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Tom Rosenthal: благодаря

Note: This review is from 2013

Review by Steve Bennett

Two years ago, Tom Rosenthal made his Edinburgh debut with an ambitious show about privilege, with complex arguments, bold iconoclasm and imaginative gimmicks, such as splitting the audience into two social classes and a unabashedly highbrow PowerPoint presentation.

One ITV2 hit, Plebs, and another series of Friday Night Dinner later, and the smart young comic is back with a much more traditional stand-up show, a travel-based story for which the only contrivance is the title. ‘Unnecessarily problematic,’ the Fringe office called its use of the Cyrillic script.

The title is from Bulgaria, which stands in for Ancient Rome in Plebs. It’s a country which isn’t blessed with consumer choice, where politeness is considered a weakness, and where football hooliganism is alive and well, and bizarrely inspired by the English crews of the Eighties. That’s how Rosenthal describes it, at least, and it might seem exaggerated – but there are a few Bulgarians in tonight, and they nod vigorously with every passing reference.

Over the hour, the self-confessed ‘vain, pretentious and pedantic’ comic wittily describes his trips out of his comfort zone, to dodgy criminal discos, traditional if badly-run banquets and a football match where violence hangs heavy in the air, and all he has for protection is his dim mate Sparky, more likely to provoke trouble than prevent it.

Fastidious, educated and rather fretful, Rosenthal has similar comic rhythms to Mark Watson in his storytelling. It’s not quite self-deprecating, but gives voice to his insecurities about fitting into an alien culture – insecurities which are certainly heightened when surrounded by menacing football yobs whom he feels are ready to pounce should he make one false move.

He spins a decent yarn, with plenty of solid,droll laughs from the unusual situations. In parking his previous audacity, he has proved a rock-solid comic and the adventures are more than the stand-up equivalent sharing holiday snaps. But it is a couple of set pieces, almost incidental to the main story, that stand out.

The first is the culmination of a running gag about the way he looks, able to pass himself off as a cathedral gargoyle in a convincing and peculiarly in-your-face way; the second concerns the arrival of uber-Cockney Danny Dyer on the Plebs set, where he played a gladiator. Again Rosenthal is out of his depth with a man so confidently ‘alpha’; but the pay-off to Dyer’s involvement in the story is an hilarious video postscript, worth sticking around for.

Review date: 3 Aug 2013
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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