Ingrid Oliver: Speech! | Edinburgh Fringe comedy review by Jay Richardson
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Ingrid Oliver: Speech!

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review by Jay Richardson

Political comedy without jokes can feel like a worthy TED Talk. So it's perhaps telling that Ingrid Oliver frames her debut solo hour – a character showcase spread across the left-right spectrum – with nervous preparation for one of the streaming lectures, channelling anxieties about seeming topical and relevant.

And who can blame her? So uncertain is the ground beneath our feet post-Brexit vote that any attempts to grapple with the causes and consequences seem doomed to speculation. Happily, Oliver largely eschews editorialising for a polished, if broad, portrayal of some of the archetypal opinions that got us here, with a deftly acted, classily presented hour that retains the quality of her double-act collaborations with Lorna Watson.

It doesn't start that way though, with Oliver bowling into the venue to vomit into a toilet. Failing to compose herself, she argues with her inner monologue, chiding herself for agreeing to give a TED lecture on politics when she lacks firm convictions.

Contrast that with Kath Morgan, an undisguised parody of Katie Hopkins and Piers Morgan, spouting rabid sensationalism and posing questions like 'why is Kerry Katona's womb like a Rotherham mosque?', her targets thrown together to deliver maximum controversy and ratings for her radio talkshow. Cutting off callers before they've taken a breath, haranguing her put-upon producer, she's an absolute monster whose desperate escalations in offensiveness still struggle to match those of her rabid inspirations.

That sense of the unspoofable is also present in Tim Smith, a delusional, Britain's Got Talent impressionist who reckons he's his generation's Spitting Image or Rory Bremner, poised to take down the government with his naff impersonations. Hosting a comedy course, he enthuses about the variety of characters amongst Conservative MPs, cycling through an identikit parade of bland, middle-aged white men, his arbitrary mimicry as disconnected from his source material as the public are from the vague, grey decision-makers they elect.

If that insinuation is unsubtle, how do you approach Nigel Farage grandstanding in the European parliament, belittling his fellow MEPs? Oliver conveys his triumphalism through his German translator, her reactions reflecting the six stages of relationship break-up in the manner of a continental arthouse film. More measured and slower-paced than what's gone before, it's also a more open-ended skit, though the proud Teutonic smirk that closes it affords some hint as to Oliver's view about the probable winners come the divorce.

Elsewhere, she plays an over-sensitive student council leader no-platforming innocuous celebrity speakers on ever-more tenuous grounds, nodding to Lord of the Flies while shutting down all debate, her complex balancing of the university's politically correct views coming to resemble the fable of the fox, the chicken and the grain.

And then there's an armchair social media activist, or rather, car-driving activist, spouting her virtue-signalling liberalism on Bluetooth while cruising through Los Angeles, her abject rudeness and lack of courtesy towards her fellow road users betraying the obliviousness of her self-regard. Instantly recognisable, Oliver captures such grotesques' essence with impressive economy and careful attention to detail.

An occasional video insert, such as footage of alt-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos after the Kath Morgan sketch, talking about doubling down on outrage, feels unnecessarily blatant in leading the audience.

 Because when Oliver finally delivers her TED talk, growing in confidence as she shares some of her true opinions and political leanings, it's all the more impactful for the detachment from her characters she's previously cultivated. Even if the political figure she ultimately depicts as offering salvation suggests her tongue is still pretty firmly lodged in her cheek.

Review date: 14 Aug 2017
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson

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