There's always so much talent on display in a Pippa Evans show. She's a fantastic singer and improviser and the comedy is tack sharp. Usually she appears on stage as a character—the most famous of which is Loretta Maine, the depressed and angry country and western singer — but this year's Fringe show, Same Same But Different, sees her as herself, or at least a stage approximation of herself.
That said there are plenty of characters here, just not in costume – with a range of pulled faces, regional accents and silly voices, Evans moves between personae from a New York lounge singer, Fagin from Oliver and Luton's Stacey Dooley. In the main though it's her posh mum who dominates as the comic talks us through her life so far.
A skilled improviser who performs with the Olivier Award-winning Showstoppers!, Evans has always incorporated a level of improv into her solo shows and this one is no exception. Audience members are personally serenaded and she's continually riffing off what little information they have given her.
Same Same... is also doused in great gags, including a couple of extremely simple but very effective jokes about Brexit and the prospect of Trump as US president. And to top it off the show is scored with a range of styles from musical theatre to swing and jazz and even a snippet of comic opera, all supported by her able pianist and percussionist.
Evans is an act who deserves to be a household name. In the meantime we'll make the most of a packed out cosy show at the Fringe.
Also performing in a small cave is Candy Gigi. For her follow up to her 2014 Malcolm Hardee Award-winning debut, Gigi has mined, plundered and squeezed dry her Jewish heritage for the most visceral take on Fiddler on the Roof that you're ever likely to witness. But don't make the mistake of thinking it's going to be some kind of gentle, Radio 4 take on the musical, like some in this audience seem to have done. In fact the only similarities are a vague nod to the storyline and Gigi's fine West End voice. Here we find Gigi, single mother to a headless chicken, harassed by her overbearing mother about the need to meet a nice Jewish boy and get married. So Gigi sets out to find one – in this room...
The Hardee Award was for "comic originality" and Gigi was a worthy winner. There's no one quite like her on the Fringe. Whether she's dressed in a suit that transforms her into a grotesque approximation of a droopy-boobed old woman, nursing a raw chicken, or spitting cucumber at the audience, the level of crazy is set pretty high here. 'Extreme clowning' would probably be the best way of describing this show: nothing is off limits, not least her Jewish heritage. As a Gentile, I won't risk repeating her gags out of context here.
Elsewhere, all manner of sexual acts are namechecked and the show has a bigger swear count than many acts on the Fringe put together. But it's also otherworldly, weird and performed with huge amounts of manic energy; in Gigi's hands it's all part of the foot-to-the-floor, unhinged atmosphere of the show. She possesses the spirit of the Fringe like no one else.
In Life + Rhymes, Rob Broderick and Sam Wilson are telling the story of their lives, through their school days and rap battles, and from their first award-winning album, Spudlife, to Broderick's search for his absent rapper Poppa, who may or not be in da house.
Abandoman's increasing popularity is due in large part to Broderick's quickwitted improv skills. Give him a suggestion or object and his mind turns it into a rhyme within seconds. Improv is always better with some kind of structure and Abandoman has that too: a backdrop of thumping, brilliantly composed hip-hop and, in this latest show, a narrative to maintain the focus.
As ever there's plenty of interaction with the crowd. You don't sit at the front of an Abandoman gig and not expect to be part of the show, whether it be being pulled up on stage or just having your name and life story turned into a rap. With such high levels of audience interaction there's plenty of scope for unpredictability – the highlight of which tonight is a woman brought on stage to talk about rules she's broken, who mishears what she is being asked to do, says totally the wrong thing, and finds herself on the receiving end of some gentle ribbing from Broderick. But it all only adds to the fun.
Obviously any one show hinges on what the crowd happen to throw at Broderick, but he and Wilson have the skills to deal with pretty much anything and to turn it into something energetic and feel-good.