Elf Lyons: Swan | Edinburgh Fringe comedy review by Paul Fleckney
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Elf Lyons: Swan

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review by Paul Fleckney

And now for something completely and utterly ludicrous. If you’re after something with a bit more life than a straight stand-up show, then consider this, Swan by Elf Lyons. It’s a spoof of Tchaikovsky’s smash-hit ballet, Swan Lake, as if it were performed by a kid with the keys to the dressing-up box.

If that sounds dangerously close to ‘zany’ or ‘quirky’ for your liking, then hold on, because Lyons has genuine funnybones – a surprisingly rare commodity even in comedy. Add to that a total deadpan commitment to everything she does, and a performance of unadulterated joie de vivre, and you have a show that could probably get even the most hardened ‘tell us a joke’ audience member to crack a smile. 

Lyons performs the entire show in an eccentric mix of English and child’s French. The accent sometimes slips into ‘Dolmio Italian’, and the way she says ‘Okey dokey’ sounds like the kid from Indiana Jones. A little concentration is required, it must be said. She also performs the entire show in a parrot costume (or a macaw costume, to be a pedantic dick about it), the reason for which was probably given at the start, but I think I was too busy adjusting to the accent to retain the intel.

But Lyons is also her own worst enemy, and there are barriers that stop Swan taking the grand jete from being funny and memorable, to something special. First of all – and I hesitate to speak on behalf of the whole audience – but how many people know the plot of Swan Lake to start with? 

Lyons does her best to hold our hand and guide us through the basics of character and plot. But it’s a big ask of an audience to fully buy into a satire of something they’re learning about on the hoof. The heavy, ever-shifting accent/language doesn’t exactly help, either, as she sets up each scene. Sure, it’s not exactly Bleak House in its complexity, but it’s not always clear what’s happening and how we got there, which is something that could do with addressing. 

Relatedly, a lot of the humour in Swan comes from Lyons’s straight-faced demeanour while she’s acting out the ballet with silly props, gimmicks, costumes, long-limbed dancing and audience provocation. But too often she comes out of character to point out the absurdity. ‘I have three degrees,’ she says. ‘My dad wonders why I didn’t finish my PhD,’ and so on. 

I feel that the longer she stayed in character, the funnier it was. And they aren’t the only indulgences: she cynically deconstructs aspects of Swan Lake, similarly to how Stewart Lee used to deconstruct cutesy parables. But they don’t have any comic angle to them, and require some knowledge on the audience’s part, so they’re a little alienating. Losing these indulgences can mean the difference between a slightly flabby show and a tight one.

It’s a tough balancing act, doing something weird yet accessible, and Lyons gets it mostly right, if not 100 per cent. It’s also tricky doing something intelligent yet accessible, and again she mostly gets it.

But throughout the hour there’s a bit too much tell and not enough show: Lyons feels the need to point out her knack for surrealism and her intelligence, rather than let them speak for themselves.

Still, Swan marks out Lyons as a comic of great promise: her super-committed idiocy brings to mind Harry Hill, and her comic asides Eddie Izzard. I keep coming back to the fact that everything in the show was underpinned by the fact Lyons is naturally funny. If she can harness that gift, she could be really onto something.

Review date: 10 Aug 2017
Reviewed by: Paul Fleckney

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