Liam Williams: Bonfire Night | Review by Steve Bennett © Sun Lee
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Liam Williams: Bonfire Night

Review by Steve Bennett

One of the true auteurs of stand-up, Liam Williams is a fascinating, insightful and unique voice – but not always one that’s easy to hear.

He’s a comedian who can inspire awe for his passion for social justice, eloquent and ambitious writing and piercing intelligence in his analysis both of the country and of himself.

Yet moulding this into material that yields regular laughs is more challenging. He says a girlfriend summarised his act as ‘jokes that take three minutes to unpack and make people feel weird’ – and it’s hard to take issue with that reduction. A single routine can contain both a bizarre, brutally violent scene that haunts – and a poetic description of egg on toast, a measure of the shifting sands of his emotions.

One main concern of Bonfire Night is political engagement; the title noting how Britons celebrate a failed revolution. Williams’s political sincerity is a rare thing on the festival, let alone the circuit, and feels important, even if he has an internal struggle against the contrary instinct that activism is a futile expense of energy. Maybe he should just settle down and worry about his own concerns, as so many people do.

Sounds deep, and it is. Although he’s actually a little more relaxed than the intensity of his last couple of shows, these things are relative and both the socialist light and his existentialist angst still burn bright. When he raps a bit to sugar the pill, the tone is still bleak.

An 11.30pm slot in a sweatbox above one of Edinburgh’s liveliest, lager-soaked party pubs is probably not the ideal place for intelligent philosophising from a man who acknowledges that his voice can be ‘dry and boring’; yet it also somehow matches his desolation.

In similar self-critical mode, he acknowledges, slightly snippily, a similarity to Stewart Lee in his absurd exaggerations. This is most obvious as he challenges the aphorism that ‘the rich get rich and the poor get poorer’ as if it were some immutable law of physics, not the bitter consequence of an intrinsically unfair economic system. His convoluted, over-detailed analysis is less macro-economics, more mackerel-economics as he indulges in a long tangent about the popular pelagic fish.

The show is dense and thoughtful, the very definition of ‘not for everybody’; but a few more laughs to counterbalance the severity of his worldview could nudge it in the right direction.

Review date: 16 Aug 2015
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Laughing Horse @ The Free Sisters

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