Phil Ellis Is Ready For The Big Time | Edinburgh Fringe review by Steve Bennett
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Phil Ellis Is Ready For The Big Time

Note: This review is from 2018

Edinburgh Fringe review by Steve Bennett

Cheap props and trying-too-hard cheeriness made Phil Ellis a cult hit with the alleged children’s show Funz And Gamez – and that same low-rent spirit lies thick over his latest solo show.

The first time we see him he’s on DIY roller-skates, made by gaffer-taping two children’s skateboards to his shoes, and using some NHS-issue crutches for much-needed control. When he finally comes to what’s close to rest, he flails these sticks around like some knock-off malfunctioning Dalek. If this image of a graceless man trying to hold it all together with panic etched on his face as he glides uncontrollably towards a brick wall doesn’t make you laugh, you must be made of stone.

It’s a metaphor for his whole shtick, slapping on a cheery smile as he tries to keep the wheels on a chaotic show, comprising crappy magic tricks, incredibly niche impersonations (‘proud mechanic’ or ‘Latvian gentleman’), a book club featuring inappropriate reading material, and stilted crowd work.

He engineers further anarchy by charging one audience member with controlling the sound board, throwing in jingles at the appropriate time, but also setting the mood music for his anecdotes and sometimes changing it mid-tale. It becomes like an improv game as Ellis alters his storytelling tone to match the backing – even though ‘depressing’ is probably the default setting. Most of these peter out in any case, a bit of a blur between deliberately rubbish and actually so.

Through the desperate entertainment, we are afforded little peeks at the sad-sack life behind the showbiz glitz he tries to project – similar to the hopeless persona that’s worked so well for Johnny Vegas.

Ellis speaks about his financial woes that mean off-season holidays in Anglesey is all the vacation he can afford, while he’s still trying to get over the heartache of his divorce from Leanne so many years ago. Maybe dedicating an entire running section to the slow death of their romance via increasingly blunt text messages isn’t the best way to forget.

We end – almost – with a cheesy gameshow with a bleak twist, Ellis trying to bring Brucie-levels of upbeat enthusiasm to the table, however inappropriate that might be. The real finale comes when knowing references to the sort of tricks Edinburgh shows pull off climax in a gloriously over-the-top stunt that spills out of the venue. Didn’t he do well?

Review date: 24 Aug 2018
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: The Hive

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