Most (sensible) people hide their embarrassing moments from when they were teenagers. They may show a special few some unflattering photos, perhaps even a scandalous diary entry (well, you thought it was scandalous at the time). But Charly Clive and Ellen Robertson have taken bashful nostalgia to the next level by showing all their footage to a live audience every night at the Bedlam Theatre.

After presenting the Guardian-recommended show Britney at the Festival Fringe in 2016, the duo is back with John: a retelling of a real-life road trip across the USA during their gap years. They embark on the adventure of a lifetime across a country full of gun-toting, god-fearing, headline-grabbing maniacs, in search of the typical American man; in search of founding father John Hancock. As overconfident and woefully underprepared 18-year-olds, the pair came up with blurred shots, and excruciatingly loud audio in their film. In fact, there were some painfully awkward and uncomfortable interviews – to the audience’s sympathy and delight.

a touching, sharp, and constantly funny retelling of a story that makes one of the most unique comedies at the Fringe

This show combats the challenge of using multimedia by making every use of music and video relevant and punchy. The atmosphere instantly transports us back to the doe-eyed teens’ trip across America: with blazing red and blue washes and American anthems to warm us up. The sketches or ‘dream sequences’ fluidly fold in and out of moments of outlandish characters, re-enactments of real-life incidences on their trip and moments of sincere and captivating story-telling. Without quoting any spoilers, one of the most comical features of the play is the use of verbatim quotes for self-effacing hilarity. It does make you wonder: “how do I have any friends after saying stuff like that?” Because if you’re being brutally honest with yourself: you were just as bad as they were.

John covers all the bases of adolescence we like to pretend didn’t happen, such as constant white lies, ignorance, and arrogance. The show is a truly unique comedy, in that it is difficult to place whether it’s sketch, comic vignettes or stand-up; as the duo master each and all of the genres. It is also irresistible to poke some fun at the ‘John Hancocks’ they meet along the way: a family of multiple John Hancocks; including a gun-fanatic whom they become enamoured with and the grave they thought to be the founding fathers’ (to later find he was born 70 years after the Declaration of Independence was even signed).

After watching Ellen and Charly’s footage of their 2011 journey across the USA by Greyhound Bus, you might rethink deleting all your distressingly cringe-worthy material. With the assistance of this material, Charly and Ellen created a touching, sharp, and constantly funny retelling of a story that makes one of the most unique comedies at the Fringe.


Britney in: John is playing at the Edinburgh Fringe, tickets available here.

Image: Britney In: John

Tara Carlin has just graduated from UCL with a degree in English. She has written for the Financial Times, Financial Adviser, and Savage Online. She is an actor and director and has recently set up a theatre company named Shakespeare’s Sister.

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