Paul Foot: Dissolve | Edinburgh Fringe comedy review
review star review star review star review star review star

Paul Foot: Dissolve

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review

Have you ever seen a comedy show where something was left unexplained? Where the performer didn’t make their thematic subtext, no matter how clever, explicit by the end? More than that, have you ever seen a show of killer gags that also hinted at a mystery beyond comprehension?

There aren’t many more established veterans of the Fringe than Paul Foot, a unique proposition who – without much in the way of TV or general media exposure – has built a nationwide following of fans (or ‘connoisseurs’) that has supported him for decades on the touring circuit. And that’s really without ever significantly changing his approach.

The spaniel-ear haircut, the strange clothes, the pecking and honking around the stage like a big weird bird; all probably put more people off than they attract, (accurately) marking him out as a purveyor of whimsical notions.

So there’s something especially exciting when someone like Foot experiences a personal revolution, although that term is perhaps too mild for the transformative nature of Foot’s recent experiences, as his extraordinary new show explains. For the first time ever, he’s talking openly to his audience about his life, his feelings and his interior state. The twists and revelations come thick and fast.

Not to give anything too major away, but one of the cornerstones of the show is that Foot has secretly suffered for three decades with extremely severe depression and anxiety. Suffered, that is, until one day in March last year, when his life changed forever in spectacular fashion.

But this is not any kind of straight storytelling show, and Foot is funnier and more daring than I’ve ever seen him, especially in a couple of brilliant satirical stretches that imagine the society we could create if we were able to start over again from first principles. ‘We’d keep the House of Lords, of course!’

Turning his hand to political and personal storytelling comedy, his decades of surreal specificity lends him a great imaginative sharpness, and he pulls the audience with him masterfully through a series of exhilarating handbrake turns.

Powerful, emotionally devastating quietness comes as he describes a life lived behind a pane of glass that wouldn’t admit a moment of happiness, and seconds later he’s barnstorming about the teenage problems of a young Tutankhamen or getting angry about an imagined Hinge date with Chuka Umunna, with some sections of the audience laughing so hard they’re about to leave their bodies.

Beyond the undeniable craft, pathos and hilarity, there’s something else that makes this show particularly special. Stand-up as a medium can do anything, but there are still under-explored territories out there, and mystery is perhaps the most fundamental.

At its core, Dissolve describes something that simply can’t be explained, by a comedian or anyone else. Foot leaves the audience on the precipice of something cosmic without telling them which way to jump, but offers an overwhelming sense of hope that makes most inspirational Fringe show wrap-ups feel calculated and flat.

Even more impressive that this final note of transcendent ambiguity has the audience leaping to their feet at the show’s end.

Review date: 11 Aug 2023
Reviewed by: Tim Harding
Reviewed at: Underbelly Cowgate

Live comedy picks

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.