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Russell Kane: Smokescreens & Castles

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

This is the show when Russell Kane finally comes of age, releasing all the potential he’s ever been credited with into one dense, smart, funny and honestly personal examination of his proud working-class family, warts and all.

Gone – well almost – is the empty posturing and the kneejerk chip-on-the-shoulder depiction of middle-class pretension, despite his apparent desire to join that club. Instead the intense focus of his intelligent wit has been turned, for the most part, on to his tough-guy father, a thick-necked white van man for whom emotion is a sign of weakness. You would have to have lived a very rarefied existence not to know, or be related to, a bloke like this.

The castle is a metaphor for the thick, cold walls dad Dave built around his heart, beyond the usual ‘Englishman’s home’ analogy – although that applies, too, as Kane Snr was the only one on his Enfield council estate to buy his house when the Thatcher regime allowed it, instantly setting him apart from his neighbours, who despised him for it.

Inspired by the same significant family event that’s prompted a few recent Edinburgh shows from male comics in their thirties, Kane tries to understand his father’s racist, homophobic views, petty resentments and emotional detachment. As a liberal, arts graduate with a thirst for knowledge and a love of drama, Kane was obviously a worry to his polar-opposite father, who inevitably suspected his offspring could be gay. The nightmare scenario…

Kane’s ideological clashes with his father provide some of the best moments here; including an inspired routine about the right-wingers who deny all evidence of climate change on a point of principle.

But his dad provides only one aspect of the working-class archetype Kane delves into. The other – the effervescent enjoyment of life in the moment, putting your family first and your friends almost as close – is epitomised by his mother and, of a fashion, his formidable grandmother in a routine that contains the most beautifully onomatopaeic use of the c-word.

Then there’s what surely must be the best routine on sociocultural linguistics this Fringe. Top five at least. This is his insightful theory about how the Essex accent informs the attitude, or vice-versa, comparing it to other regional brogues and traits.

Add to this tales of a fight in a curry house, the story of how Kane sustained possibly the most middle-class motoring injury possible (it involves a Toyota Prius and a Trollope audiobook), his theories on sex education and the rise of the BNP, and a measured level of audience teasing and you’ve got a jam-packed show, even by the fast-talking comic’s usual standards.

That’s really the only criticism, that the intense show does feel a bit rushed – and Kane admitted he was editing out a few routines as the hour deadline loomed. Some of these ideas need a little more room to breathe – which presumably they’ll get when Smokescreens And Castles goes on tour this autumn.

But this is a hugely impressive show, full of ideas and performed with an irresistible vigour, marking a quantum leap for a comic powering towards the top of his game.

Review date: 25 Aug 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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