Chris Grace: As Scarlett Johansson | Edinburgh Fringe comedy review
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Chris Grace: As Scarlett Johansson

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review

Chris Grace is a fat, gay, 50-year-old Chinese comedian, so the very suggestion that he could play the stunning blonde Danish-American superstar Scarlett Johannson with any level of conviction is, of course, inherently ridiculous. When he dons the wig and Black Widow catsuit, the image is preposterous, even before he clumsily, half-heartedly attempts the gymnastic stunts.

Yet Johannson playing an essentially Japanese character, as she did in the manga-inspired Ghost In The Shell, well that’s absolutely fine…

Such ‘whitewashing’ in casting is what this ambitious and tricksy, show aims to confront, with intelligence, sarcasm and dizzying levels of meta-comedy. The show, which he insists comes from a place of ‘respect and allegiance’ for Johannson starts and restarts, the preamble and even the pre-show announcement are given new twists. In the end the character that Grace ends up playing is a Russian doll, as this becomes a show within a show within a show to several iterations.

He seems unassuming, mildly self-effacing but with a wry, whimsical wit underpinned with a sharp, questioning intelligence.  The elegantly composed show keeps you guessing with its twists and turns, laced with silly lines snuck into serious points, and gentle but pointed mocking of the likes of Johannson’s awful musical venture and the manipulative emotional shortcut of the laziest ‘dead mum’ comedy shows.

Grace also examines his own role as an Asian-America man trying to make it in Hollywood,  the high point of which to date is the recurring role of Jerry in NBC sitcom Superstore. He covers the horrifying advice his drama-school teacher gave him, as well as questions about his own ethnic authenticity. He speaks not a word of Mandarin and Grace is an adopted name, an anglicised one. At one point, he recreates the sort of hack stand-up he used to do, drawing on every stereotype of his identity components.

Do you have to pander to get on? Are things not changing for Asian representation with the likes of Parasite and Beef? There are knotty issues here and the comic offers no easy answers, for there are none.

Yes, in an ideal world, any actor should be able to play any part since make-believe is their job description. But we’re not there yet. A lack of a tidy conclusion does rob this more theatrical of the Fringe’s stand-up shows of a rewarding, defining  finale – but nonetheless it leaves the audience with plenty of food for thought.

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Review date: 5 Aug 2023
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Assembly George Square

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