Review: Rhod Gilbert – The Book of John at Pleasance

From two thirds of the way up the auditorium in the EICC I could have been watching any rumpled, skinny bloke running around to a Rhod Gilbert voiceover. I loathe watching comedy in a venue like this, especially at something that purports to be on the Fringe. It’s vast and impersonal, and that doesn’t suit Rhod’s chummy, quirky, personal (in this show, extremely personal) material.

His glorious rants and explosive irascibility are dampened and belittled by the space, but he is still a terrific comic. The trials and tribulations of the past few years would have felled a lesser man and given a lesser comic material for about five shows. But Rhod is generous and packs so much family trauma into an hour that you almost feel the audience should have been given training by The Samaritans.

The hour is wrapped around the conversations he has with the eponymous John of the show’s title. I hope with all my heart that John is either fictitious or a heavily embroidered version of the real man because Rhod is vicious with him. His stupidities and ignorances drive the show, from Rhod’s mini-stroke through his mum’s death to his groin-quiveringly funny experiences in a fertility clinic. The arguments Rhod has with John are ridiculous and cyclical and stupidly funny.

It was a great day for comedy all those years ago when Rhod Gilbert found his anger and abandoned whimsy, because it has fuelled his comedy since and given us some memorable shows. If you get the chance to see this one close up, I would imagine it would be an extraordinary experience. As it is, in the maw of the EICC, he has his 1200-strong crowd roaring with laughter as his most embarrassing moments are exasperatedly waved around and fumed over.

Rhod Gilbert: The Book of John, Pleasance at the EICC, 14-25 Aug, 8.30pm

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