Dissecting the Fringe: Edinburgh Diary
The one-person character-and/or-sketch show is a formidably versatile vehicle, as demonstrated by Douglas Walker’s Möglich and Daniel Nils Roberts’ Asp.
Walker’s is the more theatrically accomplished of the two. His improv background shows in the precise characterisations and range of accents, accompanied by a relatively sophisticated lighting design. Between the sketches the stage is strongly back-lit, with Walker telling short jokes in almost total darkness; the same effect is also employed very effectively in one of the sketches where a journalist recounts his ordeal at the hands of kidnappers.
The most effective sketches – an intrusive psychiatrist, a lollipop man facing a crisis of confidence, and an elaborate set-up for a wonderfully contrived pun – come at the end of the show, following some less interesting ideas in the first half-hour. Each of these sketches is quite involved and demands a certain commitment on the part of the audience – for instance, the journalist sketch has no jokes for well over a minute – and perhaps Walker was reluctant to risk these too early. As a result, Möglich has a rather lop-sided feel of a very accomplished performer and writer who is perhaps a little tentative in how he approaches a fifty-minute show.
Asp has a less ambitious range of characters, and overall feels more like a work in progress. Roberts relies heavily on powerpoint slides, which can be inventive but sometimes feel like a crutch for characters who have not been developed in enough detail. A sketch character need not have a fully worked out backstory, but – to take one example - the UNICEF representative is so ill-informed about his job and the organisation he works for that the sketch feels somewhat pointless. Even the more successful sketches, such as the bellicose army cook, work because of individual jokes rather than a carefully-developed character or plot. Where Asp shows the most promise is in left-field touches such as the recurring theme of things seen or described from a bear’s point of view – not all of these work, but the Shakespearean reference he contrives is a delight, showing how effective his more lo-fi approach can be.