If there’s been a theme to this year’s festival fringe, it’s probably been ‘topical’ political satires. And, by and large, it’s of a low quality: cheap gimmicks to capture the attention of a largely left-wing audience. However, buried beneath the predictably awful Brexit: The Musical (and literally dozens of shows about Trump) lies the riotously funny nugget of stand-up and sketch comedy: How We Stop the Fascists.
Self-styled “Greatest Actress of [her] Generation” Anna Mann (Colin Hoult) is out to solve the world’s problems one by one, and next in her firing line is Donald Trump, the alt-right, her yoga teacher, and any of the other fascists out there.
Of course, if the past year has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t trust experts. Or politicians. Or frankly, anyone who knows what they’re talking about. That’s okay though, Mann reassures us: she has done “absolutely no research”.
The hour starts in standard stand-up form – introductions, some audience interaction, and the setup for a few running jokes that will continue throughout the set. It’s lightly amusing, and clearly important, establishing the character for the rest of the act, but it lacks a clear sense of direction, and the audience are left questioning where exactly this is all going. Nonetheless, the sheer charisma of the performance keeps us onboard as we move swiftly onwards into the next part of the act.
a wonderfully energetic, well-crafted show that will keep you laughing throughout
Once introductions are done, Mann introduces us to the format of the performance: she has gone in search of the voices of those left behind, starting in the middle east (of England), before braving the depths of the north – Bradford, Bolton, at least somewhere beginning with ‘B’ – and she’s bought their words to us. After a few well-received jabs at verbatim theatre (the key, she informs us, is to perform ‘to people who are already on your side’) we’re off with gusto. One slick costume change, and one interpretive dance later, we’re introduced to Nick Crippin. He’s a 57 year old ‘white male man’, he’s “not being funny but-”, and he’s got a bone to pick with PC culture.
And so, we’re gradually introduced to all of Mann’s characters; a panoply of the disenfranchised, confused, and politically troubled. It’s a showcase of Hoult’s immense prowess as a character comedian, each new voice as hilarious and sharply satirical as the last. Changes are breakneck, sometimes consisting of simply a new wig or a different scarf arrangement, but he remains totally convincing across the board – each act with unique, and perfected vocal and physical, ticks.
However, arguably the greatest strength is not the performance but the writing. Whilst onstage Mann claims not to have done research, Hoult clearly has, and he has cleverly selected his targets to provide a broad selection that reflects the attitudes of those who feel ignored. It is a politically well-balanced satire that takes shots at the left and right, but does so without developing an alienating aloofness. Indeed, no one escapes un-ridiculed – not the fascists, not the audience, and certainly not Anna Mann.
Ultimately the show is tied together with a point: that fascism happens when people are left behind, and can be stopped simply by making people feel like they matter. It’s a simple point, but well made, and serves to bring the hour neatly to an end – an hour which has flown by. How We Stop the Fascists isn’t the most insightful piece you can see at the Fringe, but it’s certainly one of the funniest ones; a wonderfully energetic, well-crafted show that will keep you laughing throughout.
How We Stop the Fascists is playing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, you can find tickets here.
Image: Colin Hoult 2017