Cheaper Than Therapy

Cheaper Than Therapy at Edinburgh Fringe 2014

Just The Tonic
The Little Kirk
11.05pm until 24th August
Reviewed 6th August
3 stars

The Little Kirk has produced a pretty intense venue. It’s a sweatbox of a pressure cooker of a petri dish of a room. One performer described it as a disabled toilet, which would be true were disabled toilets autoclavic.

It’s small, hot, brightly lit, and sterile white is what I’m getting at. It’s almost the embodiment of Sylvia Plath’s description of depression and ennui: “I saw the days of the year stretching ahead like a series of bright, white boxes.”

I can’t imagine a more appropriate setting for the subject.

Serious mental illness is the name of the game at Cheaper Than Therapy. Serious mental illness, and chuckles. A nightly-changing cast of comedians riff on their experiences with “anxieties, hang-ups and phobias”, (which sounds like every stand-up gig since a sad clown first caked himself in kohl and addressed an audience with the ancient Sumerian equivalent of “take my wife – please”).

It could be a cheap and insensitive gimmick. Frankly, I was worried that the whole thing would veer off into cliche territory. One-liners about OCD, etc etc.

There are certainly elements of that, but what surprised me was how confessional and deeply serious some of the performers were. Not dour, mind – when Stuart Goldsmith deadpanned “I have problems with depression” it was genuinely funny. But there’s an earnestness to the evening that justifies its support of the Scottish Association for Mental Health.

Goldsmith opened with what was the standout set, largely a meditation on his adventures in therapy. He was followed by the sweetly awkward Conor O’Toole, the most unintentionally stereotypical Irish human being I’ve ever encountered and one who’s sure to be a Edinburgh fixture in the future. Alistair Green had me simultaneously concerned for his wellbeing and laughing at his hopeless existence. In all three I saw the humour and pathos that I was hoping for from the night, and I’d gladly see any of them again.

Michael Legge was the headliner of the night, and that was somewhat problematic. Although he managed to pull through with a combination of skill, experience and sheer verve, it was very clear that Legge hadn’t prepared anything particular for the set. Nor was his chosen material really relevant or rehearsed. His current partner-in-crime, Robin Ince, probably didn’t help by shouting from the back of the room and at one point invading the stage. The result was a shouty, messy set that felt flat at the end of the night.

Having said that, most of the performers could benefit from some tighter material. O’Toole in particular has a great piece about a Mr. Men book that will benefit from some polishing. Cheaper Than Therapy is a solid late-night choice in its current format; if it were to evolve into something more dedicated in the future it could be a great one.

EU < Patrick

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