The Wrestling II
After two weeks of shows in caves and Portakabins, where ‘production values’ means you’re lucky to have a 60W bulb pointing in the right direction, the sheer spectacle of The Wrestling is a giddy tonic.
The herculean scale of the endeavour, the abandonment of civility to the primal mob mentality and the chance to see comedians literally outside their comfort zone is going to make this a highlight of the Fringe for as long as those staging it are prepared to put in the work and sweat to make it happen.
Certainly, more and more comics want a piece of the action. In fact, there are almost too many on this second extravaganza, two years after the panel award-winning first. I think we heard one gag from Tim Vine as Dr Pun Ishment, and even less from Ardal O’Hanlon – and they were the leaders of the forces of evil and good respectively.
Instead, the main storyline concerned ring announcer Nick Helm who, after growling the requisite introductions was knocked out cold by Ishment’s henchmen in such an act of poor sportsmanship that even notoriously impartial roving reporter and Matt ‘The Pacifist’ Crosby felt compelled to join the righteous army.
Drafted in as Helm’s replacement was Joe Lycett – as if wrestling wasn’t camp enough already – to give a decidedly different tone to that aspect of the night, gassing more about the oily grapplers’ haircuts than their sporting prowess.
Otherwise, though, the format was largely the same as in 2011, which does means it loses some of its uncertain edge for those who’ve seen both. For example commentators Brendon Burns, representing all that is immoral and wrong, and the piously cherubic Andrew Maxwell have their roles and their catchphrases defined, where there seemed to be more jeopardy as they found their feet two years ago.
But that is not to say the night was predictable; there’s an air of chaos throughout, as you’re almost sure to get when you have too many people with microphones, trying to rouse the crowd in contradictory ways. Not they need much rousing; this is such a loud, boozy, boisterous, affair The Wrestling could be the new Late N Live.
It befits the exaggerated, ludicrous action in the ring. While some of the pulled punches are almost parodic in their clumsy execution, there’s also some genuine gymnastic techniques on display, and not always from the trained profession.
In the first bout, Thom Tuck, after ripping the arms of his cricket whites to show he meant business got Dan Cook, one of the less high-profile acts here in an impressive suplex. The second saw a different definition of ‘one-on-one action’ when Tom ‘Explosenthal’ Rosenthal, donned his gimp outfit to take on pro Dan ‘The Hammer’ Head. And if the comedy and acting doesn’t work out for the Friday Night Dinner star, he’ll have a promising career in BDSM, for his character’s sexual deviancy is creepy and insatiable.
As the half-time point approached – way behind schedule, of course, arch-heel Rish Gosh, the almost offensively stereotypical ‘Prince of Mumbai’ offered an open challenge to the Pleasance Grand. And the huge wave of joy when the comparatively weedy Boy With Tape On His Face emerged from the bleachers to take him was palpable. And Mumbai muscle proved no match for gaffer tape.
To the final six-way fight, which soon became even more crowded, as Team Pun Ishment fielded Bulk, an hilariously proportioned (though I wouldn’t say that to his face) man-mountain who looked as if he could eat his opponents, then used Crosby as a toothpick. Though in the end, and with absolutely no interference, it was the Pappy’s stalwart who pinned the behemoth.
Meanwhile, Max and Ivan – the double act who’s brainchild this was – released years of creative tension by knocking seven bells out of each other. Max, who used to be a wrestler under the name Max Voltage, broke his ankle at the 2011 – but that didn’t make him shy of executing a daring top-rope manoeuvre.
Add to the action the between-bout banter, containing a high number of comedy-in jokes (the ‘benefit for debt-riddled Avalon acts getting a particular cheer), rabble-rousing valeting work from the likes of Cariad Lloyd as Cockney Sam and improv-rappers Abandoman, the half-time entertainment from TapeFace, and the occasional sharp interjection from our ringside commentators and you have a unique event.
The Wrestling II cannot, by definition, have the same novelty valueas the original, but as sequels go, it’s another stupidly fun night. And this time, no one got hurt (I don’t think...)