Paul Foot: Dissolve at the Soho Theatre | Review of the comedian's Edinburgh hit, now on tour
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Paul Foot: Dissolve at the Soho Theatre

Review of the comedian's Edinburgh hit, now on tour

At a time when every comedian, it seems, is talking about their mental health challenges on stage, along comes Paul Foot to buck the trend. And not for the first time, given that ‘peculiar outsider’ has always been his position.

Yet amid a landscape of stand-ups sharing their trauma, here is to tell us he’s doing grand, thanks. That’s not always been the case by any stretch, but in a major, spontaneous epiphany two years ago, the substantial weight of his troubles was suddenly lifted from his shoulders. He is, for the first time in his five decades on Earth, happy.

On the precise details of what magical transformation came over him on the outskirts of Manchester on March 20, 2022, he’s tantalisingly vague, again standing in contrast to comics who signpost every emotion. But without going into the finer points, there was clearly some major emotional trauma before this point.

Putting anything of his real life into his work is a major departure for this veteran absurdist. Foot’s act has previously involved a series of ‘disturbances’, strange non-sequiturs illustrated with surreal drawings, created when his mind was disordered. In Dissolve, there is just one of these.

Neither inner tranquility, not the notes of personal reflection he has added to his symphony of strangeness, have dulled his comic invention. Quite the opposite, in fact.

His style is still highly strung and off-the-wall, as he gets ever-more animated about the increasingly fantastical series of ‘what ifs’ he imagines. He still struts the stage – and the auditorium – like an ostrich with ADHD, but that strangely exaggerated, nervy style is now at delightful odds with the emotional reality at the heart of this show.

There’s a flick of wider politics as he sarcastically champions the House Of Lords as a cornerstone of any society or mocks the oxymoronic title ‘equality tsar’ while other routines are more fanciful, such as imagining an alternate-reality version of Christianity.

These digressions seem to have very little to do with the central story, yet vacillating between these chunks of content work well. Indeed, when he shares a childhood bird-based metaphor that does speak to his personal journey, Foot’s joke is just how clunky it all is.

Yet there are undercurrents that link all this together. While he artfully, elaborately parodies the ‘anti-woke’ brigade of 57-year-old white men for their resistance to change, you can’t help but be reminded that it was a cataclysmic change of his own inner monologue that so altered his life for the better.

Watching a comedy show can’t hope to be so transformative, but Dissolve is definitely a tonic, whether showing that there can be an end to emotional trauma, or more simply laughing at the absurdities of society.

Paul Foot: Dissolve is at London’s Soho Theatre until Saturday, then tours the UK until May. Paul​ Foot tour dates.

» Read a five-star review of the same show from last year’s Fringe by Chortle’s Tim Harding

Review date: 19 Feb 2024
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Soho Theatre

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