The Wrestling 2017 | Edinburgh Fringe comedy review by Steve Bennett
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The Wrestling 2017

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review by Steve Bennett

Oh, we all think we are so erudite, heading to the world's biggest arts festival in the hunt for the most cutting-edge performers on the cusp of the zeitgest.

But every two years comes along The Wrestling to remind us that just a tissue-thin veneer of sophistication separates an Edinburgh audience from a primal mob, yelling at brutal combatants like ancient savages.

And it's brilliant.

Seeing a large man propel himself off the top rope is a level of entertainment thrills that a twentysomething dweeb being sarcastic about the lad culture which excludes him is never going to compete with.

Each time The Wrestling comes around, even more madness is thrown into the, well, ring. This time the main event was a seven-way ladder match, the title belt suspended worryingly high in the Pleasance Grand rig. It might seem peculiar to be cheering a bit of hardware – but this is serious stuff.

However, we have two other clashes before that, plus the requisite build-up - starting with the full-on rock band that bought ring announcer Nick Helm into the spotlight with his booming trademark: 'Hello cocksuckers!'

Also returning were announcers Brendon Burns, representing evil, and Andrew Maxwell, for 'fair play and decency', roving reporter Matt Crosby #fakenews, plus Joe Lycett - keen to prove himself in the ring, picking up a storyline from 2015.

Could he? That decision was down to Wrestling CEO Sara Pascoe – carried shoulder-high into the arena by a troupe of chiselled, half-naked men following a teasing video featuring cameos by Jack Whitehall, Nicholas Parsons and Dara O Briain. No, she ruled, Lycett was too delicate to play with the big boys. Cue the pantomimed 'aaah' as the febrile crowd climbed on board.

Match one featured good guys Stuart Goldsmith, going by the monicker The Wresters' Wrestler; Jenny Bede as Equal Pain, her persona based on the wartime Rosie the Riveter posters; and real wrestler Dan 'The Hammer' Head.

Opposite them, the heals' team, under manager Johnny 'Soft Shoe' Kearns, comprised Reggie Bannon, the Trump-supporting alter-ego of John Hastings, alongside pros Zoe Lucas and the 33-stone Bulk.

Though you'd have thought the pros and the comedians would be mismatched, the funnymen showed quite the prowess. Wiry Goldsmith proved light on his feet and a little gymnastic, while Hastings waded in full-force, with a powerfully slamming The Hammerhead among many grapples. In the crowds, concerned hands went over mouths, among the hollers of support.

The teams might have been evenly matched, but the individuals weren't, with Bulk threw his entire frame on 5ft 4in Jenny Bede. That is a match-ending move, and 1-0 to the bad guys.

A short interlude next to mark the comeback of James 'James Acaster' Acaster – who was humiliatingly knocked out cold before getting to a match last time around.

A grand entrance, complete with dancing troupe dressed in the JA Collection of mismatching cords, jumpers and collared shirts brought him to the ring… where he was again bashed unconscious with a wince-inducing crash. Not even the 'expert' medical attention of Dr Steen Raskopoulos could bring him around

Next, a straight two-way pro match as Burns's Edinburgh flat-mate and show-mate Colt Cabana squared off against comic Tom 'Parry-lel Parker' Parry's contrived parking-attendant character, and his manager Lord Gideon Grey.

Again, Parry showed his mettle and put up a good fight, but Cabana's aerial manoeuvre left the traffic warden clamped to the ground.

And so to the main event, in which reigning champ Ivan 'El Guapo' Gonzalez had to defend his belt against not only his comedy double-act partner, the former wrestler Max Voltage (Max Olesker) but also Bridget 'The Executioner' Christie, Damien Worst (Richard Gadd), and pros Jody Fleisch and the Prince of Mumbai, Rishi Ghosh.

But who to replace the stricken Acaster? Step forward Joel 'So Fucking Famous' Dommett… and a few jibes from the commentary desk about his one-man sex tape. But the I'm A Celebrity heartthrobs buff physique and acrobatic back-flip into the ring soon silenced those quips.

For that's the main draw of The Wrestling: for all the insults and in-jokes, it places huge physical demands on its comics, who perform dangerous moves with very limited training… and that is bloody impressive. And potentially just bloody.

So the brawl began… a flurry of fists and fury as the wrestlers broke out into several scraps. Dommett with an early airborne display as he threw himself off the apron and into the double team of Gadd and Gonzalez. Gonzalez showed his own skills soon after with a foot to the face of Ghosh.

It may be the words of unfeminist fat-shamer to say so, but it looked as if the hooded figure of Christie put on a few extra pounds when she briefly disappeared from the ring, returning looking as if she weighed, oh, I don't know, 33 stone.

While fire and fury was being unleashed, the ladder was introduced to the ring, raising the jeopardy tenfold now gravity was a bigger factor. Dommett and Gadd pulled off an exceptionally well-choreographed bit of acrobatics with the ladder, leaving the later with a very sore red patch on his back that never faded.

At around this point, Burns, a die-hard wrestling fan, shed his bad-guy persona to express concern at how the untrained comics weren't executing the moves properly. Gonzalez seemed to crush Gadd's ribs when a roll went wrong, and when pros and comics alike started throwing themselves off the top rope and onto a crowd of wrestlers on the ground – not the ring –  below, the concern seemed genuine.

And that was before Gonzalez performed an incredible leap off the ladder on to the rest of them, a drop of maybe 12ft. AND HE IS NOT A WRESTLER. Jaw-dropping stuff.

Who was the last man standing after all this bone-crushing chaos? It was the figure in the – frankly a bit Klanny – hooded robes. Christie? No… for another duplicitous swap had taken place. And, laydeezandgentlemen, the new reigning champion of The Wrestling champion is none other than Mr Joe Lycett.

There are going to be some aching bodies in Edinburgh this morning, once the adrenaline has worn off. But all the comics will know that all their pain was in the service of another brilliant, unmissable night of A-grade, high-octane entertainment.

Click here for a gallery of photos from the night

Review date: 16 Aug 2017
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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