James Bennison

James Bennison

James Bennison: How To Be A Winner

Note: This review is from 2017

Brighton Fringe comedy review by Steve Bennett

James Bennison must have been watching a hell of a lot of Challenge TV for his latest show, which recreates some of the cheesiest game shows of the past 30 years. So don’t go expecting intellectual enlightenment.

The format plays to his talents, requiring him to ramp up the jovial energy – even in this thin-on-the-ground fringe audience – and cajole us into being contestants, sidekicks or a braying mob. How To Be A Winner is no passive experience; as Bennison points out, it’s ‘the most interactive show that claims to be comedy’ around.  But from within his gold sequinned jacket, he channels every upbeat holiday rep going, with his confident bonhomie getting the job done.

Bygone trash TV may tap into a welcome nostalgia, as plenty of other producers have already noticed. Dave Benson Phillips has revived Get Your Own Back as a live show, and Knightmare Live has used the original children’s series for a knowing theatrical remake, adding plenty of ironic nods while maintaining the fun of the original. 

Both these are among the 16 possible genes that could feature in How To Be A Winner. Four of them are selected by a wheel of fortune (renamed, as so many of the components of this show are, to avoid a copyright claim) for each night’s show.

It’s a bit unfortunate, then, that first out of the gate today is Bennison’s version of Knightmare, in  which our bold adventurer must avoid certain random death while wearing a bucket on his head. The set-up’s good, but the limitations of the original soon become the limitations of this rehash, too, and without any TV magic to cover it, this becomes an over-long segment that doesn’t bear comparison with the official stage reboot.

Limitations also become very apparent on Play Your Cards Right, which even Bennison seems to lose faith in, How this ridiculously simple game of ‘higher or lower’ ever became a staple of primetime entertainment is a mystery. It certainly shows Bruce Forsyth must have earned his money. 

These games depend rather too heavily on watching things on a screen, especially the non-random cards of this version of Play Your Cards Right. The other two segments tonight – Blankety Blank and Supermarket Sweep – fare all the better for taking place entirely in the room, getting everyone involved in the shenanigans.

The whole show is shlocky and cheerfully low-rent – adjectives that apply to the host as much as the games – yet is fun precisely because it is so tacky. Some of tonight’s segments could certainly have been tightened up without losing that lo-fi appeal, but as Bennison acknowledges, it’s hard to test this stuff out without an audience.

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Published: 9 May 2017


Past Shows

Edinburgh Fringe 2017

James Bennison: How to be a Winner


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