Simon Evans: The Work Of The Devil | Edinburgh Fringe comedy review
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Simon Evans: The Work Of The Devil

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review

Simon Evans has never worn his heart on his sleeve, so when this esteemed circuit and Radio 4 veteran announces his show contains a profound personal revelation that caused him to reassess certainties about his life, you take note.

In truth, he’s probably overselling the emotional impact of the disclosure on the audience – even misdirecting us to think it’s something more life-changing than it is. But for the narrative arc of the hour, it’s a pivot M Night Shyamalan would be proud of, casting the first half in a fascinating new light thanks to the clues Evans cleverly seeded therein and spinning the story into an unexpected new direction.

That first half sees the comedian at his patrician best, playing up the middle-aged, well-educated, white old duffer shtick, leaving the audience guessing just how reactionary he might be. He has a superiority complex, that’s for sure, which he ascribes to being an only child.

Hand-in-glove with his slightly condescending demeanour comes some elegant writing. Wine, for example, is described as ‘the trampled grape’, or the celebrity death toll of 2016 likened to God’s croupier clearing the table - yet it feels natural, not artificially florid in a Russell Brandy way.

Evans likes flirting with the expectations of what people expect from his aloof, traditionalist demeanour. Is he really going to do a joke about an Englishman, a Welshman and a Pakistani going into a hospital? Yes he is… but it doesn’t pan out quite the way you might expect. 

Likewise, he raises questions about identity politics and transgender rights, but it shouldn’t offend anyone but the most easily triggered. Although he does admit to possessing ‘robust opinions that might come back to Bite Me on the arse’.

Evans is aware that now he’s over 50 new social ideas, like new inventions, will baffle him. The title comes from his comic hero Douglas Adams’ theory of three ages of technology that can be paraphrased as: stuff invented before adolescence you assume has always been there, stuff invented between 15 and 35 is exciting and you can master, stuff invented later is ‘against the natural order of things’.

Closer to home, he turns his curmudgeonly eye to status-symbol watches, football and mid-life forgetfulness… the latter of which prompted him to get blood tests lest it has a medical cause. It is the results of those which trigger his reassessment of all he thought was certain.

The subsequent material is fascinating and as eloquently told as the rest of it. Laughs are in shorter supply, but by this point we’re caught up in a story that prompts little ‘a-ha’ moments every few beats, as Evavns puts a new perspective on the more comic first two-thirds. 

It’s deeply satisfying how the comic ties up ideas and throws out new ones, and when it’s over you almost want to go back and watch the show again, knowing now what you didn’t then.

The Work Of The Devil is a sophisticated, rewarding show that, I’m afraid to report, justifies his sense of superiority. 

Simon Evans: The Work Of The Devil is on at Assembly George Square Gardens at 8.30pm until August 22, then on tour.

Review date: 17 Aug 2021
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Assembly George Square

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