Edinburgh Fringe Review: Tom Ward, Just The Tonic @ The Mash House

Towards the end of Tom Ward's latest show Popcorn Lung, there is a song about getting three star reviews and how dispiriting that can be. I think I know how he feels when it comes to the Edinburgh Fringe. Over the first weekend of the festival posters were already being sandblasted with four and five star review quotes. It would be easy to think there were no three star write-ups on the Fringe.

This is what is known as Edinburgh Star Inflation (ESI). Anywhere else a three star review is a pretty good review. It means the show is pretty good. A pretty good one. OK? It's just that in the pressure cooker atmosphere of the Fringe – and it has already reached boiling point a few days in with at least one act threatening to quit on Facebook after a single bad gig – every star counts. Funny that so many comics are posting links to their gushing reviews on Facebook when this time last week so many comedians were saying they won't read their reviews.

Which is all a longwinded way of saying that BTJ tries to play down the importance of stars, which is why they are printed very small right at the bottom of the page. We also don't tag performers when we post the reviews on socials. Instead we try to discuss the show, without, of course giving too much away...

So, Tom Ward's show is pretty good. I've always liked his delivery and offbeat style, though I'm not sure about his outfit this year - a kind of post-rave psychedelic Star Trek top plus stripey trews and white Slazenger socks. As with his sartorial style he seems to come at comic ideas from angles which other comedians can only dream about. Popcorn Lung is still very accessible though as he discusses the ups and downs of the last couple of years of his life. He has lived alone and tried to form relationships. He is basically in search of that elusive thing. No, not four stars, but happiness.

His personal story is peppered with neat sideways observational gags, such as wondering why certain high street clothes stores have small mirrors and the horror of having passport photos taken. And when a joke is not always a belly laugh it is usually part of a set-up for a bigger gag later on. And, yes, of course, Ward (see picture) has a bespoke pre-emptive punchline to describe his calling card pudding bowl hairstyle, which we won't spoil.

As with his last show his "mother" Rachel makes an appearance to bookend proceedings too, which involves a breathless quick change offstage. At least I think it's Tom as his mother, it looked a lot like Rob Brydon in a bonnet. There is also an endearing brief tribute to his hero David Bowie, who Ward sounds quite a lot like even when he isn't paying tribute to him.

There is much to like about Popcorn Lung. Ward's interaction with the crowd is impressive too. Sometimes though it doesn't quite hang perfectly together. There's a gear shift in the final third that he presumably feels is important to him and ties in with his theme about perspective, but comedically it does not lead anywhere particularly productive.

This is undoubtedly Ward's best show yet though. Don't worry or fret about star ratings. Please go and see it. It's pretty good. And also pretty different.  

Until August 26. Tickets and info here.

Read more Edinburgh Fringe reviews here.

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