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An Audience With Harry Deansway
The Aces and Eights
26th August 2016

★★★☆☆

Mike Shephard

Photography provided by the Camden Fringe

Given the increasing frequency of shows over-running with a knock-on impact to scheduling, we're not quite sure whether Harry Deansway is indeed running behind with his preparations, or if the shambles is all a deliberate part of the act. As he disappears off-stage to retrieve another prop after first making yet a throwaway glum comment about the evening ahead of us, an ex-reviewer's girlfriend begs him to relocate them from the front, worried they'll become a part of the show (spoiler alert: they do). As for the rest of us (current reviewer included), we exchange worried glances. What exactly have we let ourselves in for with An Audience With Harry Deansway?

To say Deansway is an acquired taste is probably putting it mildly. He's a bit like Dylan Moran on happy pills, with natural snark tempered with far more natural apathy. His bark's worse than his bite and he can't really be bothered barking that much. Deansway describes his style of comedy as "nervous breakdown cabaret" which is a fairly accurate and neat way of doing so. It may sound a bit odd and/or off-putting, but there is something genuinely compelling about the comedian. Previous character shows haven't gone down well by his own admission, however sticking to this caricature of himself does draw us in.

Over the course of the 45-minute set, Deansway sings for us against a depressingly upbeat melody (think Phoenix Nights, it's that level of pizzazz) and tells us of some of his less successful moments in life. He's managed to get himself sacked an impressive number of times, he's been sued, financially wrecked and watched his ex-girlfriend watch his gig with a rapidly growing hate, much like the ex-reviewer in that night. Having picked up on one of the critics in the room, he works this into his show, with the other punters enjoying his apparent discomfort with a sickening glee. As with the entire night, we're never quite sure how much is real and how much is part of the joke, and this inability to determine whether Deansway is toying with us or actually having a nervous breakdown creates a very real, funny and frankly horrible type of humour. We shouldn't be enjoying ourselves and yet we are.

Audience participation is always tricky during a festival - you don't know how many people will turn up and how willing they will be to play along. Deansway preempts this by writing the material for his own Q&A session, which has mixed results. Some of his pre-written questions push the audience a bit too far and they refuse to play along. Certainly his "blue comedy" seems to be the least favourably received material. It turns out that the room doesn't want to hear Deansway making sex jokes, rather they want to hear tales of awful things that have happened to him. Sometimes I wonder if the Germans coined Schadenfraude from observing how we behave over here.

There's something curiously likeable about Deansway. Whilst his special niche genre of nervous breakdown cabaret won't be for everyone, there's certainly a place for his work on the comedy circuit. Bizarrely entertaining.

An Audience With Harry Deansway ran from 22nd to 28th August 2016 at the Aces and Eights, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Tufnell Park (Northern)



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