Edinburgh Fringe Review: John Robertson, The Stand

Reviewed by Claire Smith.

With a blast of rock music Robertson, smartly suited, long white hair flying, strides onto the stage to take possession of the space.

It’s a small room, Stand 2, a small round room which is normally used by the SNP and has a slogan on the walls from the Treaty of Arbroath. But Robertson has decided to play the whole thing like an arena. He’s dreaming big - even if the shiny letters on the wall behind him are made with scissors, colouring pens and glue, and one of them is about to fall off.
 
You can go anywhere in your imagination. Anyone can dream. If you are a comic who dreams of playing stadium gigs why not just pretend you are. It’s all smoke and mirrors anyway. Robertson, who’s suffering badly from a heavy cold when I see him, even makes grandiose claims for the germs he’s splattering around the room.
  
And he’s not afraid to get close to the audience, climbing on chairs and coming right up to their faces. He makes the audience laugh at one particular person, and then another. He does it kindly though.  This is not a show about making other people feel embarrassed but about demonstrating some of the ways comedians learn to manipulate their audience. After he’s tricked us into laughing at an audience member Robertson pulls back, apologises to the person and asks the audience what they were playing at.
 
Despite him being in the throes of Fringe Flu Robertson brings a tremendous amount of energy into play, pulling us one way, then another, making us lean forward to catch his words, flirting with one audience member, then dropping her, and choosing another.
 
In his private life, he tells us, he and his wife like to involve other people in their relationship. They hold parties in sex dungeons, they have a girlfriend, they love a bit of sado-masochism. Robertson strolls languidly around the tiny room, telling us about his predilictions, before lunging again at the audience, with no warning if he will be naughty or nice.
 
It creates a question which hangs in the room. What is going on between a comic and an audience? Why do we get involved in this tense power play between punter and performer and why do we enjoy it so much? Is our laughter a relief or a reward?
 
At the end of the show Robertson dons a sequinned cape to dance for us. He’s nearly dying of flu but the audience claps and claps and he keeps on dancing. Who has the power now? Fascinating, clever and entertaining - and it will make you ask questions about the process going on every other room, large or small, as you go from one Fringe show to another.
 
Until August 28. Tickets here.

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