Edinburgh Review: Rhys James

Rhys James

Pleasance Courtyard


There has been a bit of a buzz about Rhys James in the first week of the Fringe. His debut hour, entitled Begins, feels pretty close to being just right for Edinburgh. It is a conventional stand-up set about conventional subject matter, but with enough bells and whistles to make it stand out in an increasingly crowded market.

Begins, erm, begins particularly well with a filmed intro of James being groomed for stardom by his satirically hard-nosed management – nice cameo from Matthew Crosby as head honcho. This is a clever critique of the modern comedy business where image is almost everything. His marketing men want James to play the Harry Potter lookalike card, but the 23-year-old comedian wants to be himself. And James is right - with gags as good as his he doesn’t need a gimmick. 

James certainly seems canny. He knows he resembles a “haircut comedian” but does more than enough to set himself apart. Part of his gig is actually delivered as fast-paced, slickly-delivered performance poetry. If anything I’d have liked to have seen a shade more of this. 

The stand-up material homes in on fairly familiar terrain, from student life to suburban anecdotes to popular culture. He is a politics graduate, he grew up in the not-so mean streets of  Harpenden and when not working likes to watch Batman films. If there is a theme it is romance and the pursuit of his dream date. Universal stuff, though he also has a more original routine about only having one kidney.

In some ways this set is more about showing potential, and he clearly has that in spades. James seems to know what he is doing strategy-wise too. When I googled him I noticed that although this is billed as his debut hour he did do a shorter nightly set at last year’s Festival, which gave him plenty of experience, but means that he can still be eligible for the Foster’s Best Newcomer Award this year. Smart move. Maybe his management is cleverer than they seem in his opening film.

At Soho Theatre, February 9 - 14. Tickets here.


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