Why I Had To Leave The North | Brighton Fringe review by Steve Bennett
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Why I Had To Leave The North

Brighton Fringe review by Steve Bennett

This show is about where you take your cues from about what it means to be a man, and how these are often not helpful. We know this because Simon Topping – an emigré from Leyland in Lancashire –  says so at the start, very explicitly spoon-feeding the audience.

It doesn’t really need saying that these family tales are all about potentially toxic masculinity, which he has picked up from his no-nonsense grandfather, an archetypal Northerner who worked in the mills and would never think of displaying a feeling, or his emotionally stunted elder brother, an unreconstructed dickhead still obsessed with making jokes about homosexuality and hairy balls even into middle age.

Topping’s father died when he was five – that’s no spoiler, it’s also spelled out in the pre-amble – so these were his role models. Along with wrestler Big Daddy and Mr T’s A Team character BA Baracus. The 1970s were a confusing time for a boy into flowers and designing hats. Who wants to be a milliner, indeed…

Topping is an amiable and charming guide through these anecdotes, and there’s certainly a nub of a relevant issue a the heart of this show. But in so many ways, it’s a mess, in need of drastic edits in terms of cuts and direction. And even though this is designed as a kickback against the stereotypical taciturn Northerner never talking about feelings, Topping is still at arm’s length to his own.

The show’s heavily reliant on PowerPoint when it needn’t be – there’s only so much we can get from old family photos – and strangled by structural devices that get in the way, such as distinct chapters and the concept of his brother as a masked baddy, that’s fumbled and contrived.  

You could take a blue pencil to huge chunks of the show and only improve it, with routines about taking LSD or watching Hugh Scully era Antiques Roadshow having no place in the theme, without being funny enough to justify gratecrashing it. 

Because Topping is so likeable, and the central concept so vital, you’ll want this show to be stronger, but in the final reckoning, it’s too scrappy to land hits.

Review date: 14 May 2018
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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