Robert White: InstruMENTAL | Edinburgh Fringe comedy review by Jay Richardson
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Robert White: InstruMENTAL

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review by Jay Richardson

Robert White has talked about his unlikely conviction for a gun-related crime before on stage. But he makes this formative episode in his life the primary focus of this admirably ambitious show.

Presenting the tale as a comic mini-opera in which he plays the keyboard over pre-recorded samples and orchestral backing, this shift into narrative comedy affords a bit of chronological structure to his dizzying mixture of wordplay, throwaway prop gags, musical allusions and original songs.

With his breakneck introduction, in which he comprehensively rattles through his various afflictions, including depression, an eating disorder, dyslexia and the long-time undiagnosed Asperger's syndrome that was at the heart of his travails, his quarter-Welshness is conveyed by the leek that suddenly appears out of his trousers, with which he then proceeds to conduct his invisible orchestra, emblematic of the mishmash of visual and audio elements he's crashing together.

Conveying his former wretchedness through extreme similes pairing Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un, Boris Johnson and Robert Mugabe, White recounts how denial of his homosexuality led him into an abusive relationship with a woman. The humiliations and physical and mental harm his 'beard' visited upon him are rendered in a deceptively upbeat, romp-along song, including visual images such as him being force-fed potato salad that are a memorable blend of the absurd and horrifying.

Although White ultimately left the relationship, it continued to plague him and he conceived a foolhardy plan to confront his ex in a bizarre outfit with a terrible, prop-based pun, alas only thinking better of his vengeance just before he was spotted by the police.

As he tells it, he was fitted through a combination of his incriminating inability to pick up on social cues and appreciate the magnitude of trouble he was in, the authorities’ desire to make a misguided example of a vulnerable individual and his reluctance to ask his parents for help for fear of revealing his sexuality. He corrects this stumbling block now with a belting self-acceptance number, blasting through various weird and wonderful euphemisms for gay in a semi-ironic I Am What I Am-style toe-tapper.

He spent time in prison on remand and is very funny portraying the strange characters he met inside, even if he largely retreated into himself, writing a children's musical about a happy blue clown. A melody from it serves as an unstated theme in this score apparently, though that's just one of the finer details rather lost in the pell-mell snatches of pop music allusions, fart noises and a deliberately sampled-to-death pun about coming out to his father.

 InstruMENTAL is intermittently loaded with garbled hilarity, with no clanging moment ever lingering long enough to slow the show's incessant momentum or impact upon White's affecting journey. He arrives at an understanding for his ex, delivers damning asides about the prison system and a comes to fuller comprehension of his own demons. 

He provokes sympathy, despite the often airless, gasping-for-breath presentation that makes it difficult to keep up with sometimes.

Review date: 21 Aug 2017
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson

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