16 August 2009

Phil Nichol – A Deadpan Poet Sings Quiet Songs Quietly...


After belatedly winning the inaugural If.com Eddie Award, Phil Nichol moved up to The Stand 1 (or Main Space) with a Rolling Stones show called Hiro Worship. It worked well and was a good show but it took away a lot of his brilliance by using that venue. Last year he did a best of show which just highlighted how his style doesn't suit such a wide disrupted space. Selfishly I was delighted to see him return back to the tiny Stand II (only 50 seats) to perform his new show. It turns out though that Phil Nichol is not in this show, but Bobby Spade is the star, a poet with some musical ability. And therein lies the problem. This show should not be branded Phil Nichol but rather Bobby Spade, just like when Rich Hall created Otis Lee Crenshaw he did all his advertising under that name – and quite rightly so! I think Phil Nichol should have done the same thing as it would have been a more accurate reflection of his show. It also would have caused the mother of all debates, as to whether Bobby Spade could go on to win the Edinburgh Comedy Award this year as it was Phil Nichol and not Bobby Spade that won it a few years ago. Given the precedent of Otis Lee Crenshaw winning despite Rich Hall being an established star, I can only assume that Bobby Spade would have been eligible and would give Rhod Gilbert and the Pajama Men a serious run for their money.
As it stands (no pun intended, there are enough of them in this show), this is a mute point and the only thing we do with this show is admire the brilliance of Phil Nichol and the first time he has managed to combine his humour, musical abilities and acting abilities to create an unbelievable show (and it is a show, much more than a simple set). The songs and beat poems Bobby performs put Tim Minchin to shame, the atmosphere and character acting could easily be part of some dark play and the humour is constant and from all angles. Briefly in a few songs you see Bobby's eyes light up like the Incredible Hulk and you know the manic Phil Nichol is burning within, waiting to get out, but he controls it masterfully. It's perfect and comparable to the Naked Racist and Nearly Gay (although it is probably just below the pair of them on the greatness scale).
Before giving Phil an inevitable 10 out of 10, it's interesting to look at the other reviews of his show. Kate Copstick, who admittedly got me hooked on Phil Nichol like a junkie in the first place, aptly sums him and Bobby Spade in her review giving him a flawless score. On the other hand I don't think Steve Bennett over at Chortle quite “gets” Phil Nichol's brilliance. He has given this show three stars and Hiro Worship four stars. This is easily better than Hiro. Furthermore he gave Naked Racist five stars when he reviewed it in Brighton, a few months after Phil had won the ex-Perrier - did he not want to see it before other people make a decision on it?. His best show, Nearly Gay, was only given four stars before being inexplicably looked over for the Perrier (when Laura Solon won it) and anyone who has seen both shows will testify that Nearly Gay edges the title of best show (ever). Don't get me wrong I think Steve Bennett knows his stuff and is a very tough reviewer (he has given both Rhod Gilbert and Pajama Men only four stars this year) but when he gives five stars to Adam Hills for his Edinburgh Fringe 2009 (reviewed in his native Australia in April...) and comment that he overran by nearly half an hour and coaxed the audience into singing someone Happy Birthday which was a little bit trite (paraphrase), or Josh Howie's strong-but-not perfect show last year, it makes the lower ratings for Phil Nichol seem a shade confused.
When he lets himself out, he is the finest comic performer to come to Edinburgh in a decade plus. He deserves a kind of Larry David show, perhaps Curb Your Manicness. No wonder it keeps getting referenced that he was actually born in Scotland, I'm just so honoured to have met him a few times. When you finally do see him you'll wonder just how lived in a world where he didn't exist. Perfect, Incomparable and a Genius – 10 out of 10 giving him a five-star-system-busting six stars.