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Arthur Smith's Pissed-Up Chat Show

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

Don’t you hate it when gigs are disrupted by a mouthy drunk at the bar, not knowing his own volume or aware of people around him. Well, here it was not an intoxicated punter, but one of the performers, getting as trollied as he could before taking to the stage.

In any other environment, this would be grossly unprofessional – but that’s the very basis of Fringe legend Arthur Smith’s latest unconventional brainwave, a chat show in which every guest is drunk. Well, it was good enough for Oliver Reed and George Best, who’ve given us memorable TV moments while blotto, but can it be replicated on stage?

The show’s stated aim is to see if there’s any veritas in ‘in vino veritas’ – though I suspect the idea that pissed people are funny was the real driving force, even if that’s not always true, especially for the sober ones looking on.

Smith, resplendent in leprechaun-green suit, sets up some business around the interviews, seeking out great drinking stories from the crowd and introducing his deadpan foil, the resolutely sober Derek from the fictional Scottish Licensing Agency, to advise us of the dangers of alcohol, and to administer the breathalyser test to see how drunk the guests really are.

Tonight’s first guest was Bryony Kimmings, a performer who spent seven days drunk as part of a scientific and artistic experiment, and who crucially downed eight gins before taking to the stage. The lab experience gave her some interesting insight to the effects of alcohol, especially as she spent the week alone, and forms the basis of her Edinburgh show. Although she was perhaps slightly more frisky that she would have been stone-cold sober, the gin-soaked interview proceeded fairly normally.

Then, after Ronnie Golden’s perfectly apt song Drinking At Home, came our loud barfly, Bill Coles – an old Etonian, author and former tabloid journalist – and currently about 40 per cent proof. Getting sense out of him was a tall order; when Smith asked him to say ‘the Leith police dismisseth us’ to prove his lack of sobriety, all we got is three minutes of dead air as he tried to compose himself. Though to everyone’s surprise, he managed it – in the end. Nothing else coherent came out of his mouth, though, and the long pauses as his brain tried to process what was going on were awkward, and I still know virtually nothing about him or why he was there.

Though the structure of the show is sound, it’s far too dependent on the quality of the guests. Coles was terrible in that state, far from being in that Goldilocks Zone of perfect drunkenness – where inhibitions are lost, but not cognitive function. Truth is, you don’t need to pay £11.50 to see drunken incoherence in Edinburgh.

Some of the future guests – who include the likes of Hattie Hayridge, Simon Munnrey and Stewart Lee – might get the balance right. But since when has balance got anything to do with getting drunk?

Review date: 13 Aug 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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