, and is often swiftly followed by a gag about bodily functions.
Kane’s extreme physicality fills the stage. Bouncing about through accents for every character he mentions, they seem to incarnate before you – his mother and father regularly materialise before your eyes. A small, obviously hand-made castle is his only prop, and he doesn’t even really need that. Kane gives the impression that he has to have a strict theme to each of his shows, for fear of not knowing where his non sequiturs might lead him otherwise. Hyperactively swapping through sexes, cities, past versions of himself – even various members of the animal kingdom, his tangents are dizzying and physical contortions impressive, giving every performance spontaneity and freshness.
A question vaguely surfaces wondering what Kane is going to work from when he exhausts his upbringing and the long shadow of his ‘hard man’ father. For now, however, the shadow has obviously not faded enough to rob him of this mine of metaphors, humour and insecurity that allows him to connect so effectively with a sell-out room of 336 strangers. Watch, particularly, for the jack-knife change of tone that closes the show in 5-star fashion, and sums up what Kane capitalises on so masterfully. Now that’s pathos.

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