Foil Arms and Hog – Swines | Edinburgh Fringe review by Jay Richardson
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Foil Arms and Hog – Swines

Edinburgh Fringe review by Jay Richardson

If there are two things that Foil Arms and Hog have in abundance, it’s stamina and cult following. The Irish sketch trio have been appearing at the Fringe for 11 successive years. And that dedication, in tandem with their YouTube profile, allows them to fill the roughly 900-seater McEwan Hall, despite little UK press coverage. Tellingly, one of the punters they pull on stage tonight is a returning customer from Pittsburgh.

What’s more, they really make the most of the space. With Foil (Sean Finnegan) as commentator and master of ceremonies, Arms (Conor McKenna) and Hog (Sean Flanagan) roam the seating banks, shepherding latecomers about and generally being a nuisance under the guise of being helpful. Extended crowd work, which they return to throughout the show, it’s first-rate, intuitive buffoonery that’s teasing but never cruel, and really endears them.

Revelling in their surroundings, they also really exploit their sign language interpreter, giving her her own visual gags, with an unrepentant Hog taking the chance to get a string of expletives gratuitously signed.

Unfortunately, the trio’s sketches are rarely on a par with their ad-libs and interactions. A running set-up of a stag do ill-advisedly staggering about some of the most inhospitable places on earth is leaden and predictable in its laddish, gung-ho spirit.

Even here though, they inadvertently stumble across some gold, their never-say-die commitment to an alcoholic sesh and generous bonhomie seeing them distribute about 100 cans to the front rows. Venue health and safety baulk at this and take counter-measures. But Hog fights them back. Bizarrely, this seemed to be a genuine point of contention between the performers and Underbelly staff, despite it occurring towards the end of their run.

A meta, mimed contest ‘world’s strongest man’ contest showcases Arms’ and Hog’s limber flexibility, the pair gurning, exerting great effort and childishly squabbling through their abstract jerks and lifts, the limitless possibilities for non-contact slapstick mined for lots of knockabout tomfoolery.

Never as physically expressive as his clownish fellows, Foil at least gets to demonstrate his verbal dexterity on a tub-thumping, traditional Irish song about Brexit and the difficulties of breaking up a relationship, racing through all of Britain’s erstwhile colonies with breathless panache – laying down a gauntlet to the poor signer, desperately striving to keep up.

Less impressive is the weaponising of Foil as a mincingly pseudy, luvvie actor, bewitching the gruff US spies who captured him with his capacity to immerse himself in character. A one-joke skit, in which the familiar archetype’s abilities are much less remarkable than everyone gives them credit for, it’s nevertheless a rare opportunity for the straightest member of the trio to act the fool.

Rather more on-brand is the unrecorded history of Beethoven’s pre-fame double-act, in which the composer is paired with the obliviously cloddish, and very Irish, Barry. Atop early demos of the Moonlight Sonata and Fifth Symphony, Foil and Arms trade in cod, refined Teutonic accents, while the talentless, tone-deaf Celt in their midst babbles on about biscuits and making cups of tea.


Fine as far as it goes, with a witty portent of the German genius’s hearing troubles to come, its strongest suit is nevertheless Arms’s enthusiasm for camp, a predilection he reprises in their closing number as the mammy of an oppressed son, belatedly breaking free of her apron strings.

With a nice mix of music, scripted and improv, the trio’s best work isolates the former and combines the latter two, with their most satisfying sketch featuring Arms and Hog, in the persona of dangerously precocious schoolchildren, once again wandering through the crowd and giving palpitations to their appropriateness-aware teacher.

It is perhaps disappointing that after more than a decade, the trio are still deploying the crashed cymbal get-out as an arbitrary, emergency pull to end their skits. Yet they clearly understand what their audience wants, and there’s regular amusement in this lively, rascally hour.

Review date: 25 Aug 2019
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson
Reviewed at: Underbelly Bristo Square

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