Richard Gadd's Monkey See Monkey Do is earning well-deserved standing ovations in Edinburgh – review

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Richard Gadd's Monkey See Monkey Do is comedy-as-personal-catharsis taken to a whole new level
Richard Gadd's Monkey See Monkey Do is comedy-as-personal-catharsis taken to a whole new level

Last year, in Waiting for Gaddot, the then 25-year-old Richard Gadd served up the funniest and most deranged hour of comedy at the Fringe, but also one that in some ways was closer to absurdist theatre than traditional stand-up (after all, he didn’t even appear live on stage until the thing was almost over, nearly missing his own show). Remarkably, his new hour – Monkey See Monkey Do – is stranger and more bracing still.

As in 2015, it wouldn’t do to give too much away: surprise is a vital factor. But what one can say is that this latest creation reveals how poor Gadd has, in the broadest emotional sense, been “missing his own show” for some time.

Richard Gadd's Monkey See Monkey Do potently sucks you into a very troubled mind

It begins with him being beaten senseless by a huge primate – the psychological “monkey” on his back. The majority of the set then involves him running flat-out on a treadmill and interacting superbly with a barrage of intricately spliced pre-recorded footage, while he progressively shares his attempts to come to terms with his ocean of masculinity-related insecurities and ultimately reveals the event that generated them.

It is, be warned, strong stuff, a show that progressively and potently sucks you into a very troubled mind, while the closing section is an almost laughter-free personal revelation of an intensity, and involving a subject, that I have never before seen in a show billed as comedy.

As last year, though, the young Scott’s charisma and commitment to his art are extraordinary, while he emerges as a decidedly lovable figure. Plumbing and sharing your deepest, darkest kernals of self-doubt, in an entirely original, utterly candid and constantly riveting way – and all while ploughing away for 45 minutes solid on an actual, but also richly symbolic, running-machine – is no small achievement.

Small wonder, the night I saw him, he earned a unanimous standing ovation from an audience at his microscopic (and utterly super) Free Fringe venue that included showbiz names such as Angus Deayton, Anneka Rice and Neil Pearson. Seldom, indeed, will you encounter such an intoxicating sense of a charged collective huddle at a Fringe show.

Although often very funny, Monkey See Monkey Do is by no means as consistently so as some other offerings at this year’s Fringe, that closing chapter especially. But this is comedy-as-personal-catharsis taken to a whole new level, and it confirms Gadd as a true one-off with what could well be a glittering future ahead of him.

Until August 28. Tickets: edfringe.com

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