Barbarians

★★★
comedy review | Read in About 2 minutes
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Barbarians
Published 22 Aug 2016

Ben Van der Velde began his career as an improv performer, but has latterly taken to scripted solo shows. While some artists thrive under constraints, he is hampered by the self-imposed challenge. Yes, he gets to address what his programme entry terms 'big issues' and market his show as a unified whole, but his planned material seems lacking when bookended by off-the-cuff riffs.

The latter make for Barbarians' most memorable moments, the performer's superficial judgement of various audience members proving a clear highlight. On these flights of fancy, he pushes ideas to extremes and displays a crackling, spontaneous energy in which we're swept up. By comparison, it's difficult to forgive, much less enjoy, a rotten, illogical routine on female genital mutilation which the comic has thought worth memorising.

Ostensibly about human nature and the characteristics we pass on through DNA, this is a loose hour and relies on Van der Velde's charisma to carry it off. His inclusive, studenty charm goes a long way in the uncomfortably hot pub back room, but once the dust settles on the gig, it's difficult to recall very much of it. The comic helps us pass the time with a few solid laughs, but falls short of any grander ambitions, his key strengths lying dormant for most of his time on stage.