Kevin Tomlinson: On the Edge
Devised by Kevin Tomlinson
York Theatre Royal
Review by Cecily Boys
When an improvising performer walks on to stage and tells you that not a word of the show that night is prepared, and then proceeds to spend the second half with a slide show of family pictures which he does every night and rings to tell his family the audience vote... you're entitled to suspect something.
For previous shows of Kevin Tomlinson's devised, on the spot, menagerie he has been celebrated in the Edinburgh festival and had such plaudits as "He bounds about the stage, full of enthusiasm and energy, seemingly picking and choosing what should come next. There is no sex or swearing or any of that nasty stuff. This is a celebration of the theatrical art form, darling." The Stage on Kevin Tomlinson - Unmasked.
With this in mind, the prospects of a daring, spontaneous and thought provoking evening was most exciting. Tomlinson starts his evening by asking every audience member to write a quote or phrase on a piece of paper which is folded and entered into a hat to be used throughout the show at opportune moments. This brings an interesting collaborative element between performer and audience in his show whilst also subtly reflecting the audience's mood and sensibilities for Tomlinson to savour.
Unfortunately when you then have an enthusiastic participant in the front row who shouts out provocative words like he suffers from Tourettes, you know you're in for a rough night.
By all accounts of his pervious work, including Kevin Tomlinson: Seven Ages, in which the lone performer based his improvised work on Shakespeare's As You Like It speech, Tomlinson has produced some invigorating work. However this evening seemed to be an self absorbed indulgence into Tomlinson's past and unenlightened self reflection into his present; his current relationship problems which were pointedly mentioned at the beginning of the night and returned to in the characters he plays.
His skill as a performer seems potentially impressive but undisciplined and unstructured which meant every sketch descended into cheap sexual jokes which bored this reviewer but sent the teenagers of the audience into fits of giggles. The one highlight of the evening was the rather touching and absorbing sketch using some Barbies and Action Men from an Oxfam shop, in which Tomlinson acted out the meeting scene between a couple from the audience. However this could have been due to the gift of a situation which he landed in that the (now) husband and wife were both married to others when they met, and this insight unfolded throughout the sketch.
Undoubtedly this performer's show is different every night and (hopefully) the evening of attendance was a one-off. If you like stand up comedy and audience participation with your theatre then this could be an enjoyable night. However if you abhor self-indulgent, cheap sexual gags and absurdly useless sketches without intention or consummate craft or unifying thread then don't go near On The Edge.