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Brian Gittins: Roadside Cafe Owner

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

Brian Gittins comes not only endorsed by Ricky Gervais, but influenced by him too. There’s more than a shade of David Brent in the nervous giggle this deluded roadside café owner emits every time a line leaves nothing but awkward silence.

But fear not, that awkwardness is all part of the character; an enthusiastic but steadfastly amateur entertainer who has given himself five years to rise from the van beside the A23 to the London Palladium. This is year four.

There’s an endearing pathos to his unrealistic dreams, and in the detail of his back story at the greasy spoon once described as ‘probably the best roadside café in a 12-mile radius of Pyecombe’.

Alongside this detailed character work, Gittins’ creator David Earl strives toward the sort of manically surreal Knockabout nonsense best executed by Vic & Bob as he plays daft musical games, doles out non-sequitur knock-knock non-jokes, and shares with us his badly-drawn sketches.

It is a bit of a jumble, treading that line between parodying cheesy, under-prepared entertainment and being it – and sometimes stumbling. The much-trailed musical finale, especially, is a disappointment: a self-indulgent tale about the trials of the festival, featuring home-made puppets and Gittins growling out cover versions in a voice that’s as gravelly as the lay-by where his dining establishment is found.

Yet there’s a lot of joy in the segments that work. He amiably draws the audience in to unthreatening interaction, while the only possible reaction to the sheer rank stupidity of some of his random diversions is to chuckle.

His spirited, if idiosyncratic, take on the Hokey Cokey is simply one of the most hilarious, and bonkers,scenes you’ll see on the Fringe, inducing helpless tears of laughter. He drives the madness relentlessly, audaciously ratcheting up the unbelievable bizarreness of the situation to great effect.

It’s a fantastic segment he can’t manage to top, and the 15 minutes that follow it seem dull in comparison. But if he can tap into that carefree spirit of fun more consistently, Gittins could be on his way towards filling the Paladium; he just might have to readjust his deadline.

Review date: 12 Aug 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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