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Martha McBrier: So You Think You're A Good Heckler
With the gutsiest title of any show at the Fringe, Martha announces a call to arms to anyone brave – or stupid –– enough to take her on.
With Martha’s remarkable ability to banter and improvise with the audience, no two shows will be quite the same, and no would-be heckler will be left unscathed.
From the moment the boisterous group of South Africans took every seat on the front row, I had a bad feeling about this late-night gig. Intimidatingly huge men were acting with the childlike over-excitement – possibly beer-induced - of people who had never been to a comedy night before, exchanging loud jokes with each other in Dutch, and generally playing up, even talking into the microphone before the show started. This, by most reckonings, would be a tough gig – but that’s what you get when your very title encourages hecklers.
But I’d reckoned without Martha McBrier. A handful of burly rugby fans would prove no match for one petite Scottish blonde.
She brought them quickly and impressively into line. She was assertive, but not bullying; put them down, but let them have their say. No one was humiliated, no one felt awkward, but within moments the show was on track. The group that had threatened to dominate the hour now just participated, the flashpoint energy nicely contained.
When it comes to working a room, McBrier is one of the best in the business. I can’t envisage any crowd she’d have any trouble with, from a rowdy comedy club to a bored TV studio audience. Whatever’s thrown at her, she rolls with the punches and incorporates it in her effortless banter.
Like a primary school headteacher she lets her charges have their fun, but there’s no doubting who’s in control, and who’s setting the agenda But very few headteachers pepper their language with quite as many expletives as she does.
This show doesn’t actually encourage heckling as such – certainly not the tedious outbursts of drunken halfwits the term usually implies. But we are encouraged to participate.
About midway through, she eases off the adlibbing and starts employing her material, although even now the interaction continues as we get to vote on each of her jokes, through the mechanic of the thumbs-up or thumbs-down, rather than premium-rate phone line.
It’s here, once she abandons that virtuoso display of crowd banter, that the show becomes less assured. Most of her jokes pass the screening process, but I think we’ve been over-generous, maybe out of fear of the crazy Scotswoman. Her prepared material is little more than a series of puns and wordplay, with decidedly dodgy results. But it doesn’t matter that much, by now we’ve all decided we’re impressed with her.
A finale makes light of the brain tumour McBrier was diagnosed with just before she came to the Fringe. She reassures us it’ll all be OK, as it’s non-malignant, and a medical procedure will remove it soon. Mind you, with her gift of the gab, she’ll probably just talk the tumour out of her head.
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
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