Rhod Gilbert's 1984

Note: This review is from 2005

Review by Steve Bennett

Rhod Gilbert’s first Edinburgh show may be named after a time, but it’s really all about place. He has created his own surreal, cut-off world; a Welsh Royston Vasey in which all the warped, grotesque inhabitants are members of his own family.

‘This is not a happy show,’ he quickly tells us in his rich, mellifluous but intrinsically depressing Welsh brogue. George Orwell predicted a bleak 1984, but Rhod claims his childhood in Llanbobble was much worse than anything Winston Smith ever  had  to endure.

His gran was horifically injured, and that was even before  the brutal  pancreas incident, his parents’ marriage threatened by a  mystery suitor, there was a horrific board-game related murder in the neighbourhood… and he never got the birthday presents he wanted.

This is, clearly, simple a collection of weird and wonderful stories from Gilbert’s vivid, and wonderfully unconventional imagination. It’s not so much stand-up comedy- although there are a few cursory acknowledgements of the conventions of the genre  in which he usually works - as sit-down storytelling.

His distinctive approach, stylishly written, proves a gentle, quiet delight. His tall tales are told in a downbeat style as his youthful naivety inevitably leads to sadness and disappointment. Misery which is, of course, very funny.

Despite Gilbert’s many strengths, he can’t  quite pull off all the episodes in this unique family saga.  It’s those ideas that are at least loosely tethered to reality that work best; those that, although clearly ridiculous, might possibly have happened. Home-made board games are one thing, time machines quite another.

Still, Gilbert has a brilliant knack of twisting his tales, always surprising the audience by spiralling off into directions they cannot foresee. And the slow, deliberate rhythms of his delivery help, too, always teasing us by revealing new information one drip at a time until the whole, strange picture emerges.

This is a confident, engaging debut from a comic now  laying down the sturdy foundations of a style he  can call  his  own.

Review date: 1 Jan 2005
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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